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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Take Ten

Building a practice habit is as simple as taking ten -- ten minutes that is. When I ask my students and parents to practice every day, or at least on the days that they eat, as Dr. Suzuki was fond of saying, I am amazed at how easily my students and parents provide me with reasons why they cannot do that. Generally I do not assign a particular maximum amount of time to spend practicing, because I do not like the idea of telling a student to practice 2 hours, or four or five. I want my students and their parents to focus on practice goals and then to set up a practice routine that meets those goals.

I know of no goal that would allow a student to miss practicing, certainly not to miss practicing on a fairly recurrent basis. I understand that life sometimes gets in the way of our intentions and desires, but with a little thought and planning, we can still manage to find time to practice. The solution is all about priorities. If we place a high priority on practicing with our child, then we will find or make the time necessary to practice with our child.

I ask my parents to find a minimum of 10 minutes. That is all. When I reduce my expectations to the quantity of 10 minutes, my parents and students find it difficult to excuse their way out of it, because everyone can find 10 minutes in their day:

  • My university students have learned that they can generate 30 minutes to an hour each day just by avoiding the lobby of the music building and instead following a route through the music building that skirts the lobby. A lot of time gets wasted in the lobby with social activities.
  • Having a plan in advance for the day or even the week will help the student or parent to stay focused on what activities are productive and to pay less attention to time-wasting (and possibly nonproductive or unrewarding) activities.
  • Eat/dress/shower/walk faster.
  • Record TV shows and fast forward through commercial breaks.
  • Primp less in the mirror (this is a great generator of time for students in the teen years!).
  • Watch less TV.
  • A group of my studio parents used to take turns on certain days and go to the children's school to practice with each other's child. The school was delighted to allow this to take place during a time when nothing else more important was going on.
  • Practice before school.
  • Practice in those "twilight" minutes before dinner. Practice after dinner in those moments before the night's entertainment begins.
If a student or parent continues to argue about this, I ask them to bring me their calendar so that I can help them find some available time. If we cannot find 10 minutes, then I have to suggest the obvious: perhaps they are too busy or lack the commitment necessary to be taking music lessons at this time. The alternative is that the student or parent needs to eliminate one or more activities in order to free up some time. A parent cannot reasonably expect that a student can learn a skill and develop an ability in a time vacuum when no time is spent learning, practicing, and using the new skill and ability.

Here is a short interview of about one minute with the mother of one of my youngest students. This student began lessons at the age of 2.5 years. The student has a weekly 30 minute lesson and attends group classes of 45 minutes to an hour about twice a month. She has great concentration and plays beautifully. She is working to complete her Twinkle variations along with several other songs that we enjoy playing. Here is my student's mother describing her philosophy about practicing:

See how simple it can be? Can you really look me in the eye and tell me that you cannot find ten minutes a day to spend with your child in quality interaction? Your child is your most precious gift. Ten minutes is a small amount of time to spend to develop the gift of a lifetime for your child.


  1. So how long has this student who started at 2.5yo been learning with you?

    But yeah, we (me & my 3yo) DO practise at least 15mins everyday. I don't always do ALL the components everyday bc otherwise it might take too long . I manage his practice sessions by deciding how best to work on improvements within the least amount of time.

    1. This student started about age 2.5 years. She is now 3 and about to turn 4 next month. After going through the "beginner" phase of getting mom and student on a regular routine, what I talked about here is where we are now. This interview was recorded yesterday. Great that you do everything every day. I'll bet that you can stretch his practice sessions a minute every week, without his noticing the difference. Here I advocate a minimum amount of practice time. Wouldn't it be great is everyone practiced beyond a minimum?

    2. Haha - I did say that we *don't* do everything everyday. That'd take too long. I do some shortcuts here and there. ;p And I vary practice times day-to-day depending on circumstances. Some days are shorter and some longer. I don't expect too much bc he's still so young and work on small victories as goals. Just started violin for 3mths awhile after he turned 3yrs old.