How Much to Practice?

19th May 2015

I have a lot of conversations with families, and my own violinist and violist daughters, about practising. Some parts of my answer are unswerving: A little bit, every day, is eons better than skipping days and trying to cram practise into a weekend, or any shorter period of time. And mindful practise which deliberately tackles the areas presenting challenges is much better than starting at the beginning of a piece and ploughing through.

Even the busiest student – and these days, students whether in primary or secondary school, or adults, are busier than ever – can find 15 minutes each day to take out their violin and mindfully practise.

For families contemplating their children starting to play the violin, I’ve recently developed a rough guide to the minimum amount of daily practise they should aim to do. For the youngest beginners, aged 3-4, start with 10 minutes per day, and add 5 minutes for each additional year of age. So a 7-year-old would practise 10 + (3 x 5) minutes per day or 25 minutes. A 14-year-old who’s been continuously studying would practise 10 + (10 x 5) minutes per day or one hour. Primary school and younger children will benefit tremendously from having a parent attend their lessons, make practise a part of every day’s routine, and guide them in their practise at home, and in fact it’s unreasonable to expect a pre-primary or young primary school student to take away actions agreed in lessons and practise well at home; older students can take more responsibility for initiating practice themselves, and for its content. For older beginners, the right number is likely to be somewhere between 10 minutes and what the age formula would say. (If you study with me, we’ll agree a practise plan.)

I think for students whose ambitions are to play better and better, and to enjoy playing music as an engaging and enriching part of their life, these minimum figures match well with attention span, and the time required to attend to repertoire students might be engaging at that age and experience level. These times are, in my experience, sufficient to make some quite pleasing progress. Of course, any student who is happy and willing to do more can and should practise longer, and will reap the benefits in terms of faster progress and mastery, earlier success at exams and auditions, and the possibility of violin performing as a serious career prospect.

But the real message is: Practise (some) every day.