How Much Should Students Practice?
Musicians of any age generally benefit from setting aside a specific amount of time regularly throughout the week. For example: Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons before dinner. There are some general guidelines concerning practicing that will facilitate reasonable expectations and achieve the best results. Firstly, more frequent, shorter practice sessions are more beneficial than one long practice session each week. The more times an activity is revisited across time, the stronger connection the relevant neurons make.
While practicing everyday is obviously the most desirable, it’s more important to find an amount of practice that you can maintain consistently. If practicing everyday means there isn’t time for another desired activity during the week, then it will not be sustainable. Practice shouldn’t feel like a chore or a punishment; there shouldn’t be resentment about the other things you’re not able to do because of practicing your instrument. Finding that balance of how much regular practice time you or your family is comfortable with scheduling is essential to keeping it consistent long term.
Keep in mind that the younger the musician, the shorter their practice sessions will be. A five year old can generally focus for 15 minutes. Plan accordingly! Similarly, the younger they are, the more assistance they will need to actually practice. If they don’t remember to brush their teeth on their own yet, then they aren’t ready to practice on their own. Help them determine when it’s time to practice, what their instructor wants them to work on, and which tasks will be worked on in the allotted time. It’s usually necessary, at least initially, to sit with them while they practice to redirect attention and effort as needed. But as kids are nearing middle school, they can generally be expected to manage their own practice times, and focus effectively for up to half an hour per session.
As an adult, the amount of time you should allocate for each practice session can certainly vary too. Of course your goals are a large part of that calculation. If you’re working towards playing professionally, your whole life will be organized around getting as many hours in daily as possible (probably 6+ hours a day). But, if your goal is to be able to play with the church band next year, a couple hours spread across a week might be sufficient.
Regardless of goals, breaking down the allotted time into specific tasks helps use time efficiently. For example, a few minutes each on theory, ear training, scales, repertoire, technique, and/or improvising. Some musicians find that even spreading those distinct tasks across multiple short sessions during the day grants them better focus and use of time overall. This could look like doing technique and theory practice in the morning and working on a specific piece of music in the afternoons. Find what works for you and your schedule to make the time spent most effective.
Once you begin to see the growth you’re making with your effective practice, it will motivate you to practice more: The more you practice, the better you get. The better you get, the more fun you have. The more fun you have, the more you practice!
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Sarah Nation has taught guitar to all levels and ages of students for nearly two decades. She holds a BA in Music and a professional certificate in Jazz Guitar.