Practice is tough

Practice is tough.

I know. I’ve practiced over 30,000 hours since I started.

Getting to the point where you feel more fluent with music than your own native language is a sign that you’ve found your calling.

But when I hear from parents that, “it’s tough for my child to focus.” or “did you’re mom ever have to ask you to practice?” I can’t help but smile.

My answer: Practice is tough for everyone. Even for a child who grew up to be a concert pianist. That’s why we do it. It’s a journey that we should learn to love.

But this is not the practical answer. So I wanted to write blog about it.

Practice is difficult because it forces you to think critically about improvement and there is often little or no clue where to go next. It’s a challenge with no instructions and only a toolbox at your side. Everyone has trouble doing it and the process of doing it is the only way to improve.

So how can we help make it more engaging or less trouble for parents and students?

There are no easy answers, but these two ideas will improve your child’s ability to practice well.

Make it a habit – Learning and practicing an instrument is especially tough to add to a schedule. You need to be in the right mindset, not too tired and have enough patience to make progress. So my first comment to parents is always to make practice a habit.

It sounds simple, but this means several things.

* Do it the same time everyday
* Attach practice to another habit (like 20-30 minutes before dinner)
* Make it everyday or 6 days a week

If you can set this up, it is likely your child will start heading towards the piano automatically after about a month. We are all creatures of habit and it only needs to be built into our psyche for this technique to work.

Have a goal (or a few) – probably one of the biggest mistakes that students and parents make when they practice is that they have no goal. The goal should be very specific and measurable to know once you’ve accomplished it.

Most kids sit down to play and then play the piece 3-4 times through check one section and claim that they’ve finished. Time or play throughs should never be a metric.


The quality of practice is so important. There’s no better response to “Did you practice?” than a student who can say that they worked each day on a specific goal.

“I can now play from bars 22-43, 5 times in a row. I’ve worked out all my dynamics, voicing, articulations and phrasing.”

“I’m in music teacher heaven.”



  1. Jeanne O'Connell

    Love all your practical hints, Julian. It is so easy to forget some of the basics to good teaching when focused on getting rhythm and notes correct instead of focusing on making music.

    I am set up to do Distance Teaching via Skype. Have you had much experience with that. I am reaching out especially to harp students who may live in remote locations far away from a harp teacher. If they have a laptop or iPad, we can work out lessons on-line. Not as good as face-to-face, but better than nothing.

    1. Oclef team

      Hey Jeanne,

      I’m thinking that Oclef could be particularly helpful to you since your students can video record themselves and then you can instantly see those videos. Skype teaching isn’t my strength, but I’ll say that I’ve done it a few times and found it to be a great way to reach out to students who are far away. You’re right, “better than nothing.”

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