Parents often ask me, ‘How long should we be practicing for?’ What parents should understand is that frequency is more important than length. A little bit every day is far more beneficial to the child than one long practice the day before their class! A parent’s most important job in relation to practice is to make the practice enjoyable for the child so it doesn’t become a burden, like homework. Remember that learning music is like learning a language, it needs to be frequent and consistent.
Rather than setting a time limit or aim for the duration of a practice I like to suggest making a list of tasks that need to be covered and when they are completed the practice session can finish. If there is dispute about what needs to be practiced I will sometimes make the list with the student and parent together which takes the responsibility off them and eases any stress that might surround practice time.
A lot of parents and schools run reward systems now for lots of activities so it seems to be normal for most children to have reward charts for things like practice. I run a 50 Days Club in my teaching programme whereby the students tick off a box every day that they practice and when they get to 50 days they get a certificate and I put their name on the wall in my teaching room. Apart from just getting a practice session done everyday you could try rewarding for a set number of days in a row with a great bow-hold, or how many days in a row of good posture, tuning etc.
Positive encouragement in practice is a huge aspect in the role of the parent. If you don’t come across to enjoy doing the practice at home, your child will not either. Understandably you will occasionally want to brush through practice and just get it done but try to keep your energy up for practice time. The phrase ‘fake it til you make it’ springs to mind. Practice when your child is in a good mood, and stop while they are still in a good mood. If they are not feeling well or if you find them to be irritable do try and stop before they cross over to a bad mood. You want to leave them thinking they had a happy time practicing! On a bad day, a bit of review is fine. You will know yourself when your child has had enough. At the this very moment I am just finishing a week where all the kids seem to be sick and so for them I am doing very little progression and lots of review and games to consolidate what they know rather than stretch their energy and capabilities.
As the kids get older they would have quite a lot of repertoire to cover in one practice so in that case they would need to rotate their pieces so that they cover all their repertoire over a set period such as a week or 10 days. By this time they would be starting to practice independently and becoming autonomous which is another topic altogether!