One of the most frequent questions I am asked by parents is “how much practice should my child be doing?”
Of course the answer varies enormously, depending on the age of the child, the instrument, how many other commitments the child has and a host of other factors. However, there are a few facts about practice which pretty much always apply. For example:
- The more practice you do the better you get.
- If you do no practice or very little practice you are very unlikely to master your instrument, even at a basic level.
- The more regular the practice the better the result. So 15 minutes a day on 4 days a week is much better than one hour on one day of the week.
- Most children (and even teenagers) do much better if a parent is taking an active interest in what they are doing in their music lessons by listening to at least some of the practice that is done at home. (No technical knowledge is necessary, just taking an interest, listening and talking about what they are doing is enough.)
I know that many of my students do very well and progress nicely through the first few grades with very little practice. But it is always more rewarding for them if they can develop the discipline to do more. As with anything in life it is always more satisfying to feel as if you are prepared for what you have to do.
What is the best practice routine?
Being prepared for lessons almost certainly means doing some practice between lessons. A good aim, initially, is to practice:
- In the evening of the day of the lesson. This helps students to remember what they have just been taught.
- On the day before the lesson so that what they have practised is fresh in their minds during the lesson.
- On at least one other day in between those two, as 6 days between one practice and the next is too long.
The amount of practice needed depends upon the age and standard of the student
The amount of time needed for each practice session will vary, depending mostly on the student’s age and the instrument being studied. As a general rule, pianists will need to put in the most practice hours.
Here is a rough guide to what you should aim for:
- Up to 8 years / pre-grade 1……10 minutes, 3 or 4 times per week
- Age 8 – 11 / grades 1 – 3…………20 minutes, 4 or 5 times per week
- Age 11 – 14 / grades 3 – 5………30 minutes, 5 or 6 times per week
- Age 14 – 16 / grade 5+ …….….. 40 minutes or more, 6 times per week
Pianists are a special case:
It is worth remembering that, for pianists, one of the major difficulties is simply learning to read all of the notes quickly enough. Often up to 4 or 5 notes are played simultaneously (by about Grade 5). So, especially in the early years, it is important to keep practising and reviewing pieces a during the holidays even when lessons have stopped for a while. I often find that students will make great progress during the term time only to forget a lot of what they have learnt when they go on holiday and don’t play at all for 5-6 weeks. On the first lesson back they look at the page as if they are trying to read Chinese!
Practice can be enjoyable….really!
After all, practice is just an organised way of playing the piano, and no-one would be surprised to hear that “playing the piano” is enjoyable.