I get questions from parents regarding how much their children should practice almost every day. Depending on your child’s age and maturity, you might need to be there to help guide them or keep them focus on the task at hand. Everyone knows the old adage, “practice makes perfect,” right? I’ll share a secret with you; practice DOES NOT make perfect, practice makes PERMENANT. If you’re practicing the same thing over and over again incorrectly then how can you make it perfect? When I ask my students how they practiced, the most common response is, “I ran through the song a few times.” When I proceed to ask them what that accomplished and how it benefitted them, I am usually met with blank stares. (Teachers, you know what I’m talking about.) So, without hesitation, I usually explain to both the student and parent on how to practice which is almost followed by these list of questions:

What should my child practice?

That’s something your teacher needs to clarify at the end of every lesson. Some teachers mark it in the music or have a little notebook to write the assignments in. After warming up on scales or exercises, jump to the song and focus on specific measures your child is having problems with. However, make sure they are breaking it down into pieces and not just running through the entire song.

How long should my child practice?

If you practice for 20 minutes and fix a whole passage versus 60 minutes of just playing through the piece and running it 6 more times, which do you think is more productive? Which will give a better end result with the amount of time you spent on it? This is why I rarely put a “# of minutes” on how long to practice. Practicing intelligently will save a lot of time and stress for both you and your child. That said, the amount of time you should concentrate on a section varies depending on the age and skill level. For students under the age of 6, I recommend 15-20 minute intervals with big time gaps in between, and coming back to it later in the day. Between the ages of 7-12, it can be anywhere between 30-45 minutes depending on their maturity level, also keeping in mind that they should take breaks when necessary. Teenagers should have built up a practicing stamina that allows them to practice anywhere between 1-4 hours, depending on how serious they are with their instrument.

“Practicing too much is just as bad as practicing too little”- Jascha Heifetz

How often should my child take a break?

When you hear your child struggling or making the same frustrating mistake over and over again, it’s time to stop and take a break. Breaks are CRUCIAL to a good practice session. This gives time for your mind and muscles to relax. Practicing can be mentally and physically fatiguing, so the best way to solve a problem is to take a step back, breathe and try again with a clearer mindset. If you’ve been playing longer than 30 minutes, then I suggest you take a 10-minute break to stretch or get a drink of water. If it’s that frustrating passage you need a break from, take 20 seconds to recuperate and try again! The length of the break should depend on the amount of time you’ve been practicing since you’ve started or taken your last break.

How often should my child practice?

Helping our muscles remember what we’ve trained them to do is called ‘muscle memory.’ In order for muscle memory to kick in, we must “train.” If you want to lose 20 pounds by the end of the month and you “train” for a half hour once a week, you should not expect to see any results. This mindset needs to be carried over when learning an instrument. “But my child has swim practice, dance try outs, orchestra rehearsals, tutoring, and homework.” If you make time for homework every night then why not have time for practicing? It is essential for practice time and effort to be put in before the next lesson if you want it to be a productive one. Nevertheless, remember to take at least one day off during the week, sometimes it’s good to have the day off!

How do I know when they’re done practicing?

Students should set a goal at the beginning of the practice session and patiently work on certain parts until they are at least satisfactory. The point of practicing everyday (6 days/week) is to keep the muscle memory intact. If you progress and reach your set goal, then pack up your instrument and practice again tomorrow.

MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION:

How do I get my child you actually enjoy practicing?

In this post alone, I’ve used the word “practice” over 25 times. However, I usually prefer the word “train.” As briefly above, using the word “train” creates an altered outlook. The word “train” is usually associated with the word “goal,” an activity that yields a positive end result. It is a nice change since the word “practicing” frequently has a negative connotation to it. Changing the attitude of practicing or training can have a very encouraging result. Another way of celebrating the joys of training is giving your child a well-deserved treat at the end of the session. I personally leave a box of  Ferrero Rocher next to my music stand…. Remember, it’s always imperative to end on a good note. (Ba Dum Tss!)

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