Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Björk, and Aretha Franklin — three very different musicians who have something in common: they were childhood musical prodigies. While each of these musicians expressed their talents at a young age, they also had another trait that helped them stand out from the musical pack.
Take Mozart, for example. His father was a music instructor and his older sister was a talented pianist. With the family connection and natural aptitude he expressed for piano at the age of four, Mozart probably would have been a good player had he even just occasionally tickled the ivories. But what made him exceptional was his drive to practice and play. Mozart had incredible focus, drive, and passion, and did not stop practicing until he had conquered a difficult piece of music. This shows you; even the most famous musicians in history had to practice to reach their full potential.
Consistency = Success
Musicians everywhere should take a lesson from Mozart. While around the clock practice isn’t necessary for success, there is certainly value in consistent practice.
Anyone who has ever started learning a new musical instrument knows how easy it is to forget a lesson after just one or two days of inactivity. Prompting your child to practice every day, if even just for a little bit, will be an effective way to counter this brain drain. Even if a practice day did not go well, the very nature of having done the activity will do them a favor. John Williams, the composer of the musical scores for Star Wars, Jurassic Park and Harry Potter, is an advocate for consistent practice, no matter what. Even if he isn’t working on a film score, or is having a bad creative day, he still composes. This, he says, has helped him avoid creative blocks and continue to grow as a composer.
When it comes to music or anything else, we are creatures of habit and routine. This means consistent practice should happen at or around the same time each day. By having your child practice piano from, say, 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. each afternoon, they know exactly what to expect, and can prepare themselves completely for the attentiveness required for that half hour.
How Much Should My Child Practice?
So you’ve recognized the importance of consistent practice. Now the question is: how many hours of consistent practice do you need? There is no right answer to this question, but there are a few guidelines you should consider when helping set your child apart from other students.
A sense of deliberate action is perhaps the most important characteristic of effective practice time. In this Lifehacker article, the writer — a violinist herself — references the research of psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson. Dr. Ericsson argued it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice time to become an expert in any discipline, including music. With a figure like that, expert playing would take almost seven years of practicing four hours a day, with not a single day of rest. This much practice time isn’t realistic for most, so let’s look instead at what we can learn from this phrase “deliberate practice.”
Deliberate practice involves a constant awareness of your playing and practice. It means being careful not to drift into autopilot mode as you run through your recital piece, and to instead be constantly asking yourself where specific improvements could be made and to what degree. Self-monitoring and deliberate practice aren’t easy, but working with a music teacher to create more meaningful practice routines is a good start for your child. Deliberate practice means that for every hour your child puts in, they will gain an hour of solid musical improvement. Practicing deliberately for 30 minutes or 1 hour is actually much more effective than practicing mindlessly for four times as long.
So whether it’s Mozart, John Williams, or your five-year-old daughter, one thing is for sure: there are no shortcuts to musical proficiency, just practice.