How Much Should I Practice?

When students are first beginning, the number one asked question after “What kind of instrument should I buy?” is “How much should I practice?”

You’ve heard it: Practice makes perfect. Practice makes progress. Perfect practice makes progress. Progressive practice makes practice perfection. Peter Piper picked a peck of practice perfection progression.

Last winter we held a studio-wide practice challenge. Students were encouraged to practice in different ways.

  • In January, students practiced each assigned piece and scale three times per practice session.
  • In February, students practiced 30 minutes a day/4 days a week
  • In March students committed to a 2-week streak where students practiced everyday, regardless of time, for 2 weeks.

I bet you can predict the results. We noted that January was everyone’s favorite. It was measurable without having an arbitrary time associated with it. March was the most productive, but the hardest to achieve. Inevitably students would practice ten days and then forget on day eleven. Your favorite meanie-piano-teacher insisted the student start over at day 1.

February, without fail, was everyone’s least favorite — 100% across the board.

Those results are predictable, but still shocking. Conventional piano teacher wisdom is that students should practice every day for 30 minutes a day. Sit down at the piano, set a timer, and in 30 minutes – DING – instant pianist. It’s as if our piano development was a casserole.

“The secret of success is ‘Practice’ — but not just p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e.  Practice slowly and critically — examine it.  Being busy is not the secret of success.”

Lloyd J Reynolds

Being busy is not the secret of success. The learning process is not a straight line. Yes, students need to put in the time. But if we can show students how to practice efficiently and effectively, and they achieve their goals in 23 minutes, then that sounds like an achievement, not a problem. There are practice strategies that we develop and discuss in lessons to optimize students’ practice time (click here when available). In our busy lives, finding ways to approach learning new pieces with efficiency honors the student’s time and still allows for progress. Better yet, if a student achieves their practice goals, it allows time to play, create, doodle, review, “goof off,” and enjoy their time at the instrument.

Oldie but goodie

What I have personally found is the hardest part of practice is the walk to the bench. If a student can commit to sitting down and playing daily, usually the output takes care of itself regardless if they are repeating three times in a row, playing for 30 minutes a day, or playing many successive days in a row. Get on the bench and play.

Interested in learning more? Contact Music Works Iowa to set up a lesson.

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