Any good music instructor will tell you to practice your musical instrument every single day, for at least as many minutes as you play in your lesson. So if you play your instrument for twenty minutes in your weekly music lessons, then practice for twenty minutes per day at home. This is ideal, but not always practical. Whether you are an adult trying to squeeze practice time in between business trips and loads of laundry, or you’re a parent trying to coerce your child into practicing at all, here are some tips to make your music practice time happen.
First and foremost, keep that instrument someplace convenient. I have two interesting case studies to demonstrate this point. Both situations involve children of divorced parents who alternated entire weeks between Mom and Dad. These scenarios help point to the triggers that prompt a child to practice, because in both cases, they involve the same child, who has the same motivation and aptitude, but who practice more at one parent’s house versus the other.
In the first case, the piano was kept in a major thoroughfare in Dad’s house. The student could not walk anywhere in the home without walking right past the piano. When this student arrived for her weekly lesson, I could always tell whether she had been at her mother’s or father’s house that week, based on how polished her piece was. She practiced more at her father’s home.
In the second case, the student had two electronic keyboards, one at each parent’s home. At her father’s, it was set up on a stand in her bedroom. At her mother’s, the keyboard was more portable, and the student would drag the keyboard onto her bed and practice there. While I shudder a little at her lack of good posture during practice time, I cannot help but acknowledge that she practiced more at her mother’s home. Convenience was the overriding factor.
Some students have complained they cannot practice due to homework loads. Others argue that family members are always watching television. Another issue is focus and attention: many parents have told me that their ADD / ADHD / Asperger’s / five-year-old child cannot focus in the afternoon after school, or for a whole twenty-minute session at a time. I ask if they have considered squeezing in practice time in the morning, after eating breakfast, before the bus arrives? Consider trading that Spongebob episode for fifteen minutes on the guitar. How about splitting up your practice time into two ten-minute sessions, or four five-minute sessions, if your child has serious difficulty with attention.
Consider hitting lessons hard during the summer, too. Although you may be going on a family vacation and sending your children to three summer camps, you can’t deny that he has more time for both practice and lessons. Try setting aside time every week for music lessons, and rescheduling the weeks your child will be away. Weekly lessons and daily practice time will help you maintain some inkling of a routine through the summer, helping you keep your sanity. Meanwhile, your child is sure to progress, because music is fun, and without homework, soccer, and a million other things monopolizing his and your time, he will be able to focus on learning his musical instrument.
Adults can find time to practice, too, and the same principles apply. Keep your instrument convenient. Get a guitar stand and set your instrument right next to your favorite recliner. You may find yourself picking it up during commercials or halftime. Put the piano or drumset someplace central in your home, where you see it every time you walk by. If you have children, assign them chores during your practice time: “Sorry, dear. Daddy can’t help you with the bathrooms right now. I have to practice.”
When students try to cram practice time in just prior to a performance or audition, I remind them that music performance is no different from running a marathon. It takes muscle strength and coordination, and you cannot cultivate that overnight. Also, much like running a marathon, you can hurt yourself without proper, controlled training and development. Practice your instrument every single day to get your body and mind honed for the ultimate job: music performance.