How Much Should My Child Practice?

I get asked this question quite often by concerned parents. What I usually recommend for fourth grade beginning students is 3 15-20 minute times a week. I find that if students do this they will make steady progress during the first year with no problems. Of course, if a student is really excited and wants to play more than this that is great. Usually, as the student makes progress more practice time is needed if they want to continue to improve. Here is what I generally recommend although each student is different:
4th Grade: 3 15-20 minute sessions a week minimum
5th Grade: 3 30 minute practice sessions a week minimum
6th Grade: 3-4 30 minute practice sessions a week minimum
7th – 8th Grade: 4-5 45 minute practice sessions a week minimum
9th – 12th Grade: 5-6 45-60+ minute practice sessions a week minimum

These are just some general ideas for the practice time needed. Again, each student is different. It is best to consult myself with any questions you might have about a practice schedule. Naturally, the more a student practices the better the results. (I do recommend at least one day off)

Here are some tips that I have used or seen used by parents that have been successful:

1. In many instances, the students that practice the most consistently are the ones that have a set schedule. Many parents are very scheduled, organized and on top of there children when it comes to homework. Of course it isn’t something that is optional or that the child only has to do when they feel like it. The students that are the most consistent with practicing are the ones with a schedule. For example, they will practice every MWF at 3:15 when they get home from school. Some students I have practice right after they finish their homework and it is given an equal importance with the homework. Some practice every night after dinner. Some practice on Saturday and Sunday and once during the week. The schedule that works for you is the best.

2. Many times it helps to keep the instrument set up and out in their room. It also helps to have a music stand with the material to practice out in the open. Many times if the student sees their instrument and the material it will remind them to practice. The worst thing to do is for the student to come home and put the instrument in the closet. Usually, when that happens they will forget about it until the next lesson.

3. I find that writing notes on the fridge is a great help to my daughter. Many times I can’t be home when my daughter gets home so I’ll put a note on the fridge reminding her to practice her saxophone. This usually helps her to remember and she does practice.

4. The more a parent can be involved the better. When the lesson is over ask your child what their assignment was. Encourage them to practice during the week. If you hear something that sounds good……tell them! Nothing will encourage a child to practice like getting recognition or praise from their parents!

5. Although music can be incredibly rewarding and fun for students many times the practicing isn’t. It can be hard, challenging and frustrating. When a student is running into a time like this many times it’s ok to take a break and regroup. If they come back to the piece later when they are fresh the obstacles they encountered before will be easier to overcome.

6. Motivation……. the more you can do to motivate your child the better. Cracking the whip and threatening a child to go practice will only go so far. When i was a kid the number one thing that motivated me was……….music. When I started listening to recordings of music and going to concerts you couldn’t stop me from practicing. It lit a fire under me. I would listen to sax player and be enthralled by what i was hearing. The more you can have any music around your house the better. I’m always writing out songs for the students……Star Wars, Harry Potter, Pink Panther….. the reason I do that is because it excites the students when they can play many of these songs.

Music can be very rewarding and exciting! That’s the reason I went into it for a living. I love playing it, I love teaching it. Even with all my passion and excitement about it, I can tell you of countless times where I was practicing for hours and hours and I was driving myself nuts trying to become better. It was not always easy and there were many times that it was the last thing I wanted to do. I have to say though that now 30 years after starting the saxophone, I have the same excitement and passion when I play or listen to music as I did back in 8th grade. I wouldn’t choose any other path if I could do it all over again. I hope, that no matter what future many of my students may have, that music will be an enjoyable and meaningful part of it. I hope that the many hours of practice will in the future pay off as it has for me.

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Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.

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