Practice Tips | Children and Practice | Problems and Frustration | Performing

Practice is the most essential part of learning any instrument. Without consistent focused practice there can be no musical growth. Taking music lessons without practicing is similar to going to school and not doing homework. There are many different philosophies as to how one should practice and for what length of time one should practice. Your teacher can help you figure out the correct amount of time needed as well as suggest ways to help make practice time more efficient. There is the infamous Dr. Suzuki quote that says, "You don't have to practice everyday, only on the days that you eat." The message seems simple enough but it is difficult to follow, especially with people being as busy as they are. Most of us though can find the time needed to practice daily. A true/focused practice session is not only extremely rewarding but can be relaxing as well. Many people want to know how long it will take to learn or "get good at" an instrument. While we believe that music is a life long endeavor, the more time one dedicates to focused practice, the quicker they will learn their pieces and achieve their goals.

Practicing Tips

Here are a few suggestions on how long one should practice:

  • For children under 12, multiply their age by 5. That number should represent the time, in minutes, of daily practice. Children over 12 should practice for an hour a day. Obviously, more time will result in faster progress. (Mark O'Connor)
  • Practice each day for the length of your weekly lesson time. (30 minute lesson, 30 minutes of daily practice, etc.)
  • Practice a piece until it is easy not just until you know it. (Mark O'Connor)
  • David Dzubinski, music director and piano teacher here at the NJ School of Music frequently speaks of practicing as the means of getting the music into your fingers. What he is referring to is practicing to achieve muscle memory. This is what is really at the heart of practice.

Malcolm Gladwell a Journalist who specializes in areas of sociology, psychology, and social psychology suggests the following about music:

  • Talent is the extreme desire to practice.
  • It takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field.
  • There is a direct statistical relationship between hours of practice and achievement. No shortcuts. No naturals. Those we think of as talented don't just work harder than anyone else. At some point they fall in love with practice to the point where they want to do little else. They love what they do, and at that point it no longer feels like work.

Children and Practice

A child's music aptitude develops until the age of nine. The earlier they get started, the easier it is to develop music skills throughout their lives. Some instruments are more conducive to younger beginners. Woodwind and brass instruments require a well developed diaphragm and are generally introduced at the age of nine or ten. Instruments such as violin, piano and recorder can be introduced to children as young as 3½, while instruments like guitar and percussion can start to be introduced around age 7.

Tips for encouraging young children to practice at home:

  • Sit in on your child's lesson even if you have no experience yourself, you can learn things that will help you help your child at home.
  • Keep a record: When problems or questions come up at home, write them down so you remember to address them at the next lesson with the teacher.
  • Establish a routine: Make practicing part of your daily schedule; for instance have your child practice at the same time everyday: before or after school, before or after dinner, or before bedtime.
  • Everything in moderation: Young children love to "noodle" around with their instrument, and it's good for them to do, BUT their teachers' assignments are just as important. It is beneficial to include both in your child's practice routine.
  • Consistency is the key: Daily practice, even if it's for only ten minutes, is very important. You may occasionally, have to miss a day, but try not to skip any more than two consecutive days. If your child has been sick, or was away on vacation, it is important to bring them to their next lesson. This is the best way to keep them on track, and refresh them for the next week of practicing. Plus, if your child has been consistently practicing all along, chances are that one bad week is not going to deter learning more at that lesson.
  • On the issue of sitting: Many young children have too much energy, or less ability to focus for long periods of time, or have problems focusing when they are tired. Practicing does not have to happen all at once. Have your child play 3 or 4 times a day for just a few minutes to optimize their ability to focus.
  • Singing and listening: Teaching your child to sing the songs they are learning, or playing recordings of songs they are learning (you can have the teacher play and record the songs at the lesson) helps them to enjoy the music they are studying more. It's also fun to teach them about the composers and famous performers of the music. It gives them perspective and inspiration.
  • Ups and downs: Everyone who plays and studies music goes through time periods when they are discouraged and want to quit. BUT we never hear, "I quit playing "insert instrument here" and it was the best thing I ever did. What we do hear all the time is, "Wow, I took lessons, and then I quit and it is one of my biggest regrets. I wish I could play now. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit." When your child is going through a "rough patch" sit down and talk to their teacher about it. Often it just takes a change of songs and lesson book to get them on their way again. You may also want to introduce them to different styles of music, have them add another instrument, or consider changing teachers.
  • Performances: Always encourage performance opportunities. One way to do this is to participate in your teacher's recital as well as the countless community performances that we make available to our students. Other opportunities arise at school or church. You can also have your child play at family events and "get-together's" with friends. It is a priceless experience for every musician, no matter how old they are and where they are in their studies.

How to deal with problem areas and frustration

Most people practice a piece the same way every time. Logic tells us to start at the beginning and play to the end. That makes sense, right? What about those tricky spots, the places where we "mess up" every time? The usual solution is to start from the beginning to see if we can fix it on the next go around. The cycle repeats over and over again leading to frustration. Stop! Why not focus on the areas causing the problems? It can be 2 notes, two measures, two lines, it doesn't matter; breaking down the music to focus on a smaller section is more rewarding and will help minimize frustration during practice. It will also lead to stronger playing overall.

Many teachers suggest a "game" where one tries to play a small section of music anywhere from 3 and 7 times in a row without making any mistakes. Every time a mistake is made the student starts over at 1. This technique not only focuses practice but also can help build muscle memory and leads to quicker mastery of a piece.

There is also some logic to learning a piece of music from the final phrase and working backwards or learning passages that appear more difficult first. This type of practice may be more suited for intermediate to advanced students but is worth noting as it relates to the points above about focusing on problem areas to strengthen muscle memory and overall performance.

Finding a comfortable practice space is also helpful. Life has so many interruptions; the phone, the TV, the clock… Practice should take place in a quiet room. Turn off your cell phone or leave it in another room. Turn off the TV, computer and try to face away from any clocks. Then, try to clear your mind and focus on the music you are about to create.

Performance Tips

Philadelphia based classical guitarist, Allen Krantz likes to stress that students should learn a piece 110% for a performance because they will lose 10% when they perform. For most people the thought of getting up on a stage and performing is terrifying. There is some comfort in having music in front of you or playing with others but nothing about performing is truly comforting. The best way to master the nerves associated with performance is to perform as frequently as possible.

Below is a list of helpful ways to tackle performance anxieties:

  • Play your piece(s) for friends and family
  • Practice in front of a mirror
  • Record yourself practicing
  • Practice without your music
  • Practice in the dark
  • Play your pieces at open mic nights
  • Everyone makes "mistakes". Professional musicians know how to hide their mistakes. Keep in mind that unless you make a face or stop playing, most people will not know you made a mistake.

We provide various opportunities throughout the year for students to practice performing in preparation for recitals, concerts and auditions. A list of upcoming performance opportunities can be found on our community events page.

Practice Tips | Children and Practice | Problems and Frustration | Performing