How to Set Up a Practice Schedule
How to Set Up a Practice Schedule
This week we conclude our series on 3 common questions we receive from parents. Our final question, “How to set a practice schedule?” requires the most effort from the parent and music student. Here are some tips to create a realistic practice schedule for young musicians-in-training.
Make Music Practice a Daily Routine
Routines lower stress by allowing for easier day-to-day planning, efficient time management, and establishing non-negotiable tasks. Without a routine, children will negotiate, on a daily basis, of when, how often, and for how long to practice. A routine allows parents to set the “ground rules” for music practice by creating expectations for when and how long to do daily practice.
The ideal practice time depends on the student and home environment. Students can practice before school, right after school, during dinner preparation, or in the evening. Use two weeks for trial and error and you might discover that your child is more alert before school rather than after dinner. Once you find the perfect time, stay consistent to turn it into a routine.
It is normal for parents to encounter resistance when they first introduce music practice to the daily routine. As long as parents stay consistent with enforcing the routine, the resistance will subside as children eventually understand that music practice is a part of the daily routine.
Length of Practice Time Depends on Age and Music Level
When parents create a practice schedule, they should consider their child’s age and music level. The younger the student, the shorter the practice time due to shorter attention spans. We advise parents of younger students to aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of daily practice. This is the same length of time as their music lessons. If a student cannot practice for 30 minutes, they can start with 10 to 15 minutes of daily practice and build up to 30 minutes. Our philosophy is that a little practice everyday is better than no practice.
As the music student advances, music practice should increase to 1 hour a day. It is common for dedicated students playing at the highest levels to practice more than 1 hour a day, devoting several hours in preparation for an exam or competition. At this stage, music practice is established as part of the daily routine so the transition is smooth.
Motivate Children with Fun Practice Charts
Some children need extra motivation to follow a practice schedule. Practice charts provide immediate positive reinforcement for children who respond well to rewards. Students are awarded stickers to place on the chart after they finish practicing for the day. Selecting a special sticker and placing the sticker on the chart makes the reward more personal and empowers younger students to practice daily. Alternatively, parents can use a colouring chart where a portion of the chart is coloured after practice.
There are a lot of free creative practice charts available online with different themes. Ask your child to help with selecting practice charts and stickers. If your child has an interest in pirates, find a pirate themed practice chart and include sea creature stickers. Your child will be more motivated to complete a pirate practice chart than a dinosaur practice chart. The point is to get your child involved in the process so that they feel empowered to practice.
We recommend placing the practice chart in a visible location and at the student’s eye level. The practice chart visually prompts the student to practice while acknowledging successful completion of past practice sessions.
Minimize Distractions to Reduce Interruptions During Practice
There are two main hurdles when it comes to practice. The first hurdle is getting started. The second is staying focused on practice, especially for younger students. Distractions lead to interruptions which cut into valuable practice time. Once a child is distracted, the parent has the unenviable task of persuading the child back to practice. Here are some tips to avoid distractions altogether.
Parents should be mindful of the practice environment. Look around the practice room. Are there toys, books, or snacks lying around? Is the TV turned on? Is there a tablet or phone nearby? Is there loud music playing throughout the house? Is there a sibling in the room? The goal is to minimize anything that would break your child’s concentration.
The body can also act as a distraction. If your child is prone to bathroom breaks, ask them to use the bathroom before they start practice. If the practice time happens after school, give your child a small snack beforehand. If your child is suffering from a cold, have a box of tissues on hand.
Some younger children do not want to be left on their own. In this case, the parent’s absence is the distraction. There is no way around this but to be present during practice. Luckily, children grow out of this phase. In the meantime, parents can view this as an opportunity to reinforce homework assigned by the teacher.
Parents who create a practice-friendly environment are naturally reinforcing the practice schedule. Minimizing distractions means less interruptions to the practice schedule. Uninterrupted practice within the allotted time, makes it easier to integrate the practice schedule into the daily routine.
Creating and enforcing a realistic practice schedule is a huge step for parents of beginner music students but it is a worthwhile exercise and the gains are worth the initial struggles. One thing to point out is that if parents and students put too much focus on going through the motions of practice instead of practicing with intention, it could reinforce bad habits such as bad posture or poor finger placement.
Music students who put in the effort to focus on areas of improvement and do the homework assigned by the music teacher will see improvement faster than someone who rushes through practice. Practicing with intention on a consistent practice schedule is undeniably the most efficient way to build up music skills.