How Much Should My Student Practice? Part 3

Part 3 of 4: What are the goals?


In part one, we looked at what we mean by practice, and in part two, what needs to be considered in order to answer the question “How Much Should My Student Practice?” In part three, we’re examining one of those considerations more closely: student’s goals.

To ask “How much should my student practice?” necessarily demands the question “In order to achieve what?” In the past, we’ve had students that took lessons in order to learn a single song, because they wanted to have fun, because they wanted to learn to play a particular style or level of music, or because they had an interest in pursuing a career in music. In this article, we’ll describe seven goal levels that can help determine how much your student should practice.

Level 1: Minimum Musicians
Students are usually at this level for one of two reasons: because someone else knows music is beneficial for them or because the student doesn’t have much time to practice. This level is a necessary starting point for many students. Older students are sometimes forced into operating at this level during particularly busy times in their lives. Progress made at this level is slow, arduous, and hard for students to observe. As a result, most students who stay at this level longer than a few months grow discouraged and quit. However, students can make progress at this level if they are practicing consistently and carefully.

Level 2: Beginner Musicians
Students at this level see consistent progress, and can therefore gain some enjoyment from their music. Often those who enjoy performing but hate practicing fall into this level. A good description of this level would be “average:” at any given time, the majority of students will be at this level.

Level 3: Hobbyist Musicians
Students at this level might best be described as “interested.” Interested students may come to lessons with an appreciation for music, for a certain instrument, or for a particular genre. Their goals can buoy them up when practice is especially difficult. Students at this level soon reach a level of playing that allows them to play repertoire that they like, which propels them to keep practicing. Students at this level can be fairly self-sustaining, but may still neglect certain areas of study from which they don’t see immediate rewards. Students who practice at this level often continue to enjoy their music as adults.

Level 4: Professional Musicians & Semi-Professional Performers
Students at this level tend to be those who not only enjoy certain repertoire, but enjoy seeing themselves as musicians, and like to make progress in every area. A good word to describe them is “enthusiastic.” Though not every student in this level may choose to pursue music as a career, they usually reach a high enough level that they can choose to do so.

Level 5: Professional Performers
The best word to describe these students is “serious.” These students are ones who have committed to becoming professional musicians, and are willing to sacrifice a great deal of time to reach that goal. They often push themselves through competition: beating an old personal record or competing against others at their level is rewarding and inspires them to work even harder. These students often continue as adults to push themselves in their musical careers.

Level 6: Solo Artists
“Devoted” is the best word to describe these musicians. These are the students who eat, sleep, and breathe music, and who enjoy locking themselves away for hours to practice. Their passion for music often attracts other great musicians to them. They love music so much that they certainly will be musicians, and if they also have good business sense or connect with a protective agent, will often become solo artists and chart-toppers.

Level 7: Greatest Artists
Many truly great musicians never practice at this level. Students at this level have a rare combination of traits: they are serious, devoted, passionate, and competitive. The best description is “zealous.” These students not only want to be great, they want to be the best. These types of students must be careful not to over-reach: some impatient students will risk injury to achieve their goals now. Whether or not students succeed at this level or burn out completely depends on whether they’re able to achieve any balance in their life. When they do, they are often celebrated as the best musicians on their instruments in the world.

In part four, we’ll provide a chart using these goal levels to answer the question “How much should my student practice?”