“How much should my Son/Daughter practice?” This is the #1 question we get asked at Music Lab – East Sacramento. The traditional response back in the day was: “30 minutes at least 5 days a week. Use a timer.” This ended up being a horrible idea. Parents would set the dreaded kitchen timer, the one from the 70’s – 80’s that was hand-cranked…and students realized just how long a minute truly lasts. The students hated it.
I was one of these students who was held to the “30 Minute Rule” of practicing. Most of the time, I wouldn’t be playing/practicing at all. I would just be staring off into oblivion; wondering when I could get off the uncomfortable piano bench and back into whatever activity I was doing prior to mom setting “The Timer.”
Unfortunately, in my effort to waste time, and bring the timer to 0, I also was unable to show any real tangible progress in the instrument. Wasn’t that what practicing was for? To be able to play the instrument better? Read music better? Actually, ENJOY the instrument? That is when I learned a few different ways to make practice more effective, and more efficient with time. Here are a few small ideas I recommend incorporating into your practice method.
1. DON’T SET A TIME LIMIT… SET A GOAL (a small one.)
I do not like this idea of setting a timer for “X” amount of time as your “practice.” Instead, set a small goal. That might be playing through a few measures of your piano or guitar piece that you are working on. Perhaps it is playing a drum exercise four times in a row. Maybe that goal is to sing the verse of the song you are working on. Whatever the instrument, set a small goal. That goal might only take you FIVE minutes. If that is so, great. Step away from the instrument. That small goal might take you an HOUR one day. If that is the case, take it slow, and enjoy the accomplishment.
2. BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT YOUR PRACTICE.
This is probably the biggest idea to make practice time the most effective. When you sit at your instrument, ATTEMPT to be intentional with your time on the instrument. It’s OKAY to not “feel” like practicing. If that is the case, then DON’T. Instead, see how you feel in half an hour. You might be more excited to jump on and get some work handled when you FEEL LIKE IT. The second that you feel you are moving closer to no longer paying attention, or feeling deflated while playing, just walk away. Just remember when you sit down and pick your instrument up, really try to focus on being intentional with the time spent practicing.
3. CELEBRATE YOUR PRACTICE ACHIEVEMENT.
We do not spend enough time celebrating our achievements, no matter how small the goal was. “Practice” has a derogatory connotation of being “not good enough.” Remember, the goal of practicing is to GET BETTER. It’s not designed just to waste your time and help you remember that you are spending money on private music lessons. When you do reach your goal, CELEBRATE IT! If we could end practice with a small celebration, wouldn’t you want to practice EVERY DAY? I would.
These are just a FEW of the initial ideas for changing the culture of how we practice. There are several more that we will be discussing in the coming months. For now, try to set a small goal instead of a time limit. Be intentional with your practice time. Make it count. Lastly, enjoy your accomplishments when you have finished a practice session. Savor your tangible progress and most importantly….ENJOY THE INSTRUMENT!