There is a poster that says “90% of our students practice 1 hour or more per day”. I think the poster hopes to promote social pressure and show what other people “do”. But at the same time it’s also a guilt trip, because as I know and you know, 90% of our students practice less than 1 hour a day.
One of the first measureables I was interested in upon starting a music studio was practice time. I was so curious how many minutes students practiced. The answer?
6 minutes per day (including days off into the average). Since then I’ve figured out how to double that number to 12 minutes per day – recitals monthly.
Does time even matter?
When I was on tour I used to practice 15 minutes here or 5 minutes there and some days I had no piano – just my music. I needed more time and couldn’t practice. So when that happens, you start to learn how to really practice. Everything is about improvement and it becomes urgent to solve every problem as best as possible. “Hyper focused” is the mindset I would need when having to perform with an orchestra next week and I haven’t played the 35 minute piece for 5 months.
So once I had a studio, I started thinking of how can I up the focus of my students. Here are a few hacks you can have your students try:
1. Cut practice sessions into smaller times – if a student does practice an hour a day, ask them do 3 sessions of 20 minutes or 2 sessions of 30 minutes. Maybe have them experiment to see what amount works best. This same idea can be used with larger amounts of practice time (i.e. 2, 4, 6 hours).
2. Tell students they can only practice half the time for the same goal – a student should always set a goal for practice. Even if the practice is for fun, then have that in mind – make this fun. If the student has the goal to memorize the first 8 bars of a piece for Monday, have them only do that in 15 minutes instead of 30. Basically, force them to have a deadline with a task too difficult for the time. More often than not, they will learn something valuable even if they don’t accomplish the goal with a creative solution.
3. Learn and memorize a piece without a piano or instrument – have a student start and learn a whole piece without ever playing it on the piano or their instrument. They can use any and all method possible, but cannot place their hands on their instrument until the piece is memorized and well put together. This is not only for advanced students! Intermediate and beginner students can do this as well. It’s an amazing way to grow focus and inner ear development.
Make practice about focus and over time, students can develop a mental grit and clarity of thought that is secure. Use time as a pressure to accomplish set goals instead of 17 thought-less repetitions.