This article is one part of my Ultimate Parent's Guide to Kid's Guitar Lessons.
How long should my child practice music? You want your child to get the most out of their music lessons, and you know that means ensuring your child practice long enough and frequently enough to master the material. This article will give you age-based guidelines, provide a calculator to help you find the perfect practice sessions, share an example practice session, answer how many days per week your child should practice, and answer the question "Does it matter how long my child practices?"
Your child will get the most out of lessons if the length of their practice session perfectly matches their ability to pay attention. Practice sessions should be about 3 times your child's age in minutes. They'll need to be broken down into sub-sessions that focus on improving a single skill; those sessions should be about your child's age in minute. Remember to focus on improving skills and solving problems and avoid just running down the clock.
How Long Can my Child Pay Attention?
To get the maximum out of your child’s practice sessions, you need to be keenly aware of the limits of their attention span. You will build your practice plan around this limit.
Of course, each person’s attention span varies from day-to-day and activity-to-activity. As such, data regarding the limits of a child’s attention varies. Here are three different guidelines from different researches, listed from shortest to longest:
Shortest: 2x your child’s age (3 yrs old x 2 = 6 minutes)
Middle: 3x your child’s age (3 yrs old x 3 = 9 minutes)
Longest: 5x your child’s age (3 yrs old x 5 = 15 minutes)
Additionally, all professional-level players break their practice sessions into smaller segments, with built-in breaks. Here are some common recommendations:
1 hour with a 15 minute break
45 minutes with a 10 minute break
25 minutes with a 5 minute break.
I've combined these two ideas into the calculator below to help you find the right practice session length for your child. Just put in your child's age age and get your answers! But, before going off with your timer, remember these two things:
Use different games in each small segment of practice to keep things fresh and hold your child’s attention.
Solve problems and build skills. This increases motivation and creates a virtuous cylce.
Avoid running down the clock. This leads to bad practice habits and creates a vicious cylce.
Where Can I find the Best Kid's Guitar Lessons?
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Example Practice Sessions
Here is an idealized practice session for a 3-year-old learning their first song. I've chosen to use such a young age because many parents struggle to understand how to get a young child to practice. The same principles apply for older students.
Using the calculator above, we see that you should limit your practice in the following ways:
Sub-sessions: which focus on an individual problem, review piece, etc should be no longer than 3 minutes
Session Length: you should take a short break after 9 minutes to let your child move around a bit
Maximum Length: You should cap your practice at 15 minutes
Before starting a practice session, we need to make sure we know what we're trying to improve. First, let’s review the goals that your child’s set for them:
Review proper posture; how to hold the instrument and get hands ready to play
Review clapping rhythms
Work on the new section of music learned in a recent lesson
Review the sections of music we have learned in previous weeks
As you practice, remember that Clear communication between you and your child will go a long way to making practice fun. And, of course, there are even more games that you can use to help liven things up.
Practice Session 1
I usually start with the most manageable goals first as a warm-up exercise. Posture is often the first thing that students learn and thus is the most well-known. In my lessons, I use a game called “Animals” to review posture.
Next, I typically continue with review material. For something like clapping rhythms, you can ask your child to play certain rhythms. If you’re able to perform the rhythms, you can also use a game I call “You’re The Teacher.” You clap one of the rhythms, and your child’s job is to identify it.
You could also review music played on the instrument using an "accumulation" game.
For the final segment of this session, I would work on new material. I often use the Race Car game to show my students where their errors are and challenge them to correct them.
If your child goes through this quickly and is still engaged, reinforce the music with an accumulation game.
If your child is doing well but is bored, increase the challenge using the “Road Block” variation of the race car game.
Assuming each sub-segment lasted about 3 minutes, we'd now arrive at our 9 minute limit session limit. At this point, your child will need a break of at least a few minutes. You can also resume the practice session later in the day.
Practice Session 2
I would again warm-up using an accumulation game by reviewing some simple material, either clapping rhythms or previously learned music. You may find that your child is incredibly tolerant of repeating a game they enjoy with new musical material. However, it’s good to keep a few backup practice games on-hand.
I would use the final practice segment of the day to recap the entirety of the newest song. I would use a shorter competition game like tic-tac-toe to check-in on the newest material learned and then ask my child to play through the entire song three times.
That would bring us to a 15 minute practice session for a 3-year-old; a pretty impressive feat. You might have them place a sticker on a practice chart or use some other rewarding motivational item to encourage them to continue again tomorrow!
What the future Holds
As your child grows and learns more music, they’ll need to practice entire songs as review, work on technical skills like scales, listening to recordings, work on learning notes and music theory, improvisation, and more. However, the same basic principles apply; work in small sections, use games to keep your child engaged, and avoid going over their attention limit.
How Many Days Per Week Should my Child Practice?
Many teacher adages try to convey the downsides to a missed day of practice. “Every day of missed practice is a day of forgetting” is a classic.
Talent is a cumulative and compounding process. As your child builds skills and knowledge, they will be creating a framework to build on.
However, if your child practices inconsistently, they will struggle to build the foundation. Without a strong foundation, your child will struggle to advance their skills.
Every music teacher understands this and would love their students to have quality practice sessions 5-6 days a week.
What Other Factors Effect How Long my Child should practice?
If your child has been resistant to practice, you may want to reduce total practice time temporarily. If your child is involved in band at school, a small ensemble, and private lessons, you’ll likely need to increase their practice time so that they can
Why duration matters
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. How long your child practices is much less important than how much they accomplish.
While it is easy to tell your child to practice for 15 minutes, you need to be sure that they practice with quality. Just punching the clock often leads to terrible practice habits that create a vicious cycle of defeat.
I want to teach students that it is quality and not the quantity of practice that matters. I often flat-out tell students that I don’t care how long you practice. I even tell them that I hope they practice as little as possible, with only one condition, that they practice as little as possible and still achieve the goals I set out.
To encourage this, I occasionally give students a Practice Pass; they get to decide how much or how little they practice a specific goal. If they come back the following week and they have accomplished the goal, they get to keep the Practice Pass. Even if they only practiced one day.
An Illustrative Story from My Career
I have a story from my teaching career that perfectly illustrates the dangers of timed practice. My student struggled to play everything during their lesson: scales, review pieces, new material, previously-mastered material, and simple songs. Everything was gone.
I asked them if they had practiced; they said yes. I asked them how long they had practiced. They said 15 minutes. All sounds good.
I asked them to describe their practice session to me. They said they sat down to play for the 15 minutes their dad required. If, at any point, they made a mistake, they went back and tried to play that material again.
The problem was that they got stuck on the first or second piece daily. And so, to fulfill their father's time requirements, they played that same piece repeatedly, making the same mistake in the same place for 15 minutes. As a result, they never progressed to other material.
I told them they would stop immediately and play 1 or 2 songs they were most familiar with, then work on the new material. How long it took didn't matter. I planned to rebuild the student's repertoire (and confidence) over the next 6-8 weeks.
The following week, they came back and played every review piece with high accuracy. I don't know what happened at home, but removing the time requirement and replacing it with a quality requirement got better results and improved their development.
Getting your child excited about practicing longer is easiest when they have engaging practice sessions. These games can help you engage your child in a cooperative practice session that will keep them going. And, for both older and younger kids, this article on Performance Preparedness has some excellent tips that will help your practice routines create effective growth and a victorious cycle of practice potential!