Understand Why Daily Practice is Important
One of the biggest issues for busy children is finding the time and energy to practice. Unlike many other after- school activities such as soccer, where weekend practice and several games a week are the norm, playing a musical instrument successfully requires daily practice. The reason is that students need to build muscle memory, whether it is in the hands of a pianist, the hands and arms of a violinist, or the vocal chords and diaphragm of a singer. Muscle memory is built by repetition, which can only be accomplished by frequent review and practice of material presented at a lesson.
The second aspect of successful practicing is concentration. Repetition alone is time wasted. Repetition with mental concentration on the task at hand yields positive results. When students become more advanced and are learning how to phrase music, incorporate dynamics and tempo changes, and play up to tempo, concentration while practicing becomes even more critical.
Practice Early in the Day
The school day for children has become packed with work and activities. Children are tired when they come home from school. They need down time to relax, time to have dinner, and enough energy left over to do their homework. Homework loads for young children are increasing every year. Asking a child to practice at 7:00 pm is not only tiring to one’s child, but it usually creates resentment. Most professional musicians do not “like” to practice; they practice because they understand the necessity for it.
The solution for almost all children is to practice early in the morning before they get on the school bus or get driven to school. Since mornings are usually packed and rushed, this means that bedtimes need to be adjusted at least 15 minutes so that children wake up earlier. It also means that television needs to be outlawed for all siblings in the morning so children aren’t feeling deprived while they are practicing. Fifteen to twenty minutes in the morning when children are fresh equals forty-five minutes to an hour when children are tired. Even if buses leave early in the morning, children are happier when they are successful with their instrument by following this practice schedule. Going to bed earlier is good for them too!
Put Your Child in Charge with an Egg Timer
Most children love being in charge of their practicing. Your job is to go to the hardware store and purchase an inexpensive kitchen timer. Teach your child how to set it for 15, 20, 25, or 30 minutes. Have them build up to 30 minutes by increasing the practice time five minutes every week. It can also be helpful to discuss the number of desirable repetitions of a piece with your child’s teacher. Young children find a structure such as “play this part 5 times” helps them get to work faster and with more courage than practicing without a goal. When the buzzer rings, they should stop. Older children who are more advanced can of course practice longer, but consistency is the key.
Practice at the Same Time Every Day
It is very useful for children to have a consistent practice time. It builds a routine that is easy to follow, and puts them in control of their practice schedule. For most children, a good routine is to wake up, have breakfast, get dressed, practice, and then get on the bus. After an initial adjustment they will go to their practicing happily and easily.