The Importance of Practicing

You’ve signed your child up for regular piano (or bass, guitar, voice or any other type of music) lessons. Congratulations! They are already on their way to enjoying so many of the benefits of learning a musical instrument. But it doesn’t stop there. In order to reap these benefits, your child will have to practice. A regular practice routine can take a while to get into–especially for young beginners.  Don’t be discouraged if they’re not practicing right away, but constant encouragement and coaxing will go a long way in helping to establish a routine. And this formal practice routine develops discipline as well as comfort: When you are better at something, which practice will inevitably make you, you are more likely to do it.


While Malcolm Gladwell’s famous “10,000-hour Rule” is a little more complicated than the way it was interpreted when it was first coined (Frans Johansson argues in his book, The Click Moment, that deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures–e.g. chess and music [but since we’re still talking about music, it holds!]), it is pretty irrefutable that if you do something more, you get better at it. 
But effective practice is even more important: if you have no set schedule around your practice–no regularity–you have no agenda for what to do during the practice time, and no quantifiable goals, you are not going to get very much out of practice at all. Here are a few things to remember when setting yourself or your child up for effective practice:
  • Help your child create and stick to a manageable schedule for practicing: does spending time after their music lesson make sense since they’re already in the mode? Does practicing on the weekends strip it of stress and inject some fun into it? Whatever the time of day or day of the week, make sure they come up with a practice schedule they can stick to. 
  • Make sure your child sets goals for their practice sessions; these goals may change over the course of a semester and certainly a year, and even a practice session–and should!–but they should be absolutely clear and achievable and should not change within the amount of time you’ve allotted for each. Do they want to be able to play their favorite song? Learn how to read music better? Master scales? Whatever it is, a student’s practice should be in support of these goals. An entry in NPR’s The Young Person’s Guide to Making Music series cites violinist Ren Martin-Doike, who says that when she is practicing, she “may decide to devote my first practice block to warming up, my second block to working on isolating difficult passages from a concerto, my third to putting fingerings in my orchestra part, my fourth to studying a new chamber work and spend my last block on playing through or stitching together the various smaller sections I worked on earlier in the day. By having a plan, I am able to maximize my time, juggle lots of different music and prevent aimless practicing or mindless playing through.” This also means that if a student is feeling overwhelmed with how much they need to get better at in order to be “good,” you should help them focus on one thing at a time. No one ever sat down to the piano and played a Rachmaninoff concerto right away: practice takes time.
  • That brings us to one of the most important things to do when practicing: Get used to making mistakes. If your child is so concerned with everything being perfect, they will not accept all the missteps and yes, failures, that are actually part of mastering something and they are more likely to give up. Encourage them to accept and celebrate mistakes rather than punish themselves. 
Practice will change as students progress and get older: for the very young beginner, parents will have to be very involved, perhaps promising some kind of achievement-based rewards and definitely sitting with their child throughout the practice (which, at that stage, could be as little as 10 focused minutes). But as a child progresses and gets older, parents should turn over more and more of that responsibility over to their child, encouraging them to self-motivate and self-discipline. 
And don’t be discouraged! While it took more than 76 famous classical composers at least 10 years to create their greatest work, it could take you less than 5 hours to master playing “Ode to Joy” and feel real good about it.