Practice Makes Perfect… but only if you do it properly!

If there is one thing I get asked about more than anything else, it’s practice! I’ve put together some information on the what, where, when, why and how (because hopefully you already know “who” is supposed to do it!) of practice. All music students know that they should practice but actually getting down to it after the lesson is over can be a bit overwhelming, especially for younger children and beginners. Practice doesn’t have to be – and shouldn’t be – a chore. Here are some tips to help both students and parents get the most out of their music lessons through practice:

What to Practice

You know that saying “knowing is half the battle”?  Well, it really is true when it comes to practice!  If you have a plan and know what you’re going to do before you play a single note the whole practice session will be a breeze!

  • Inside your Lesson Log is where this key information is hiding! Open it and review it before you even touch your instrument. This helps you get mentally prepared to practice and find the right books to practice from.
  • I generally list everything in the order that you should do things at home. It should go something like this: Warm Up, Scales/Technique, Pieces/Studies.
  • If you are having difficulty figuring it out on your own, talk to me and we can work together to make your very own practice plan!

Where and When to Practice

  • If you are a piano student, then the “where” is pretty simple. If you have a portable instrument then choose somewhere quiet where you can concentrate on what you are doing with minimal distractions.
  • Turn off your phone! Be unplugged while you practice. Let it be just you and your music.
  • Pick a consistent time to practice and stick with it. Schedule it in like you would dance or karate class. Weekends can be difficult, so I recommend choosing a time in the morning before you get to doing all those fun family weekend things!
  • A typical practice schedule looks something like this: Monday to Friday practice time is 3:30pm, Saturday and Sunday practice time is 10:00am. If your after school time is crazy with all sorts of activities, try mornings before school. Later in the evening is my least favourite time to practice as we are tired and unfocused at the end of the day, but if that’s all you’ve got available it’s better than not practising at all.

How long to Practice

  • How long you practice will depend on your level. I usually set a number of repetitions, instead of a length of time, for beginner students that will hopefully get the job done without boring them! Beginner students range anywhere from 5-10 minutes per day. For more advanced students the length of your practice will depend on how much material you have to cover, how dedicated you are, and how focused you are that particular day.
  • If you are going to practice for more than 1 hour, break it up into multiple practice sessions.  Otherwise injury may result.
  • It’s not the amount of time you practice that counts, it the amount of focus and effort you put in while you are practising that will make the difference. 10 minutes of good focused practice every day is 100 times better than an hour long unfocused, distracted practice session.
  • If at any point during your practice you feel any physical pain or discomfort STOP IMMEDIATELY! This means that you have pushed yourself too hard too fast or are playing with incorrect posture. It is not normal to feel pain while playing, so if you experience this please talk to me!!

For Parents: How do I get my child to practice!?!

Many parents tell me that their child loves coming to lessons and enjoys playing their instrument, but won’t practice at home.  The solution will depend on many factors including your child’s needs and disposition, and your own parenting style. The following is a list of suggestions, feel free to modify them to fit your family’s needs!

  • Parent involvement and encouragement is key. Follow all the above recommendations, but most importantly help your child know what to practice. Read and review the Lesson Log with your child. I try to write them in plain English – not too many musical terms – I promise you will be able to understand it!
  • Have your child teach YOU a lesson or two at home. They’ll get a kick out of it and they’ll sneak in some quality review too!
  • Feel free to sit in on the lesson and/or learn with your child.
  • Sit with your child while they practice and guide them through each step. For example: “Ok, now play your scales 3 times each.” Help them count their repetitions. Don’t interrupt or point out mistakes while they play – part of practice is learning to figure things out on your own. Gently help your child to focus if they get a little off track. Your role in music lessons is to be encouraging and positive (even if you think it sounded terrible!), my role is to correct mistakes.
  • Don’t force practice. This leads to poor quality practice time and a bad feelings toward practice and music itself.
  • Sometimes, kids need to be left to practice on their own. In this case, review the lesson log with them before they begin and make sure they know what to practice. Then, leave them be… but do listen in from the next room!

Practice Strategies

Young or old, beginner or advanced, sometimes we all need a push to practice more – myself included! Here are some ideas to make practice fresh and fun:

  • Make a practice calendar. Put a sticker on each of the days that you practice. At the end of the month, count your stickers. See if you can beat your record the next month!
  • Make a streak chart. Add a sticker for each day in a row you practice. If you don’t get to practice for a day then you have to start again at 1 the next time you practice. How high of a streak can you get?
  • Good old fashioned bribery! I hate to say it, but it works. A small treat every time they practice can work wonders when nothing else does. It doesn’t have to be food, it could be stickers added to a collection (a special music practice collection perhaps), extra TV or game time, stay up later for each minute of practice you do, whatever works.
  • Join the studio wide practice challenge. I will be setting this up in the next few weeks (hopefully to start in January) and will be sending info home!  I will be involved in the challenge too – can you practice more than your teacher?!

When you get it right, practice is a wonderful experience.  Not only to you get to play beautiful music but you get to learn about yourself along the way.  I have taken my practice sessions from drudgery to pure joy over the years and I hope that by following these tips you can too!

Good luck and happy practising!!