Often when a student begins piano lessons they ask their teacher how long and how often should they practice. After teaching for many years, and after discussions with many students, I’ve come up with a figure that I believe is realistic and achievable.
5 minutes practice, most days of the week.
While learning an instrument, if we demand a twenty-minute window every time we practice it is unlikely that we will practice most days of the week.
What is likely to happen is that students will fit in two, possibly three, practice sessions a week, and on the other days of the week, unable to put aside enough time for practice, students will walk past their instruments filled with a sense of guilt.
First of all: Students should always feel GOOD that they have chosen to learn the piano. Learning an instrument is a challenging task that takes time and effort and it is a wonderful thing when students welcome music into their lives.
Secondly: We all have busy schedules. Students aged from seven to seventy-seven have many commitments during the week. Most of the time, planning long practice sessions isn’t the best way to ensuring regular practice.
Thirdly: Long practice sessions can be daunting. Students may feel overwhelmed by long stretches at the piano, and long stretches at the piano can be both exhausting and demotivating for a student.
As a teacher, what I feel is best for students is short practice sessions most days of the week, that is, short practice sessions often.
I ask my students to aim for five minutes practice. If the student is enjoying the content, feels mentally strong and clear, and has more time up their sleeve, students can practice longer than the set five minutes.
Students following this method are more likely to practice most days of the week, are more likely to feel pleased when they regularly exceed their practice goals, and are more likely to find learning an instrument an enjoyable process. Furthermore, a student following this method is more likely commit to their instrument for longer, and like learning a language, learning an instrument works best when it is done so over a long period of time.
As a teacher I have found this to be the best approach to practice and I often have positive feedback from students regarding this method. But don’t only take my word for it - research suggests that this style of learning, which could also be described as distributed practice, is a effective learning method, especially when compared to long practice sessions less often, which could also be described as massed practice.
Are you curious about this approach? Why don’t you try it yourself and see how you go? Following this method do you find that you practice most days of the week? And furthermore, do you feel good about your practice?