Many of you may remember being required by your piano teachers growing up to practice a certain amount of minutes each day/week. Perhaps your requirement looked something like this:
- 15 minutes a day,
- 140 minutes each week, or
- 45 minutes, 5 days a week.
One of my previous teachers built her incentive program around how much practice time each student completed each week. She would set an amount for each student (15 minutes/day for the young ones, and then gradually increasing up to 60 minutes/day for the advanced ones). If you completed all your practice time each week, you’d receive a sticker on your chart for that week. When you received 7 consecutive weeks of completed practice, you were allowed to chose a prize from the prize box. She used a system similar to the following:
- Beginners: 10-20 minutes, 5 days a week (depending on their age).
- Intermediate students: 20-45 minutes, 5 days a week.
- Advanced students: 60 minutes or more a day, 5 days a week.
Personally, I use a simpler, more flexible practice requirement for my students. I simply tell my students and parents that they are expected to practice daily. And that’s it. Here are my reasons why I like to leave it at that:
- Consistent practice is far better than intermittent practice. I realize that life gets crazy busy sometimes, and some days it may be more difficult than other days to get practice in. I don’t care if my students only can fit 5 minutes of practice in on the busy days — but practice must be consistent in order for progress to be made and piano lessons to be enjoyable. I believe that 5 minutes a day, every day for a week is far better than an hour on only one day out of the week.
- Students are more likely to use their practice time wisely. I don’t know about you, but I find that when I set myself a timed amount for practicing, I can’t wait until my 60 minutes is over. When students sit down with a practice requirement in mind, that’s their focus: sitting at the piano until 20 minutes is over. But when students sit down at the piano simply knowing it’s time to get some practice done to prepare for their next lesson, that’s exactly what their focus is on: preparing for the next lesson. I would much rather have my students practice 10 minutes of quality practice time at the piano than 20 minutes of dilly-dallying. This is why my incentive program is not based upon the amount of time that my students practice, but rather upon the progress they are making through their books.
- Students practice more. The daily practice requirement is actually quite freeing for most students. It helps allow them to feel in control of their learning, rather than feeling like they are simply fulfilling a bunch of requirements set by their teacher. When they sit down to practice, they are more likely to practice longer because they are more self-motivated. The best kind of motivation is self-motivation. Incentive programs are wonderful things for rewarding student progress, but earning trinkets, toys, or candy will not keep students taking lessons for long if that’s their only motivation.
- Students are more likely to continue taking lessons. Students are most likely to continue lessons when they are successfully making progress, no matter the rate. As we all know, when a student doesn’t practice regularly, progress is nearly impossible. Daily practice is the best way to ensure progress. And when students are making progress the whole process is so much more enjoyable: students are motivated to learn, they are making progress, and the teacher is happy!
Now, of course, there are many successful teachers who have timed practice requirements, and I do not mean to minimize their teaching methods in any way. We all have different teaching styles, and one particular method might not work for everyone. I only mean to share this information in the hopes that it may be as helpful to some of you as it has been for me. =)
That said, I have been using the daily practice requirement for a few years now, and have found it to be very successful for most of my students. As with any practice requirement, of course, teachers must closely moniter student progress to see if the practice requirement is working well for them. On occasion, I will encounter a student who is not making sufficient progress in his/her lessons, in which case I will inquire about the student’s practice habits with both the parent and student. In some cases, if deemed necessary and helpful, I will then set a recommended weekly practice amount for the student.
But in general, having the daily practice requirement has been very freeing not only for my students, but also for me. For one thing, I no longer have to nag my students about getting X amount of minutes of practice each week! 😉 Who cares how many minutes they are practicing, as long as they are making progress that you deem satisfactory for their age/level/talent? For another thing, I am noticing that they are much more motivated to play and learn then ever before and we are having a lot of fun in our lessons learning how to create music. =)
To read more thoughts about practice requirements, read Laura Lowe’s great article on her blog here.