'We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.'
For Adult Learners
We've heard it before: ‘Practice makes perfect.’ Yet even the most eager learner might cringe when told to practice daily. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of learning to play a musical instrument or sing is developing a healthy, productive approach to practice. Your teacher will give you guidelines on how often and how long to practice, as well as what to practice, but he/she can only tell you how to improve. The real work is up to you, and mostly on your own time. Here are a few tips:
Aim to practice every day. Even a small amount of daily practice is much more effective than a long practice session the day before your next lesson. Make practice a part of your daily routine. Determine when is the best time for you to practice. If you like practicing in the morning, get up 30 minutes early so that you won't be late for work. If you're an evening person, do your practice before going to bed or before you become sleepy. If you skip a practice day, don't worry, but do try to make up for the missed practice session by extending your practice time for at least 5 minutes for your next session.
Make your practice area comfortable. Is your seat comfortable? Is the room well ventilated? Is there proper lighting? Is your mobile switched off or on silent? Make sure that your practice area is comfortable and free from distractions so that you can concentrate when practicing.
Practice for at least 20 minutes. Why 20 minutes? We find that this is a manageable time for beginners. Note that 20 minutes refers to work on the lesson proper itself. Devote 5 minutes for warm-ups and 5 minutes for cool downs, just as you would for other physical exercise. That means you should try to set aside at least 30 minutes a day for practice sessions – a manageable length for most adult students. As your interest and skill level grows, you will find that your daily practice time will also increase.
Reward yourself. If you have just learned to play or sing a piece that you've previously had trouble with, by all means reward yourself. You don't have to splurge; just doing something you particularly enjoy is a reward in itself and will further inspire you to learn.
Be open to your teacher. Whether you are taking individual or group lessons, make sure that you communicate with your teacher. Consult him/her if there is an area you're struggling with or if there is something you don't fully comprehend. Your teacher is there to help you. Be open and don't feel embarrassed to approach him/her if you're having difficulty with a lesson or technique.
Focus on your practice. Effective practice requires concentration and focus. If you are rushing to do it or are distracted by other things that need doing, you won't get much out of it. Try spending a few minutes in silence before you begin in order to take a few deep breaths and clear your head of other concerns.
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For Parents of Young Learners
The excitement of a new adventure is enough to provide an ample supply of positive motivation for the first several weeks of the instrumental music experience. But once the initial enthusiasm wears off, it is important to start developing healthy practice habits that will guarantee a positive musical experience for your child. Your support and guidance are very important at this stage. Here are a few tips:
Make practice time a daily routine. Sit down with your child and determine when is the best time to practice. It is important that you involve your child in this decision so as not to make him/her feel ‘forced to do it’. Making practice a planned part of your child’s day will help ensure that it happens.
Communicate with your child's music teacher. Parents can attend a child's first few music lessons. Knowing what is going on in the class will allow you to better help your young music student at home. Afterwards, stay in touch with your child’s teacher and find out what areas your child needs to improve on so that you can implement these during his/her practice time at home.
Don't make practice a chore. In the first year of study, don't force practice. Instead offer encouragement and show that you're interested in how your child is doing. When you're folding laundry or doing paperwork, for example, have him/her perform a mini concert of songs he/she is learning. Set up a reward system for consistent practicing. A sticker chart or weekly treat can work wonders in making practice something the child does voluntarily instead of by force. Above all, never make practice time a punishment!
Don't make daily practice too long. For young children it is not advisable to make daily practice sessions longer than 15 minutes. Young children simply don't have the patience to sit down and concentrate on learning a musical instrument for long periods, especially if they're just beginning. On the other hand, if you see that your child is becoming more interested in learning his/her instrument, you can lengthen the practice time. But don't make it so long that he/she becomes too tired and strained in the end. Don’t force it!
Listen to and encourage your child. Words of encouragement can go a long way when it comes to learning how to play a musical instrument. Compliment and praise your child’s progress. Don’t allow discouraging words – from parents, peers or older siblings – to dissuade your child.
Expose your child to music. Listen together to music you like. Point out music in the world around you. Take your child to concerts or traditional sessions. Our regular school concerts, where children can hear other students play and sing, and the abilities that come with time and effort, are great motivators. Point out the many hours it takes to become an accomplished musician, but also make sure you point out how far your child has already come with practice!
Located in Dublin city centre, Waltons New School of Music is a comprehensive music centre, combining music tuition of the highest standard with innovative approaches to music education. The New School offers tuition in the broadest range of instruments and subjects of any music school in Ireland, for students of all ages, levels and abilities.
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