Whether you can read music or not, it is often difficult to know how to help your child when they are practicing. The ideal scenario is that they can practice independently but it can be really useful to understand the methodology for good practice so that you can intervene and offer help and support.
Firstly, how long should they be practicing for? There is no hard and fast rule but at different stages of musical development there are some key time frames to work within:
1. Beginners (Book 1, learning the notes): 5 minutes of actual concentrated practice, with no distractions, is worth its weight in gold. At this point it is likely that the music won't be too taxing, so the main point of practicing is to get into the habit of working independently and focusing on perfecting a small, manageable piece.
2. Once the music gets more challenging (Book 2, playing hands together and learning new hand positions) and 5 minutes is no longer sufficient to see and feel significant progress, hopefully your child has got into a good habit of practicing regularly. At this point, the challenge is to strengthen their concentration so that they can manage 10 minutes of focused practice.
3. As we start to learn full songs (Book 3 and beyond) we are looking at more lengthy practice sessions and this is where the hard work over the last two stages will really come to fruition. We now need to practice for 15 minutes plus each time we sit down to practice, in order to see significant progress. Anything longer than 20 minutes in one burst, and the child is probably getting distracted along the way and not actually 'practicing' as much as they think they are. At this stage, age and maturity will also come in to play. Some children will find it more rewarding and/or manageable to practice 15 minutes every day and some will prefer to do 30/40 minutes three times a week.
Now that we have addressed (roughly) how long we can expect our children to practise for, we can consider how they should be practicing. The flow chart below is a great way to refocus your child during their practicing. If you can hear them getting frustrated you could intervene with the following questions:
1. 'What section of the music are you practicing?' If they tell you they are playing the whole piece, suggest they choose one section at a time to focus on. 4 bars at a time is a good length for a section.
2. 'What is getting you stuck? The notes? The Rhythm? The hands together? One particular bar?' If you can help them find the problem, they are one step closer to fixing it.
3. Be encouraging! Practising is like building blocks and you don't need to build the whole building at once. If today they build the first few floors, tomorrow they can continue building. Sometimes the sheer scale of the task can feel overwhelming.
Good luck and happy practicing!