Your, or your child's, instructor may have recommended guidelines, and I do not mean to override the suggestions made by the instructor you work closest with. But if you remain unclear on how much a music student should practice and are open to hearing few perspectives on this matter, this post is for you.
Some of us (myself included) remember taking lessons when we were young and hearing that our instructors expect us to practice for 30 minutes a day when we're 10 years old. Then, when we start preparing for college, we are expected to practice for 2 hours every day. My solution to finding the right amount of practice hours each day/week is a little different, and my answer is always the same.
"Practice as long as you can stay focused. After you lose focus, you are just building bad habits," I say. Then I recommend the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.
Some students, and this is not unique by age, can only focus for 15 minutes. Other students, like me, can practice for more than three hours before coming up for air and realizing they're late for dinner (annoying for those who wish to have dinner with me). Whether the student is in their practice space for a few minutes daily or for hours on end, the important thing is to realize that when that student loses focus, it's time to allow that break.
Another perspective: I take cello lessons from a fantastic teacher whose time is very valuable to me. I'm also overbooked, like a lot of music students, so my practice time is in danger of being brushed aside. Here's my personal way of tracking how much I practice. I write the date next to an assigned tune each time I practice it (or write it in my practice journal if I'm using SmartMusic). It doesn't matter if I've practiced that tune for 15 minutes, for 2 hours, or even 2 separate times that same day... I've marked the date, and I've honestly only practiced as long as I can stay focused. When my next lesson comes around, I can see right away why I'm better at certain tunes/passages than others. I count the number of dates I've got in that margin, and realize that perhaps I need to practice more or less in certain areas.
Perhaps my tips will also work for you or your music student. I'd love to hear how this school year goes. Share your comments right here in this blog and I'll be happy to chat!
About the Author: Beth Varela is a private instructor and show director at the School of Rock, teaching music performance, composition, piano, keyboards, and drum set. She is also a beginning cello student. Additionally, Beth is the digital marketing manager at MakeMusic, Inc. (makers of SmartMusic and Finale). You can find her on Twitter at @ervarela.