The best habits to follow when practicing an instrument. Developing these can be fast and easy AND can take longer to develop. It's a marathon, not a race. Knowing how your child works are also key. Try to listen to them
Practice Habits - Below is a chart from a running website. It is a more accurate showing of most students' improvement arc. It rarely goes up in a straight line.
TIP: Most students aged 5-12 do not voluntarily want to practice! Developing a habit/routine can help with this.
Top 5 Habit builders for better practice.
Start with a realistic goal - Picking up or going to your instrument
Make sure your child’s instrument is easy to access
Have a practice area
Stop using a clock for practice time
Small amounts every day is best
Start with a realistic goal. According to BF Fogg and James Clear, the best way to create a habit is to start with a small goal. Clear suggests going to put on your shoes to start a running habit. Fogg goes further to suggest having a trigger - If this, then that. He would do two push-ups every time he went pee. When you have a small, realistic goal practicing becomes manageable, especially for younger children. With learning music, a child could go to the piano or pick up their instrument at first. It’s amazing how this small gesture can result in big wins. First, the habit is being developed. Second, kids (or adults) often do more than only picking up their instruments. As the consistency builds, add more steps. Go to the piano, and play three notes. Then add playing a bar, 2 bars, a piece, etc. The first step of going to the instrument is key.
Make Sure Your Childs Instrument is Easy To Access Over the 20 years I’ve taught, I’ve always wondered why kids don’t practice. Even if they love playing and learning. One consistent culprit is accessing their instrument. While an acoustic piano is obviously easy to access, a digital one in the closet is not. I have systematically gone through the motions of students from when they get home from school to sitting and being able to play their instrument. It’s incredible how many students put their instruments away (for guitarists, under their bed, in their closet, still in the car from the last lesson! Yes, really!) While an instrument lying on the floor is not ideal, neither is having it out of sight. It creates a barrier to practicing and is more common than you think. There is a stand made for every instrument out there. Getting one can be the difference between practicing and not practicing.
Have a practice area. Yes, practicing on your bed is very comfortable! We know it well. However, it makes learning new skills or techniques challenging. Having a designated area will create better practice sessions and build better habits. A good practice area has proper lighting, seating, a sturdy music stand, a metronome and/or tuner easily accessible. Wind instruments may need reeds close. Guitarists a foot pedal. Everything needed to play well should be there. BONUS: Have your goals on your music stand, or track your practice time.
Stop Using A Clock For Practicing While not necessarily a practice habit per se, I thought it was worth mentioning. Music is based on hand and body movements. It’s closer to a sport than art, especially in the beginning. We recommend doing reps (repetitions) over an amount of time. There are two great reasons for this. First, kids will always be watching the clock and not the music. “What time is it now” or “how much longer” are often a chorus during practice. Second, reps build muscle memory and mental recognition of getting better. Kids can see the results. BONUS Third reason - it becomes more fun to play. Reps are about the process. The process is where the improvement lies. Clocks are for being on time. Think about a sport your child may play, like Hockey. While the practice may be 60 mins during that time, the players work on skating backwards, puck handling, and passing drills - specific skills to improve at the sport. Music students need to do this too. The best way is to solve a problem every time they play. Coordination of certain fingers, how long they can hold their breath, getting faster at a piece. None of these are solved within ten or 30-minute chunks of time. They are solved by focused effort. Or Reps.
Small amounts every day is best. It’s true; a little bit every day will get better results. It’s like investing your money - if you put aside a small amount of consistency, the dividends pay off more in the long run. Consistently moved fingers will cooperate faster than fingers moved once a week (even if the once a week is longer than little bits every day!) Practice is the same. A small amount of finger/body/breath movement daily starts to pay dividends in the future. However, like the stock market sometimes, those dividends aren’t always paying high. This is normal. It’s also easier for students to handle. Small, focused practices frequently. Working on reps and fixing issues while practicing. This is where parents can help.
Do you have any practice tips that have worked for you or your children? Leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org