Don't practise until you can get it right.  Practise until you can't get it wrong. -- Unknown

Music study is rewarding and enjoyable, but it is also a lot of work!  I would like practising to be an enjoyable activity for my students.  This is one of the reasons that I often choose the Piano Adventures  method books for beginners.  Generally, I have found their contents to have great appeal to beginning students.  Most of my students move from Piano Adventures to the structured learning pathway provided through the Royal Conservatory of Music curriculum.  This does not mean I do not use other method books or materials.  I have many students playing popular music from other publications, for example.

Even with appealing material, practice can still be very challenging for some students.   These students can find even 20 minutes of practice to be a daunting prospect despite their desire to learn to play.  For this reason, instead of using a time frame I use an approach based on repetition when setting practice plans for beginners.  Because high quality practise goes beyond simple repetition, I ask for different things to be the focus of each set of repetitions or I space out the repetitions. In fact, the tendency for students to tune out when many repetitions are played, can make repetition quite ineffective as a means to acquiring a skill or learning a piece of music. These instructions, which can be written directly on the score, or on post-it notes attached to the score, might look like this:

1.  Count and clap the rhythm one time.
2.  Play these two lines hands separately two times while counting.
3.  Play this selection saying the note names as you play.
4   Play this phrase or line, hands together two times while counting.

5.  Play the entire section (or piece) three times with dynamics.  Then repeat steps 1 through 4.

Using this approach, the student then does not pay attention to the amount of time they are practising, but rather focuses on where they are at in the series of instructions.  This approach also builds in a “reward” system.   At the beginning of the week, overall practice time is longer.  At the end of the week, as the student progresses, overall practice time is shorter.  

Following this approach, a beginning student will practise from 15 to 20 minutes per day on average and for younger students, 15 to 20 minutes of practice time is a common recommendation.  As students move into the beginning levels of the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) repertoire, 25 to 30 minutes of daily practice becomes the norm and again, this is a typical recommendation for practise duration at this level. 

There can be fluctuations in the amount of work assigned to the student which are largely dependent on student age and how quickly the student wishes to progress.  As the time for an RCM exam draws near, students will find that their overall practise time becomes slightly longer too.

Students who reach the intermediate level will find that their practise time increases to 45 minutes per day and as they near completion of the intermediate level, that it will approach an hour per day.  This reflects that the materials are becoming more complex, more difficult to master, and lengthier too. At this stage, piano students also need more time in their practice for technical exercises which can tend to absorb 10 minutes of practise time on their own. 

Rewards can also be used to make practising more palatable to students.  This works very well for both children and adults. Some adults reward themselves with a specialty coffee or tea after a successful week of practicing. Parents can do something similar with their children.  For example, the reward could be a favourite breakfast that is prepared for them.  Praise tends to be the best award – there just is no substitute for a pat on the back.