One of the most common questions we as music teachers are asked is “How do I practice at home?” It’s also one of the most important questions we are asked, since consistent, focused practice is the key to improving your skills and getting the most our of your music lessons. The short time with your teacher each week is crucial, but once a week just isn’t enough to make progress. Besides, practicing can and should be fun! Adult students often tell me that after a long stressful day, getting home and making music for a few minutes is just the thing to help them relax and decompress. Young students who practice consistently quickly learn to love the feeling of accomplishment when they master new songs each week and continue to refine their skills.
No one thinks that they will get better without practicing, but actually getting it done is another matter. There are many factors that can cut into our practice time, but we have a few strategies to help you plan to succeed. These ideas are geared toward parents helping their children practice at home, but the principles apply to everyone.
Make a Schedule
Set aside a certain time every day when your child knows there is the expectation to practice (and also when they won’t be too tired to focus). Of course, life happens and can sometimes thwart our plans, but the goal here is to be as consistent as you can. This way, you don’t have to keep reminding your child or spring a practice session on them out of the blue. Establishing a specific time helps to reinforce and build the habit of practicing, and they will hopefully look forward playing every day!
Set a time limit
Not only should the time of day for practicing be routine, but the amount of time spent practicing should also be routine. For very young beginner students (age 4-7), start with just 5 minutes! Set a timer, and remind your child of the goals: play through the assigned songs and work on hard spots. You and your child will be amazed at how quickly the time goes by. This not only helps establish a good structure but teaches effective time management. When 5 minutes gets easier, up the timer to 10 minutes and then eventually 15 minutes. For older children (age 8-10) start with 15 minutes and increase the time to 30.
Practice what is assigned
Playing old pieces or favorites is a good way to make playing fun since your child will have the satisfaction of playing pieces they can play well, but this should be reserved for playing time outside of the set “practicing timer.” While there is benefit to playing already completed songs, your teacher carefully chooses each new piece to help develop your child's skills. The goal of the set practice time should always be to improve on the new pieces for the week. If the timer is up and your child wants to keep playing, encourage them to go back and play older pieces!
Make practicing fun and rewarding, never a punishment!
Always recognize when a goal has been met, and be encouraging when a new skill is hard. Use a practicing chart to keep track and set up rewards for different practicing goals. Emphasize that these aren’t bribes, but are rewards earned by hard work. Use lots of positive reinforcement, share in your child’s interest in learning music, and seek to encourage and develop it! Children thrive when they feel safe and supported playing music. The more positive feelings surrounding playing and practice, the better.
Steps to Success:
- Have a set time of day when your child knows they are expected to practice
- Remind your child of what piece(s) to practice
- Set the timer
- Have your child play through each assigned song, reviewing the names of the notes and rhythms as needed.
- Praise your child for a job well done!