Practice and the math

Kirsten said: Aug 7, 2006
103 posts

There were a couple of interesting threads regarding practice recently which had me thinking about daily practice for students.

If a beginner student, say 7 years old, were to practice 5 minutes per day 7 days a week, they would be practicing 35 minutes per week. This comes to just over 30 hours per year if they take no vacations, or days off from practicing.

Another 7 year old beginner who practiced 30 minutes per day, even taking a total of 21 days off here and there during the year, would have practiced over 170 hours in the same year of time.

Taking no other factors into account at all, is it logical to presume that it would take the first child 5.6 times longer to get through book 1?

I know this is only a theoretical question. Obviously there are other very important factors for progress, but I wonder if the amount time spent in daily thoughtful practice at home isn’t the single most important variable.
What do you think?


Laura said: Aug 9, 2006
Suzuki Association Member
358 posts

All other things being equal, the math is as simple as you describe. But rarely are all things equal. I think when you said “daily thoughtful practice”—the key part was the “thoughtful”.

A quality 5 minutes a day might mean working through one small goal to the point of success. If this occured 7 days a week, that’s 7 points mastered per week. Not bad! (especially considering the “one-point lesson”… imagine if “seven point lessons” were possible!)

Compare that to students who just “do their time” for 30 minutes or whatever, just muddling through everything without focusing on specific practice goals. They might actually fare worse—they would either learn the Book 1 pieces improperly, or their no-nonsense Suzuki teacher simply wouldn’t let them advance until they adequately mastered a piece.

Those are the two extremes. In reality, it’s somewhere in between.
The goal is always quality over quantity. The secret to good practicing is WHAT you are doing during that practice. Otherwise it’s a waste of time.

A certain amount of time is required to work through something properly (for example, doing enough repetitions until something improves). And a student who is on a roll might be more willing to work on more than one practice point during one sitting.

In theory then, a student who tastes accomplishment will become more willing to strive for more—so that is how practices get from 5 to 30 min. or more. This is the “success breeds success” concept of Suzuki philosophy. In reality though, we all know too well how hard it can be to get to that point… but that’s another discussion!

said: Aug 9, 2006
 26 posts

A couple more variables…

  1. Even greater frequency of practice. Particularly younger students, those who do 2 short practice sessions each day (one in the morning, one in the evening) seem to do a lot better, even if the total number of minutes is the same as those who practise once a day.

  2. Ending the practice session before the child has ‘had enough’ (I’m thinking the young beginners—2 and 3 year olds) means they are less likely to procrastinate and ‘play up’ because they know the practice session won’t drag on forever. I had one mother say once that they practised for half the time and got twice as much done!

  3. LISTENING TO THE CD (Need I say more?)

Kirsten said: Aug 10, 2006
103 posts

I like your points.

Purple: I think you are right that 5 minutes a day of good practice is “not bad”. I actually tell parents of new students that all I really expect is for them to get the violin out of the case every day and practice with their child for a few minutes at first. I think my students take my word for it because (just in general) they tend to progress more slowly through book 1 than the students of my collegues. This is not bad or good really, as far as I am concerned.

I know from a few posts on this site that parents and students are interested in their rate of progress. It makes me think maybe I should tell parents that it will take a certain amount of hours (not months) to progress from a beginning to an intermediate level.

And your “success breeds success” comment is relevant in my observations, because the same students who go slowly through book 1, have no problem going at least twice as fast through book 2. They practice more because they seem to enjoy playing more.

Piper: What you say about two practice sessions a day is a great point. This is something I should really talk more about with the parents of new students. The only disadvantage is that it is less convenient for the adult, but it is really the ideal way to practice with children. And the CD of course is so important. Unfortunately many new students can often get through the first few pieces in book 1 without listening much, so the habit can be lost unless we keep repeating our instructions about how they should listen.


said: Aug 10, 2006
 104 posts

As a parent, I have found that multiple practices, even if they are shorter, are often far more productive than long ones. When my children are mastering a new step, I encourage them to do it only a few times, and then come back to it several times during the day. The younger the child, the better this works. Since my children play multiple instruments, I’ve spent a fair amount of time noticing the different approaches to practicing each one. One of the things most appealing about piano is that it’s already set up, tuned up and a person who sits down and plays for a little while doesn’t feel the overwhelming commitment to practice for a “set time.” It’s ok to play a couple of pieces and come back to it. Violin, of course, is different, because it’s put away in a case, and involves set-up of the shoulder rest or sponge, and tuning, etc. I highly recommend getting a “String Swing” hook (available through Shar) and locating that in a safe yet convenient place. This way, the violin can be left out, set up and ready to play multiple times. My children will often take theirs off the hook for a little impromptu practice, or to repeat a practice point, without being told. I make sure the violins get put away at the end of the day, or if the termperature is extreme, but mostly they are out and waiting for attention :)

I have to add that I think practice at home is the maybe the most important part of the “success” that students experience. Our music teachers (Suzuki and traditional) have stressed again and again that each child needs to learn to be her own teacher because mastery happens at home when you diligently follow the teacher’s instructions. It doesn’t matter if you are getting four lessons per week, if you aren’t practicing, very little progress will be made. And teachers, you can always reinforce the idea to parents that home practice doesn’t cost them anything, and it’s the most economical way to advance!

said: Aug 11, 2006
 32 posts

A warning on the “String Swing:” If you are in a climate where the weather is dry, particularly in a cold climate with an artificially dry house from heating, you really should be humidifying your string instrument. The best way is to humidify the case (those dampits aren’t always the best thing for an instrument and they definitely don’t help the bow!), so being out of the case for extended periods is not a great thing.

said: Aug 11, 2006
 104 posts

Perky—I agree and if we were talking full-size instruments of value, I wouldn’t recommend it, but fractional instruments valued at a few hundred dollars are, to me, the cost of learning to play and not an investment. When you think about what these fractional-sized instruments go through at, say, an institute, a few hours on a “string swing” doesn’t seem damaging at all! Some parents need to be encouraged not to take too much care of the instruments—to the point of keeping them in the case, nice and protected instead of out and making music.

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