Learning to play a musical instrument requires practicing every day, even if sometimes it’s only for a few minutes. For schoolchildren, I recommend sitting down to play right after school, following a snack. This is when a kid is still fresh and able to concentrate. No tears, no stress - done and on to the next thing!
It isn’t that practicing is more important than homework, or family time, or playtime. It’s because mastering an instrument is part of a daily routine like eating, sleeping, bathing, or exercising. You can’t save it up and do it all in three hours on the weekend, any more than you can brush your teeth for the entire week on Monday morning. Therefore, if you are going to make the commitment to weekly music lessons, there must also be a daily commitment to practice.
Homework is truly overwhelming for many families these days, and I understand the panic that sets in when a deadline is looming, Dad is out of town, and the library is closing in ten minutes. On truly hectic days, practice needn’t be intense - perhaps it will simply consist of running through a few favorite pieces for less than five minutes. Though even small, token practice sessions like these will have a cumulative effect on a student’s musicianship, the student is also learning the meaning of commitment, the power of self-discipline, the value of routine, and the art of time management. These life skills will be even more valuable than the musical skills in the years to come.
Of course, there may be days when it’s not possible nor worth it to add one more thing. Too many of those days, and it becomes necessary to evaluate the big picture - which activities truly add joy and satisfaction to our lives, and which ones are draining our time and energy?
If we are realistic about the level of commitment necessary to succeed at music, we may find that it’s actually not a good time to pursue it. On the other hand, being honest and clear about the time required to practice may move us to make the time. Learning how to do this paves the way for a lifetime of musical achievement and enjoyment.