“How much time should a beginner piano student spend practicing?” is a question I am often asked by my new piano students and especially by their parents. Certainly, there is no one right answer as it depends on the age and ability of the student, any prior music experience or knowledge, and their desire to learn to play. I do have a simple guideline that I give (and repeat) to each and every student, regardless of their age and ability: “Play a little bit on most days.” There are several reasons why I say this rather than giving each student a strict amount of time to practice.
First of all, I want to foster a love a music in my students. I want them to enjoy the time that they spend at the piano. Giving them a rigid amount of time to practice has a tendency to lead to the student sitting at the piano, counting down the minutes until their time is done and they can start having fun. I remember when I was a beginner how much I disliked having to record my practice times. Instead, the students ‘tasks’ to accomplish in their practice time. Some students will accomplish these tasks in less time, and some students will require a little extra.
Second, most of us have a tendency to procrastinate, especially when it comes to things that are difficult or new. Getting a student to practice on ‘most days’ helps to prevent them from waiting until the night before their piano lesson to learn their tasks. By this time, they’ve likely forgotten the material, forgotten their hand position, their tasks, and al the musical nuances. Their practice time ends up being an exercise in frustration rather than an enjoyable time of learning.
Additionally, learners have better recall when they review a little bit every day rather than cramming all the information into their brains at one sitting. But in this era of hectic schedules filled with tons of activities, it is unrealistic to expect a student to practice each and every day. Otherwise, piano becomes just one more thing we have to do. And of course, we all need a break sometimes, too.
Third, beginner piano students typically learn all the information during their piano lesson. The time spent practicing is more about retaining the information and skills then learning something new. It is also time to commit these skills to memory, both in our minds and in our muscles. Their practice time is more about reinforcement than working on something new. Hours and hours of practice for a beginner is unnecessary and usually detrimental to a students desire to play. It is not until a student becomes more advanced that they will begin to learn new skills and new music on their own, necessitating more practice time.
In summary, “a little bit on most days” is really enough for the beginner student. It also gives them some control over how and when they can work on their piano lesson, which makes them enjoy their time at the piano more. A “little bit on most days” is enough to reinforce the concepts learned in the piano lesson without putting too much pressure on the student to perform. Instead, each student can find his or her own practice schedule, learn great practice habits, and truly enjoy their time at the piano.