How Much Should Your Music Student Practice?

Today's guest post is by Beth Varela at MakeMusic Inc.

girl violin_practice

As a teacher: I'm a private instructor, teaching roughly 35 private students in piano, keyboard, and/or drum set performance weekly. I also coach an additional 25 students weekly who are preparing to perform with the School of Rock. I'm often asked from both parents and music students: How much time should be spent practicing?

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!

Warm regards,

Beth

Beth VarelaAbout 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.

One thought on “How Much Should Your Music Student Practice?

  1. Sometimes, for me, getting students the music they want entails me transcribing a particular pop song for them, that involves a lot of decisions for me about trying to be true to the original melody so the students can play along with the track (key, rhythm, register, etc) or transpose the piece to an easier key and with a simplified rhythm which will enable them to play it more easily. Sometimes giving them a very difficult transcription which is clearly beyond their current abilities is an excellent motivator, and sometimes it isnt, every student is a unique individual who responds to a wide range of positive or negative reinforcements- some will rise to the challenge and work their butts off to be able to conquer the piece and some will curl up in a little tearful ball and quit. One parent came up with an excellent motivator for her daughter (who was a very commercially minded girl), she paid her $5 for every day that she practiced on her own for 30 minutes or more- but at the end of the week the child had to pay for her lesson herself. Pretty quickly the student realized that if she practiced 7 days a week she would be turning a $10 profit weekly, and promptly doubled her efforts at home. Everyone is different, and part of our job as teachers is learning what makes each pupil tick, and helping them develop good discipline which will reward them with a wealth of achievements, both in music and life.

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