There are varying opinions on how long students should practice for. Although there are general guidelines, the question isn't really "how much" they practice, but "how smart" they practice.
Violinist Nathan Milstein once asked his teacher Leopold Auer how many hours a day he should be practicing and Auer said to him, "practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours."
For elementary school students, we generally recommend practicing 10 minutes for each grade level until they reach an hour (i.e 10mins for 1st graders, 20mins for 2nd graders etc.).
It's important to remember that younger students need to be taught how to practice effectively just as much as much as they need to be taught how to play their instruments. Most young students don't automatically have the discipline and skills to optimize their practice time, these are skills that are learned. Below are some tips to help!
Inefficient Practice Methods
- Autopilot- mindlessly playing the piece over and over without being dialed in. This is particularly likely to occur with scales and warm-up exercises. The player should be totally tuned into their technique, tone, and rhythm during this time.
- Playing only the part you know - with younger students they will often stop at the hard part, or only play it once. This is the part that they should start practice with.
- Beating a dead horse - if a piece or passage just isn't coming after lots of practice, it's time to think of a new way to practice it. If you're a singer and cannot reach a high note it may mean you need to go back and rehearse scales and technique. If you're a piano player and cannot get a song up to tempo maybe you need to practice playing the piece off the keys on a hard surface, focusing soley on finger shape. If you are a student who is having trouble understanding how to read through a piece, it may be more useful to review simple sightreading exercises. Don't be afraid to experiment and implement new approaches in your practice!
- Have a plan - make a plan before you practice and stick to it. Include warm-ups, and specific sections from pieces. Make the practice session short enough that you can stay completely focused throughout, and stop at the appointed time.
- Stay dialed in - practice in a space where you can be completely focused on what you're doing. Do your best to keep your full attention on the dynamics, rhythm, tone, and pitch of each note you play.
- Timing - decide when the best time of day is to practice, often times this is in the morning. Try to stick to a regular practice time.
- Short sessions- practice for short periods with total focus.