No surprise here: Inadequate practice is the number one complaint piano teachers (and other music teachers) have about students.
Lack of practice is one of the key reasons children don’t move ahead in their music education. Lack of success leads to frustration. And frustration, coupled with arguments about and resistance to practice lead to children quitting music lessons.
But how much practice is enough? Each instrument has different practice requirements because of the physical demands of playing it. Practice recommendations also depend on age, level, and ambition. The following recommendations are for students learning to play piano.
How Much Should a Child Practice Piano?
Many piano teachers suggest that the student’s lesson length be a preliminary rule of thumb for a daily practice goal. For example, a common recommendation is that a piano student taking half-hour lessons should practice half an hour a day; a student taking hour lessons should practice an hour a day.
This rule of thumb is most appropriate for the intermediate levels. At the very beginning, there may not be enough material to keep a small child fully engaged for a whole half hour, and at more advanced levels, piano practice requirements can be much higher, depending on the student’s ambitions. For instance, an advanced high school student who intends to major in music at the college level might take an hour lesson a week, but may well practice two or three hours a day, or even more, depending on the level of commitment and the school to which the student is applying.
But these students are exceptional, and well into the self-motivated stage. For average students, matching the lesson time five days a week will give consistent and rewarding progress.
Piano Practice Times Based on Level and Age
Other piano teachers base practice recommendations on age, on level, on motivation, or a combination of those three factors.
For four-and- five year old beginners, 10 minutes of practice time is a common recommendation, unless the child is a prodigy or unusually self-motivated. The important goal for these very young piano students is to establish practice as a routine, daily responsibility and to make it fun. If these ideas can be intertwined, the child is less likely to resist practice later, when the time requirements are greater.
For seven-to- ten year old beginners, a half an hour a day is a good starting point. More motivated and talented children may practice more, but in general, a half an hour of daily mindful practice will yield good results.
Once students reach the intermediate level, satisfying progress requires closer to 45 minutes a day, because the material is more complex and more difficult to master. Without that commitment, intermediate-level piano pieces may take weeks to learn, students may get frustrated, and forward progress will be minimal. At this stage, piano students also need to make time in their practice schedules for more technical drills, including etudes, scales, and arpeggios, which at the intermediate level might require 15 minutes or so a day.
More advanced students’ progress will very much depend on their goals. With 45 minutes of daily practice, an advanced student can continue to learn new repertoire, although not at a fast rate. An hour a day will yield more satisfying results. Recreational high-school and adult pianists who have achieved an intermediate-to-advanced fluency in playing classical music, popular songs, and hymns, will find that a practice routine of 45 minutes to an hour a day is more than enough to maintain technique, learn new material, and develop skills.
More ambitious high-school students who enroll in adjudications and competitions often find themselves practicing two or more hours a day. Those planning to audition for elite musical college programs may practice three hours a day.
Advanced Piano Students and Practice
At the college performance level, where students are majoring in music and practicing to be professional musicians, many piano majors practice between three and six hours a day, depending on the school.
Pianists practicing more than two or three hours a day should divide their practice time into smaller units, perhaps an hour or two in the morning, at mid-day, and in the evening. Or they should take frequent breaks. Breaking up practice helps prevent carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis, which are repetitive stress injuries that can occur with over-use or incorrect technique. Discuss any cramping, stiffness, or hand tremors with a teacher, who should be able to recommend relaxation techniques and other ways of preventing the problem.
For all students, from beginners to virtuosi, it’s also important to note that a smaller amount of mindful, attentive, and creative piano practice is far more effective than many hours of repetitive, mindless drills that simply reinforce bad habits and mistakes. Small children may need the help of their parents to practice effectively and correctly.