How much time should I practice?

I steer away from setting a certain amount of time, at least for children. The most challenging aspect is developing a habit of practicing everyday. You have to commit to your time with your instrument each and every day come rain or shine! Not only that, but it has to be thoughtful, slow, precise practice. The old cliché that practice makes perfect is not necessarily true. It should read, practicing perfectly makes perfect playing. If you’re sloppy and not focused then you’re just wasting your time, and you will probably develop bad habits. You’ll never be a very good player. Most successful people have 10% talent and 90% discipline.

If you approach your practice as something enjoyable then the amount of time spent will take care of itself. However, I know most of us adults have jobs and family, so try to set small time slots. 20 to 30 minutes can be very productive. It’s better than cramming an hour and a half in somewhere just once a week. Also, 20 minutes several times a day can also be very productive. This is best for specific challenging areas that may develop as you progress in your learning. If you focus on just one area, or a few measures in a song, then your mind and muscles have time to ‘connect.’ Learning to play an instrument is different than just taking a college course. You not only have to learn it mentally, but your muscles and body movements also have to be trained. That’s why you have to practice so you can develop what’s called "muscle memory."

Children and Practice

Children will probably need encouragement from their parents. It’s best that you talk to your child before you start putting demands on them. I give an interview before the first lesson. Part of that time is used to discuss what is expected of the student. Some teachers will even have a contract for the student to sign. That way they can really grasp that they are making a commitment. It also gives some leverage to parents in teaching discipline to their children. If the instructor is precise in giving out practice assignments, then this also helps in keeping students from frustrations and discouragement.

Here are some things you can look for, and questions to ask if you’re having difficulty with your child’s desire to practice:

  1. Are the practice assignments too hard or is he/she not sure what to practice? Ask your child why they don’t want to practice. It maybe they’re just not sure what to do or they forgot, even if the teacher wrote it down for them. The first few lessons can be overwhelming sometimes. Teachers are usually more than happy to answer any questions you may have with the assignments.
  2. Does she/he feel frustrated when practicing? Sometimes, children are surprised with the amount of time it may take to get the knack of making music, especially first-instrument beginners. This is where as a parent you can make all the difference in the world. Sometimes you have to be the substitute teacher and get in there and do some coaching. Lots of praise is recommended as well.
  3. Does he/she act awkward when practicing? Some children, especially young boys, just haven’t developed enough motor skills. The teacher can also be aware of this and may suggest putting off lessons until he is a little older, or assign certain exercises to develop coordination.
  4. Is the teacher right for your child? There are as many different styles of teaching as there are students. Your instructor’s style may not fit well with your child. It’s very important that the student feels comfortable with the teacher.

Another idea for children is to have them play for you often. Most teachers will try to teach simple songs right away or as soon as the student can read notes on the first 2 strings. Once a year, I have my students give a formal performance. During that event, I reward them with many certificates and ribbons. One of those awards is for home recitals. This is a great motivator for children. Even teenagers like this as well.