When I was a little girl, practice sessions were short.
My parents required thirty minutes of daily practice when I first began learning to play. The older I grew, the longer the practice sessions grew. First thirty minutes. Then sixty minutes. And now…honestly, time is scarce and my practice sessions happen intermittently. But I no longer put a time limit on practicing. I practice until I feel prepared.
As a child, I remember practicing my piano scales, sitting on cold benches at cold pianos in cold auditoriums in the dead of winter. I would rub my fingers, blow on them, anything to get them warm. If I was practicing my mandolin or guitar, the steel strings were not a pleasant sensation when my fingers were cold. Wearing gloves would have been, well, pointless.
I also remember practicing in humidity-filled classrooms during the summer time, sweat forming beads on my face and hands…and probably secretly hoping that I could get through the songs quickly so I would have time to read.
Wisely, Dad and Mom did not require relentless practice time when my siblings and I were young. They knew that at three years of age, I did not have the stamina for hours and hours of practice. Perhaps if my siblings and I had shown signs of extraordinary talent, we might have had to work for longer periods of time.
I once borrowed my Dad’s copy of Grace Like a River, Christopher Parkening’s autobiography. It is no secret that Mr. Parkening is America’s most well-known classical guitarist. He studied with Andres Segovia, at one time the world’s most famous classical guitarist.
Mr. Parkening was 11 years old when he started playing the classical guitar. In his book, he tells the story of how his father would insist that he rise at 5:00 a.m. every day before school to practice his guitar. Christopher often missed time to play with his friends or to enjoy some of the normal pursuits of boyhood. Yet his diligent practice resulted not only in worldwide fame, but in a legacy for future classical guitarists. His father knew that to make music your life’s occupation, intense dedication is required.
No one can deny that the more you practice a skill, the better you become. Yet I am thankful that my parents tempered their requirements with common sense. As we grew, the requirements grew.
Sometimes, setting requirements for your child includes adapting to their learning capacity. One of the piano students I taught several years ago had a slight learning disability. Her capacity to sit still lasted maybe fifteen minutes. Possibly twenty. Because of her short attention span, I adapted our lesson time to suit her needs. I would teach for fifteen minutes and spend the rest of the time playing the piano and singing fun songs with her. She probably learned as much or more during the last fifteen minutes as she did during the first fifteen minutes.
Discerning your child’s learning level may take some time. But I would encourage you to match your requirements to their age and ability. Learning to play a musical instrument or sing requires discipline and dedication and determination. If Johnny or Susie want to practice longer, don’t limit them. But be careful not to wear your five-year-old down with pages and pages of music. You will become frustrated, and so will they.
Keep those practice times shorter rather than longer for younger children. Your child will thank you someday.