Looking to set up a practice space that really works?
Ideally, you want a private space. But if you can’t dedicate a room in your home to practice music exclusively, there are some common-sense things you can do to make the space you have work.
First, keep interruptions to a minimum. Turn off the TV, radio, music players and telephones. There should also be ample lighting. Natural light is best, but if you rely on artificial light, be sure your sheet music is properly lit.
If the musician is sitting, he should be able to place his feet flat on the floor. Make sure the seat is at an appropriate height. The back of the chair isn't as important, since the musician should be sitting up straight on his own. A stool is often a good option because it can be customized to the player and it's not too intrusive when it's not being used.
Regardless of the instrument, a metronome is a must. It offers a steady pulse at a variety of tempi. A quality metronome should run between $30 and $100. Most music retailers carry a reasonable selection. Some metronomes even have built-in tuners. If it’s in your budget, this would be a great choice.
Every musician should have a music stand. Avoid the temptation of propping music up on a table. A folding stand is the perfect option if space is at a premium. It can be stored away when not in use. Expect to pay between $14 and $40 for a good music stand (not counting pricier antique, wood or brass stands).
Supplies are crucial. Don't forget to keep a sharpened pencil nearby for practice reminders and changes. Brass players will also want a small trashcan close by to drain the horn. We also like the idea of keeping an analog clock with a second hand in clear view; it’s a great tool when practicing long tones.
How long to practice?
Violinist Leopold Auer once told a young Nathan Milstein: "Practicing with your fingers, no amount is enough; practicing with your brain, two or three hours a day is plenty." A Violinist's Handbook: A Simpler Manual to Learn the Instrument by Jay Zhong (Feb 7, 2005).
That's sage advice for maintaining the artistic integrity of an established virtuoso. But as a general rule, we suggest beginners strive for a focused, 10-20 minute daily session. You really want to customize the practice time to the attention span of the player. Some teachers even recommend splitting up the practice time across the day. Two 10-minute sessions may be more beneficial than one 20-minute session. Experiment also, by practicing at different times of the day (morning, afternoon or evening). Keeping a practice log is also a good idea. Some method books include a practice log sheet. Use this to keep track of what the student does and make notes regarding any questions or problems that come up during practice.
Most importantly, breathe and focus. Remember, it's about achieving a musical goal, not merely satisfying a time requirement. Musical ability progresses at different rates for different students. But if you still have concerns, your school music teacher (or private instructor) should always be your first stop for advice and guidance.
Be sure to visit our music retail partners listed at the bottom of this page to find a great selection of everything you'll need to set up your child's practice area.
From time to time, we’ll feature guest posts from those throughout the music education community. This one was written by Carol Costantino, the creator and managing editor of minormusicllc.com, a blogsite for the parents and teachers of young musicians. Minor Music, LLC publishes classroom materials that infuse music content across the K-5 curriculum. Carol is also a high school band wife and the mom of two young musicians. You can also find her on Twitter, like I did, at @MinorMusic. -Kathleen