Music is a wonderful way for children to express themselves, develop their creativity, and learn new skills. However, one question that often arises among parents is how much music practice should their children do? The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, including the child's age, level of experience, and personal interest.
How Much Time?
For younger children who are just starting to learn an instrument, it is generally recommended that they practice for shorter periods of time, such as 10-15 minutes per day. As they become more comfortable with the instrument and develop their skills, they can gradually increase their practice time to 20-30 minutes per day. However, if the child is very young, they may not be able to concentrate for this long, so some teachers suggest practice sessions which are twice the child’s age, so a 4-year-old would play for 8 minutes, or a 10-year-old for 20 minutes. Practice sessions can also be split up and spread throughout the day to avoid fatigue.
Older children who are more experienced, can generally handle longer practice sessions, such as 30-60 minutes per day. However, it's important to remember that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to music practice. Children need to focus when they play, and take a break if they are tired. I say to my young students “little and often”. I’d much prefer they do 5-10 minutes six days a week, rather than play for one hour the day before their lesson!
It's also crucial to consider each child's personal interest and motivation when it comes to music practice. Recognizing that children are unique in their preferences and inclinations, it is important to nurture their love for music by ensuring that their practice sessions are enjoyable and engaging. If a child is not enjoying their practice sessions, they may become discouraged and lose interest in playing their instrument altogether. Parents play a vital role in supporting their child's musical journey. They can encourage their child to select an instrument that they genuinely enjoy, laying the foundation for a positive and fulfilling musical experience.
Moreover, collaboration with the child's music teacher is essential in creating an effective and enjoyable practice routine. The music teacher can offer valuable guidance and expertise in helping the child set goals that strike a balance between being challenging and attainable. Setting realistic goals tailored to the child's skill level and interests provides them with a sense of accomplishment as they progress, reinforcing their motivation.
Whilst intrinsic motivation is best, self-motivated practice isn’t common amongst young children as it requires a discipline that many of them haven’t yet developed. Parents may find that offering some extrinsic motivation is the easiest way to ensure regular practice sessions. Some examples might be:
The child earns the same amount of screen time each day that they play their instrument
Practice time earns the child money for buying a book
Challenge Certificates: each time the child learns a piece or task set by the teacher, it is written on their Challenge List. When they reach the magic number (pre-select 20, 30, 50 or 100 pieces), they receive a printed Music Award Certificate. I use these with my own students and many want to collect the whole set, leading to lots of practice sessions!
The child receives a bonus of some sort if they do their practice without being asked
I read about mother, Charlotte Kufchak, who created a reward system for her kids: "We bought dried beans and some sparkly paint and had a lot of fun making the beans as colorful and pretty as possible," Kufchak says. "Then we paid the kids in beans for practicing. It was great — we never ran out of 'cash.' Each quarter hour of practicing was worth a certain number of beans, and each child could save, exchange or spend their beans as they liked. We had a list of prizes like special treats, Legos, a $5 deposit in their bank account or a symphony concert. The beauty of it is that it can be tailored to each child's needs and each family's budget and priorities. And the kids were willing to practice!"
The Music Community
In addition to regular practice sessions, it's also important to encourage children to participate in group activities such as band or orchestra, and/or recitals organized by their teacher. This can help them develop a sense of community and can also provide valuable opportunities for them to learn from other musicians. Often, younger students will be motivated to keep working on their instrument when they hear older students playing. Listening to professional players of the instrument, either at live concerts or via recordings, can also be inspirational.
The Whole Picture
Many children today lead much busier lives than I did as a young child! Some learn several instruments, and have sporting teams they belong to, maybe dance groups, or after school robotics clubs, and so on. Part of determining how much practice is appropriate for a child, is to look at their whole week and what needs to be covered, as well as ensuring they have enough free time to “be” a child. If the parent of a 6-year-old student asks me what their child should work on during the holidays, I suggest, “They can just relax and enjoy the holidays. If they feel like playing their instrument, they can play through the pieces we learnt during the term, but I don’t mind if they don’t want to do regular practice during the holidays.” Just as we adults need a break from work, so do our children!
In conclusion, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how much music practice children should do. The amount of practice will depend on the child's age, level of experience, personal interest, other activities, and motivation. A child should be encouraged to practice regularly, but also to enjoy the wonderful process of learning and playing music.
Karen North is a music teacher, mentor and book author. She is passionate about bringing music into the lives of children and adults and has enjoyed working in music education for the past 40 years.
Karen is the author of the popular method books "The Young Flute Player" and has commissioned many new works for intermediate flute repertoire in "Lyrical Flute Legends" and "Inspiring Flute Solos." Karen has written a book "Fun & Games for Music Lessons", and has recently worked with specialist consultants on repertoire books for Violin, Clarinet and Saxophone.
Karen also organizes an international FLUTE CHAMPIONSHIP each year, to give students of all ages and abilities an opportunity to submit a video performance to an outstanding panel of judges. Her workshops for teachers are enthusiastically received and she also offers one-to-one mentoring or consultation sessions.