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How much to practise

Everybody has to decide for themselves how much practice can be fitted into their lives and family routine, but the mastery of any skill involves constant repetition. It follows that the more frequent reinforcement there is, the quicker the development of the skill will be. The important thing is to make practice a matter of daily routine, not an optional extra. In an ideal world, children would practise frequently and spontaneously. But even with the best will in the world, not to mention swimming, dancing and what-not to be fitted in, it sometimes happens that the day is over, it’s long past bedtime, and no practice has been done. Agreeing a routine helps make a habit of practice, so that it is done with a minimum of fuss and is fitted into the gaps of the busy after-school schedule of many of today’s children.

Of course, with very young children, it is not just the child’s schedule which has to be taken into account, but also the parent’s. Even when the child is capable of doing some practice on his own, it is still the parent’s responsibility to help organise a routine and to remind and encourage.

For many people, the best results come if practice is spread throughout the day, like meals or medicine (no-one could claim that practice was all joy!). To practise before leaving the house in the morning might seem hopelessly unrealistic, but it only requires one to get up ten minutes earlier and it does leave one feeling incredibly virtuous. It can be a challenge to find an extra ten minutes in the day to practise when it seemed none existed.

One should not be overly prescriptive in defining practice methods. People are different. They differ in their ways of working: some are extremely flighty in their concentration; others sustain a dogged approach. They differ in their range of interests, too, and this affects the priority they give music and piano playing in their lives. And they differ in their ability to work on their own: some are very independent and refuse help (even when they cannot manage without it; that’s a difficult one!), while others (especially young children) need a great deal of parental coaching in practice sessions. Most children are glad of a bit of company; just someone in the room with them, not necessarily listening to the practice. We all know that encouragement is vital; at the very least this means spending time listening to your child play the piano. If they are pleased that their playing was appreciated, ask them to play to friends and relatives when opportunities arise.

For many children (and some adults), practising little and often is best. In general, concentration works best in short or defined periods. A brief time at the piano can be surprisingly effective. It is in a situation like this that we are most likely to find the constituents of good practice: concentration, a clear aim, and the work undertaken willingly.

Archie McLellan