Organizing Practice Time for Kids & Adults

Every great musician will tell you that it takes countless hours of practice and effort to reach the level they have. But if they’re being totally honest, they’ll also admit that there are lots of times when they just don’t feel like practicing. It’s a feeling that every musician gets from time to time, but if your goal is to continue moving forward, you’ll need to push through these times. The best way to make sure that your practice time is fun and effective is to manage your time well. So, this week we’re going to take a quick look at how you can best optimize your practice time, and your kids’ practice time as well!

Kids’ Practice

Let’s start with organizing your child’s practice time, since that can be a little more free-flowing, depending on how old and how advanced they are.

There are five categories we think are really important to a good, well-rounded practice session:

  1. Warm-up – 5 minutes
  2. Technique – 10-15 minutes
  3. Sight reading – 5-10 minutes
  4. Lesson Pieces – 20-30 minutes
  5. For fun – 5-10 minutes

Warm Up

The warm-up should be easy and short, no longer than 5 minutes. Warming up really just means playing something light and easy to get your fingers loosened and your instrument warm. This can include technique, if their skill has made it easy for them, or just a nice simple song, or even a short improv session. The warm-up should just be “quick and easy.”

Technique

Practicing technique has two major parts – the first is exercises like scales, triads, and arpeggios, and the second is pieces called “etudes” or “studies.” These are designed to help build on one particular skill, just like a scale might, but in a generally more engaging way. Both are important.

Depending on their level, this part of practice could be 20 minutes or more, but beginners should try for 10 to 15 minutes.

Sight Reading

It’s a good idea to try to sneak in about 5 to 10 minutes of sight-reading practice before having them dive into the rest of their practice session, simply because their brain is still nice and fresh. That being said, sight-reading can be practiced any time, and doesn’t really even need to be attached to the rest of the practice session – just don’t let them skip it! A little bit of regular note reading can help make them a more competent note reader and musician.

Pick music that is just below their level to sight read. The idea is to play something accurate the first time (even if it’s slow), not to have them struggle through something they can’t understand.

Have them spend about 5-10 minutes on this.

Lesson Pieces

This part can be divided into four more parts:

  1. Songs they’re just starting to learn
  2. Songs they’ve learned, but need a lot of work
  3. Songs they’re putting the finishing touches on
  4. Songs they’re memorizing or have memorized

It’s important to have a nice blend of pieces here. Rather than learning a lot of new stuff all at once, which can be hard on the brain, it’s better to learn one or two new ones while working on stuff they’re already familiar with.

For Fun

Don’t forget the fun category! No matter what instrument they’re learning, there’s a lot of work involved, so it’s also important to play the things they like and that make them happy.

The “for fun” category can be pretty much anything. Maybe they like to play and sing, or to try improvisation. Anything that doesn’t feel like work is fair game!

Adults

Everything we just laid out for kids is also great advice for adults too! But we’ve still got a few extra things to help you make the most of your practice session, without the kids!

Set Your Environment

There isn’t one type of practice room that works for everyone, so find the right environment for yourself. That might mean the comfort of your own room, or you might feel more motivated if you have a designated “practice room.” Wherever your practice room happens to be, make sure you won’t be easily distracted or interrupted – you need to stay focused and comfortable until you’re done.

Have an Objective

Each practice session should begin with an end goal in mind. This will help you stay focused and accomplish something, instead of half-practicing a bunch of little things and making no real progress at all.

Think about how much time you have and be realistic about your goals each time. Once you accomplish your goal, you can set a new one!

Have Everything You Need

One of the best ways to avoid distractions or interruptions during your practice time is to make sure that you’ve got everything you need within arm’s reach before you begin. Whether that’s a glass of water, pencils, erasers, or highlighters, your music, and any reeds or what-have-you, make sure you’ve got it ready, so you won’t have to go hunting for it later.

Make Notes in Your Music

Sometimes a visual reminder during the learning process can help immensely (this is why I mentioned a pencil and eraser a moment ago!). You can make notes for:

  • Fingerings
  • Pronunciation of words (for singers)
  • Anticipating page turns
  • Reminders for dynamic, tempo, key signature, or time signature
  • Accidentals
  • Repeats, Dal Segnos, Codas, or really anything else you might need a reminder of!

Don’t mark up your music too much, or you might get confused. Only mark the important things, and eventually you’ll start to remember on your own.

Reward Yourself

Some practice sessions will be better than others, and it’s important that you reward yourself when you have a really great day. For example, say you’ve been working on the same piece for three months, and today you finally play it all the way through, completely memorized! That’s something to be proud of, so go ahead and reward yourself!

Now, on the other hand, it’s important to remember that rewarding yourself for a job well done does not mean punishing yourself for not-so-good days. Not every practice will be perfect, but there is nothing wrong with that, it’s a learning process after all! The fact that you’re practicing in the first place is a step in the right direction and something to be proud of!

Happy practicing everyone!