Part of any student’s normal routine is attending class, completing homework, and preparing for evaluations. For the music student, this schedule may include attending weekly lessons, practicing daily, and getting ready for recitals. The weekly lesson, typically a 30–60 minute block, is important for learning new skills, evaluating progress, and mastering techniques. The primary method of improving on an instrument, however, happens at home, during the regular practice times. So how can you ensure that your child is getting the most out of their practice time?
Help your child set a goal.
A practice log can be more than just marking the days that your child practiced; it’s beneficial for several reasons. First, you can write down the goals for each practice session. Note whether the goal was reached, and include any reasons for why it wasn’t. The practice log can be as simple as a monthly calendar kept in the front of your child’s music book or as comprehensive as a notebook in which you (or your child) can make observations about the day’s practice. It’s also a great place to keep track of questions for your child’s teacher at the next lesson.
Break practices into increments.
Your child may be asked to practice anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours a day, depending on experience. Instead of overwhelming him (and you!), break that time into manageable chunks throughout the day. Perhaps the morning session will be spent practicing scales and other method-related techniques, and the afternoon will be reserved for memorization or song mastery. Breaking your child’s practice into smaller segments will make sure he doesn’t become bored—and thus the practice will be more effective.
Practice smaller selections of music.
Many students want to practice simply by playing through their assigned pieces over and over, until they’ve practiced the allotted length of time. While there is value in playing through entire pieces of music in one sitting, this is not the most productive use of rehearsal time. If your child is struggling in a particular part of the song, or is having trouble with memorizing a piece, breaking the song into smaller chunks will help him master those trouble spots. When he’s conquered the trouble spot, string together smaller chunks until he has worked his way up to the complete piece.
While working with smaller sections, help your child develop muscle memory by having him repeat the selection correctly multiple times. Some musicians claim that it takes 100 times of playing a piece properly before it becomes ingrained in muscle memory. Once your child has mastered the section, encourage him to play it multiple times.
Set up a music area.
It may seem redundant to warm up for practice, but an effective warm-up time can set the tone for a productive practice. Warming up allows your child to make sure the instrument is properly in tune and that he is correctly breathing and ready to dive into the important work of practice. During warm-up, he should be focusing on the task at hand—not daydreaming about what he’s going to do when practice is over or what he’s having for dinner. Help your child learn to see the warm-up as a precursor to his actual practice.
Provide time to practice every day.
Sometimes, particularly during the early years of music lessons, practice time can become tedious. It is tempting (and easy) to skip practice, especially when the piece is simpler or your child seems to have mastered it. Establishing daily practice, however, is essential to future musical success. By getting in the habit of practicing every day, your child will continue to practice later, as the pieces and skills become more complex.
Not every child will develop into the next Mozart. Successful music lessons, however, can give every child a lifetime of music enjoyment. Help develop your child’s music skills—and love of music—by helping him establish productive and meaningful practice times. No matter what instrument your child plays, practice makes the difference between “mediocre” and “proficient.”