"Learning about music or learning to play an instrument does not happen without commitment and involvement on the part of both parent and child…development depends on continuity and dedication…it is cumulative effort that leads to success, not intermittent moments of enthusiasm or occasional bursts of energy." (1)
"Our society often wrongly equates work with drudgery. Work is food for the soul if the attitude towards it is positive. It is only through constructive effort that one is led to accomplishment and a sense of worth. The happiness of achieving a goal should not be greater than the joy of working towards it." (2)
Preparing to Practice
Before you start practicing, do some relaxation exercises. Tighten and then loosen the muscles in your body, starting with your feet and working up through your legs, arms and neck. Be sure to include your hands and fingers.
Take a few minutes before you start playing to clear your mind of thoughts from the day's activities. You want to be able to concentrate on the music completely, and you can't do this if you are thinking of what else you need to do or of situations that occurred in school instead.
Find a place to practice that is away from the family activity areas. There should be no distractions such as TV, radio, other children, pets or telephone. Ideally, the room should have a door that can be closed to for privacy and to help concentration.
Try to practice consistently at the same time each day. This period should be built into the family's schedule.
While the duration of the practice will vary from child to child and according to age and commitment, it is important to play daily, including on the day of a lesson. Learning to play an instrument is somewhat like learning to play a sport; your muscles need to be developed in a particular way in order to master the physical part of playing, and this can only be done through consistent workouts. As Paderewski, the famous pianist, once said, "If I don't practice for one day, I know it. If I don't practice for two days, the critics know it. If I don't practice for three days, the audience knows it." Or, as Dr. Suzuki puts it, "Only practice on the days that you eat."
Sometimes, two or even more shorter practice sessions are better than one extended period. You can fit in some work before school, for example, then another short period later in the day, perhaps after supper so as not to conflict with other after-school activities.
Equip your practice space properly. It should have a good chair, a sturdy music stand adjusted to the correct height, proper lighting and a place to store extra strings, rosin, music, pencils, markers, notebook and the like. Keep your materials in good order so you don't have to interrupt your practice session to look for something. If you play the piano, be sure the instrument is tuned and maintained regularly.
The AMOUNT of time spent practicing isn't always as important as HOW it is spent. Have a plan in mind as to what you want to accomplish in a practice session before you start. Divide your practice time into sections. Allow so many minutes for exercises, refining the playing of your current pieces, sight reading, etc. Work with your teacher to make a chart that will help you with this schedule.
Always warm up before attempting to play your actual music. These activities put playing muscles into proper shape and help focus the mind on tone quality. Warm-up music doesn't have to consist of boring exercise and scales; the important thing is to find something to play that allows you to become involved in the music and makes you ready to start practicing in earnest.
Practice Hints for the Parents
Learning to work independently is difficult. Therefore, it is sometimes a good idea for a parent to sit in the room with a young child while she is practicing. Criticism is inappropriate in such situations, but quiet guidance and suggestions will be very helpful to the youngster.
It is okay to reward a child for practicing successfully with a small treat as well as with kind, positive words. Robert Cutietta suggests a random system of rewards that can be either extrinsic (a book about music, for example, or a musical tote bag) or intrinsic (a performance for the family). Both types should be related to music. (3)
Some parents of young children like to sit in on a lesson so that they can be of more assistance during practice times. This is fine, but be sure not to be intrusive. It is your child's lesson, not yours!
It is important to praise your child often! One can applaud effort as well as accomplishment.
Remember: "Only time, positive parental support and excellent teaching can achieve satisfactory results." (4)
1. Machover, Wilma and Uszler, Marienne. Sound Choices: Guiding Your Child's Musical Experiences. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 209.
2. Bidler, Carole L. and Lloyd-Watts, Valery. Studying Suzuki Piano: More than Music. Athens, Ohio: Senzay, 1979, p. 3.
3. Cutietta, Robert A. Raising Musical Kids: A Guide for Parents. New York, Oxford University Press: 2001, p. 96-98.
4. Machover and Uszler, 207.
Nathan, Amy. The Young Musicians' Survival Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Classics' for Kids.com
Practicing is essential, no matter what instrument you’re learning. And good practicing etiquette will improve your playing ten-fold. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your practicing time:
1) Don’t just play, think. Thinking and visualizing what you want to achieve out of each practice session will help you improve at a much faster pace. Before you start practicing, ask yourself what the end goal is, and visualize yourself getting there.
2) Good posture. Whatever instrument you play, or if you sing, check that you are standing or sitting correctly. Your back should be straight, chest up, and feet planted firmly on the floor. Check that you are properly holding your instrument and that you are relaxed and comfortable. Poor posture can affect your playing ability and could even lead to injuries if not corrected!
3) Make sure you warm up. Spend a few moments, at the start of each session, to warm up. This can be done through finger exercises, scales, triads, rudiments, solfège (for vocal students) and many other warm-up exercises. The key is to keep them simple and start slowly; working your way from easiest to more challenging pieces.
4) Stay positive. Be a self-fulfilling prophecy – if you believe it, then it will come true. Stay positive about everything; even those pieces or studies that seem difficult today! I often remind my students to look back in their methods books to songs they used to find difficult, and now can play with ease. Perceive everything as a challenge, but also keep in mind that any challenge can be overcome with the right positive attitude.
5) Sight read. Sight reading is a great way to improve musicality in many ways. It can help with reading notes, rhythm, ear training and theory. To get the most out of sight reading, be sure to do a little bit each time you practice.
6) Hear what you sound like. One of the best ways to improve your own playing is to hear it being played back to you. Recording yourself while practicing will allow you to focus entirely on listening, and you will be amazed at what you didn’t hear while playing. It doesn’t have to be high-quality recording, either – I use iPhone’s Voice Memos, a standard free app. Hearing your mistakes from a new perspective (or for the first time!) will help in correcting them faster.
7) Get into a routine. Strive to practice daily – even for as little as 20 minutes. It’s best to get into a routine for practicing; in the morning, after school, or before going to bed. It’s better to practice a little bit everyday than for hours at a time only once a week.
8) Be comfortable. Where you practice is another important thing to remember. Ideally, you would want a practice area that comfortable and free from distractions, with proper lighting, good ventilation and a comfortable seat.
9) Have all the right equipment. Don’t start practicing unless you have everything you need! Make sure your books, sheet music, metronome, tuner, amp, capo, and CD player or laptop (if needed) are all within reach for easy access. This gives you more time to focus on the music, and you’ll be able to play everything properly and with precision.
10) Reward yourself! Every time you accomplish a tough piece or learn a song you’ve always wanted to master, go ahead and reward yourself! Self-motivation is great and will further inspire you to keep learning.