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How to Practice a Musical Instrument

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Learning to play a musical instrument – or a particular piece of music – is like putting together a puzzle. Some patience is required and very often the natural impatience of young students can get in the way. They want to rush the process, which can lead to poor results. As with most pursuits, instant gratification in learning music is rare.

This is one of the most valuable benefits of learning to play music as a child. The process of repetition and correction leads to mastery, which allows your child to learn new material and conquer new musical challenges. (Your child will also be better prepared to conquer other challenges – in school, sports, and other pursuits – using the grit and character that learning how to play an instrument helps develop.)

A good practice method starts with a student writing down his or her goals and creating a plan and schedule to reach those goals. The plan and schedule should include long-term, mid-range, and immediate goals. (Setting a goal to master a particular piece of music, for example, is important, but it is not specific enough to drive daily practice. Your child’s goal for today’s practice might be to master a particular passage within that piece.)

Our recommendation is that less is more when it comes to goals. Setting achievable goals and truly mastering those goals is more productive than attempting to tackle too big a task, which can lead to slower overall progress.

Similarly, we recommend more, shorter practice sessions rather than fewer longer sessions, especially for younger students. They simply won’t have the attention span to maintain the focus needed to see the results that will keep them enthused and engaged. Here are a few other tips for helping your child practice and learn a musical instrument.

Where to Practice

Since concentration is required, a quiet area with good lighting is best. A congested or chaotic area in the house will make praciting more difficult. If space is at a premium, you can try to arrange practice sessions for times when fewer people are around so your child can concentrate well.

When to Practice

Create a set schedule, selecting days and times of the week that you can dedicate to practicing your instrument. Be consistent! Yes, there will be times that other priorities intrude, but it is important to create strong habits. As we’ve already mentioned, it is always better to practice briefly and frequently to keep your practicing efficient and effective.

What to Practice

If you have scales, studies, and pieces to practice, select one or two per day at most. What to practice will depend on how much time you have for your practice session and where you are in the learning process for the piece you are focused on.

How Often and For How Long Should Your Child Practice Each Week?

Your child’s age, maturity, and current playing level will help determine the best practice schedule. We’ve provided some guidelines below, but some good rules of thumb to know are that after 30 minutes of practice, the brain needs a break. For beginners and very young students, 15 to 30 minutes of practice at least 3-5 times per week is appropriate.

For older students who are at an intermediate or advanced level on their instruments, practicing 45 to 60 minutes is ideal 5 days per week. Most students will benefit from a 10-minute break after 30 minutes of practice. If practicing 5 days per week is not feasible, then at least 3 days per week can suffice.

For any students who initially have trouble practicing for longer stretches, you can help them establish good habits by breaking practice into 15-minute increments. Small goals will help them achieve bigger ones!

Practice Tips for Music Students Ages 3 to 7

In this age range, the student is mainly learning how to sit or hold the instrument, learning basic notes and rhythms. Recommendations and steps to follow:

1. Parent supervision during the class and practice time is ideal, and in some cases, is required. This will depend on each child’s maturity and development.

2. Practice two measures at a time. Sometimes, that can mean we are practicing just 3 notes at a time. Adjust based on age and progress. The amount of work that a student in this age range can handle is very individual.

3. If applicable, practicing hands separately is always recommended. It is crucially important to understand that at this age the student’s capabilities to focus will vary from one child to another, and the teacher’s personality, experience, and methods used with the very young are key to growth and learning. Every child has different needs, different styles of learning and different personalities for which applying the correct approach is crucial.

Practice Tips for Music Students Ages 8 and Up

Students in this age group should be breaking the pieces they are working on into small sections. These are our recommendations and steps to follow:

1. If applicable, practice one line or phrase with each hand separately and repeat each hand 3-4 times making sure they understand the notes and rhythms. Repeat the process until the end of the piece.

2. Practice both hands together, again one line or phrase at a time, and repeat each line 3-4 times until you have covered the whole piece. Once you have finished learning the notes and rhythms, then you are ready for the next step.

3. Work on dynamics, phrasing, style, interpretation, and memory.

Throughout, remember that small goals will help you achieve larger goals more easily!

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