How Much Should My Child Practice?

This is probably the most asked question directed at music teachers… 
How much should my child practice?
Over the years, we've experimented with different approaches to help confidently answer this question. We have observed the results very carefully, and have gradually tweaked the approaches with the results achieved by the students.
As things currently stand, the best answer to this "how much should my child practice" question is pretty simple…
As long as it takes for them to get all their assignments ready for the next lesson.

How much should my child practice?

By "ready", I mean to a point where it meets the teacher's expectations. The teacher wouldn't assign anything beyond what any student was capable of doing. Sometimes, the projects are big and they may not be 100% ready by the lesson, but the teacher will know when those times are and will communicate that the progress is right on track based on the expectations they had when giving the assignment.
There is no amount of time - there is just ready or not ready. This builds the most positive momentum for the longest amount of time.
When I was a child, we had to set the timer and keep practice charts for our lessons. This is a good way to make sure students practice for a certain amount of time each week. However, I think we've evolved in our understanding of the learning process and more importantly, the creative process. If we practice with the intent of meeting a certain time quota, then we can actually do as much damage as good to the process. Mindless and unfocused repetitions can lead to a lot of bad habits that can be reinforced with each minute at the instrument. This causes the students to develop shortcomings in musicianship and technique that can linger for a lifetime.
As music students and musicians, we do need to practice every day. There is no way around this. However, rather than ask "How much should my child practice?", the real question should be "How should my child practice?"
If we practice in a way that every repetition means something, and challenges us to stay engaged, then we will need to practice fewer minutes to achieve greater results. At CMA, we work really hard to intergrate games and activities based on the latest findings in brain science and education. The best thing you can do for your child at home is to make sure their practice area at home is equipped with all the props and tools they use in the lessons with their teachers. It could be as simple as a metronome, a set of cards, a smartphone or tablet, stickers, a recording device, etc. Your teacher can walk you through what these things should be for your child - each student will be different depending on the instrument and age/level.
Once this approach is embraced at home, students begin the process of becoming self-sufficient and creative music makers - that's our main goal!
Here are some key points to always keep in mind when setting aside the practice time…
  • Have the child get to the instrument each day, as this will build their confidence and feed their passion for creating music.
  • Stress how important it is to practice everything on their list from the teacher, rather than encouraging a certain length of time to practice.
  • Remind them to play the games that their teacher uses in lessons.
  • Keep the music as the reward! If you're rewarding them with treats for music practice, they will view music as a chore (this will be a whole different blog post).
  • Invest in the necessary props for the child to play the games and activities on their own when practicing.
We spend a fair amount of time training our teachers at CMA to use these cutting-edge teaching activities and have seen amazing results over the years. There is no reason it should stop at CMA. Once your child starts bringing these approaches home, they will really start to take off!