The question I hear most often from parents is about how much their child should practice violin or piano. Growing up in Russia in a relatively strict music school system I was exposed to the "practice until your fingers bleed approach". I do not recommend it.
Everyone asks how much to practice, but rarely does someone ask *what practice actually is*. Practicing is presumed to be all about repetition until perfection. In part, it does involve repetition, however it is much more about intentionally creating a process of breaking down one complex task into tiny steps. Each practice session needs to have a purpose - correction - each practice moment needs to have a purpose. Only then does it become truly effective. It's like the zen of the mind-body-instrument!
Little kids, of course, can't do this on their own. A teacher should give them very clear small things to internalize, and the parents' job is then to aid in the building of a new habit at home.
I have found it most effective to practice in frequent bite-size chunks. This is especially crucial for young children. A daily 5-minute practice session will create more momentum than squeezing in a painful half an hour a couple of times a week. However, the most important thing is to use those 5 minutes mindfully and purposefully. At times it will be even less than that, but the time you get your little one to actually sit still at the piano or pick up their tiny violin... But the act of coming in contact with the instrument again and again is the foundation of the relationship with the instrument. There is a lot of mental energy expended in this process, so it's perfectly normal for a young child (or even an adult for that matter) to become quickly tired and unable to focus. Take many breaks! If you can approach the instrument a couple of times a day just briefly - that's a great start.
This is a great opportunity to gently teach your child discipline, but not in a forceful "this is a chore" way, but rather as an exploration of one's own abilities in conquering a new, potentially difficult endeavor.
I am in disbelief when I witness really young kids express fear of making a mistake with immense pressure of being perfect on the first try. This anxiety isn't helpful in the learning process or life in general. Finding the *fun* in the path from "fair" to "better" to "awesome" is the tricky part.
I remind my students that nothing is really "hard", some things are just less familiar than others, and with time and mindful problem-solving, the intimidating piece starts to spark joy and excitement. Playing music is just as important as learning it. I navigate my students back to their older pieces so they can actually enjoy and savor them after putting in the work. It's a not race to the next, newest thing.
And for the parents, patience and attention are key. Allow your child the space to explore. If they are too tired, strategize practice time for when they have the most mental energy left. Frame this musical endeavor as a fun art project, and give it the time it deserves.
1) Set a regular daily time for practice. You know your child best: when are they least tired? When do they have the mental energy to focus and absorb new information?
2) Make the practice sessions short. For some it helps to set a timer for 5-7 minutes. Try to make this a game or a challenge and not a chore. Frequency and consistency are key!
3) Offer a reward in the form of stickers. Create a practice planner adding stickers for each daily session with the instrument.
4) As the student becomes a little more advanced, offer an opportunity for them to teach YOU. We see kids' level of enthusiasm and success rise when the parents get involved, show curiosity, and partake in the activity.
5) Choose one thing to practice in each session. Read the teacher's notes and explain to your child what the goal is in the next several minutes. Sometimes this will work great, other times it won't, and they will want to play something else, but even that is a win! Do your best to help them stay on course.
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