Practice: Establishing a Routine

This is just the beginning of what I hope will be a series of conversations about all things related to practice.

Yo-Yo Ma and Wynton Marsalis had an interesting conversation about practicing in this video. One of Ma’s most memorable quotes was “I hate the idea of practicing.” Motivating students to sit down alone with their instrument is one of the most difficult challenges a music teacher faces.

My hunch has been that many students don’t practice because it’s just not part of their daily/weekly routine. This is especially true among beginners who lack in self-discipline and work ethic anyway. Some parents aren’t much help in this area, not being eager to hear their kids make all that noise.

One technique I’ve used to get students thinking about their practice habits is to help them find best time to practice. I ask them about their daily and weekly schedule and get a picture for their time commitments. If they have soccer practice on Tuesdays and church events on Wednesdays, those might not be realistic days to practice. “But Mondays are open, and so are Thursdays. And since your lessons are on Fridays, Thursdays would be a perfect time to prepare.”

Sharing this conversation with parents can be helpful on a number of levels. Parents who pay for music lessons will appreciate your help in getting a good return on their investment. They can remind their child to practice at the determined times instead of nagging all week. You can also establish credibility as a professional by talking with parents about how you want to see the child develop life skills like self-discipline, time management, delayed gratification (practice before T.V.), etc..

Here are a just a couple of the many great blogs and posts related to practice:

– Music Practice Tips

– Music Matters Blog

How about you? What are your thoughts on helping students develop a practice routine? Let’s start a dialogue here!


6 thoughts on “Practice: Establishing a Routine

  1. This is such a misunderstood concept for beginning students and parents. Thanks for your insight on this. More time is wasted under the guise of “practicing” by well meaning kids…

    One revolutionary idea for me about kids and practicing is outcome based practice vs. time based. For a more articulate explanation of this, and a great book reccommendation, check out my posts on the subject:
    Practicing Tips Pt.1
    Practicing Tips Pt.2
    I hope those links work…if not, click on my name and type “practice” into the search on my blog.

  2. My daughter plays the guitar. The practice schedule that works for her is after school, that is, after she has rested and before doing her homework. She practices for no more than 30 minutes then takes a break before doing her homework. At first I was always reminding her to practice but I’ve learned that the less pressure she feels the more willingly she practices. Now she just grabs her guitar and plays without me telling her to do so.

  3. I haven’t seen the video you mentioned, though I have read Ma and Marsalis’ book on music for the youth, and I love the chapter titled ‘Tackling the Monster’. Great blog! I just added it to my blogroll over at

  4. I have something called “The Ten Hour Club”. I tell my students that if they can practice 10 hours over the course of two weeks, then I give them special recognition in the concert programs, and they have a special poster on the wall with their names on it. If more than two-thirds of the class join the club, they win a special prize…I haven’t got that far yet, so I am not sure what it is.

  5. I like the idea of the 10 hour club, Mathew. I always tell my kids that their instruments must be played on a regular basis to keep working. Which is kind of true, especially for trumpets. I cant count the number of times I have had a trumpet player come up to me with frozen valves because he had not been touched his horn since the last band practice.

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