How do I...? Music blog

Music tips and tricks for the non-musician and beginning music students.

Proper Practice (for students AND their parents)

Learning to practice effectively is an art.  Supporting a young musician can be equally challenging.  Here are a few tips for students to practice efficiently and positively: 

  • Practice at the same time everyday.  Changing the time of practice makes it easy to forget or "excuse" yourself from practicing for a day...or two...or three...
  • Practice in a room that sounds decent.  While the bathroom always sounds amazing, practicing in a room with lots of furniture, curtains, or carpet can help you hear your mistakes more clearly. 
  • Don't allow yourself to become frustrated--frustration leads to negativity, and negativity leads to quitting.  If you become frustrated, take a moment to work on something else, go get a drink of water, stretch, or walk away from your practice session for a few minutes.  If you are so frustrated that these ideas do not work, stop practicing for a day and ask your music teacher for help.  
  • Learn the piece carefully.  A piece learned correctly prevents the struggle of having to fix mistakes that have been learned--this process takes a long time and can be very frustrating.  Taking care early can save time and effort.  
  • If you practice correctly and stay focused on your music (that means no cell phones, books, or other distractions!), you will find that you do not need to practice endlessly to find success.  Use your time wisely! 
  • If you find that your hands, arms, neck, and/or jaw are in pain of any kind, please stop and ask a music teacher and/or doctor for assistance.
  • Please remember that theory assignments are as important to learning music as actually playing, and must be completed on time.  Questions about theory lessons may be answered by the music teacher or using the internet (be careful what  sites you use!).   

Tips for parents assisting or observing a practice session: 

  • Remain positive at all times.  Criticizing the student can be counterproductive.  Students need to have a positive environment in order to progress.  
  • If your student is young, you may need to redirect their attention back to their practicing.  A simple way to do that is to guide the student to an alternative assignment from the teacher.  For example, if your child is having difficulty focusing on "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," he or she may find success in the theory workbook instead, or playing a review game.  
  • Games are an excellent way of teaching or reteaching skills.  Some teachers (such as Ms. Hoffman) will already provide music games specific to what your child is learning.  Please play these games with your child in an enthusiastic manner.  
  • Putting pressure on students to show constant improvement is not often a good idea.  Allow the student to progress as he or she will.  You may instead encourage the student to practice a few extra moments or assist the student in activities.  
  • Allow the student to decide how much involvement they want you to have in their practice sessions.  Step in when necessary, but do not interfere if the student learns best alone.  
  • Invite (but do not demand) your student to play for you the day before a lesson.  He or she should have pieces prepared for the lesson and performing for family is good practice.  However, some students may not wish to play for you, and this is also their decision.  
  • If your child mentions that he or she would like to quit, you have several options.  You may make the decision to keep your student in lessons, in which case you should inform the teacher of the situation.  You may discuss the problem with the student and again, discuss it with the teacher.  You may switch teachers or instruments, or you may allow your student to quit.  It is not recommended that you allow your student to quit until they have stuck with it for several months--usually these feelings pass and enjoyment follows shortly after.  
  • Your student will not always progress at the same rate.  Some days, weeks, or even months will be a struggle where others will be easy and it will seem to come naturally.  Allowing a student to quit during the periods of struggle is not advised.  If a student truly feels that he or she no longer has an interest in music during a period of ease, then it should be discussed in earnest.  

How to Manage Time During a Practice Session

Is your student stumped because they cannot fill a practice session?  Has your student lately been struggling with some aspect of their lesson?  Is work not being completed as assigned?  

There may be a simple reason for these issues--time management.  Depending on age and musical maturity, practice schedules will vary from student to student.  Most often, the following timeline will apply: 

  1. Warm-ups: Most teachers assign some sort of warm-up or series of warm-ups for students to begin with daily.  They are usually simple and very focused on individual skills.  Breathing exercises, long tones, and scales may be used as warm-ups.  
  2. Etudes and exercises: Etudes are short pieces or studies that often teach one or more skills.  They may include short pieces focusing on technique, articulation, or musicality.  
  3. Pieces: Pieces are often selected based on the level of the student.  These are works of any length that are performable.  
  4. Theory, etc.: The teacher may assign some theory work in a book or through a game or exercise to learn a musical concept in notation, history, music theory, composer study, or other area.  This is to make the student well-rounded and ensure that they understand the music they are performing.  

How much time a student spends on each section will depend on how long of a practice session the teacher has suggested.  For example, a 30-minute session would break down to 3-5 minutes for warm-up, 5-10 minutes on exercises, 5-10 minutes on pieces, and the remaining time (5+ minutes) on theory.  The teacher should suggest a breakdown that best suits the needs of the student at their current ability and attention span.