You decide: That depends on what your child is getting out of it, and most importantly, what they are putting into it! Ideally, your child should be practicing (not just playing!) daily. To get the most out of lessons, you should be able to recognize a clear practice routine. If you don't know what a good practice looks like, ask your child. If they can't tell you, sit down with them and read through the article with that title. If after a few weeks you still don't recognize a routine in your child's playing habits, you may want to reconsider your investment. THIS IS NOT TO SAY YOUR CHILD SHOULD STOP PLAYING! It simply might mean that they are still just exploring, rather than committed to the instrument. I didn't start studying privately until 10th grade. I just played alot and progressed just fine. But when I decided to take lessons, I also decided to commit to the 3-6 hours a week (which grew to 10-20 hours a week within a year!) that it required to make it worth the investment. If you are on the fence, call me, and I'll give you my honest assessment based on what you tell me about their habits at home and performance at lessons! The following article might help. Ideally I would like all my students to be at minimum "doggy paddling" with "freestyle" being the norm.
Which sounds like you? BARELY FLOATING: This is when you basically don’t play, except at your lessons. The lesson is spent reviewing basics and attacking the assignment. If this progresses for a long stretch, it can become frustrating to you and teacher. You will have little or no sense of accomplishment. I may have 1 week per year like this, tops. TREADING WATER: You played a few times, but mainly at school. Barely looked at the assignment. Worked on little or no technique. This usually results in the entire lesson being used to attack the assignment. This may result in a bit of a reward, if the assignment can be worked out. When things are busy, I tread water too, sometimes. DOGGY PADDLE: You are moving forward! You played more days than not, and you learned your assignment for the lesson. At the lesson, we play through the assignment. We will often go back over the assignment and work on one aspect…tone, intonation, or an alternate fingering technique. We might even have time to play for fun. Some of my weeks are like this. FREESTYLE: Now it’s getting fun! You played everyday, and learned your assignment. Maybe worked on technique for a little bit too. You got a cool song in band and have been playing that each night too, just for fun. At the lesson, the assignment goes smoothly, we concentrate on “musicality”, and both simply enjoy playing together. Some real “musical moments” occur. Most of my weeks are like this. GOING FOR THE GOLD: This is the coolest. You are locked into a solid routine, and can actually feel yourself improving. It’s almost impossible to reach this level without playing EVERY DAY for a prolonged period (weeks/months/years at a time). You build technique most, if not all days, attack your assignments, and play for fun. When you hit this stage, practice sessions can last from 40 minutes to 3-4 hours. Lessons are enjoyable, because you basically spend the time PLAYING MUSIC! You might mess up one note, and ask to repeat an entire song, because you know you can do it better. I remember a stretch from 11th grade through my senior year when I played on average 2 hours a day, and probably played for 4+ hours at least once a week. I had a few semesters in college where this was also possible. In the past ten years, those stretches have been rare, but I savor them!
Here's my humble opinion: (See following articles for detailed explanations and tips for each sub-section) BUILD TECHNIQUE: This is the training camp of music. Just like an athlete will get stronger just from participation, your technique will get better over time from the experience of learning songs. However, if you can devote a few minutes each day to focus on technique, your skills will grow much quicker. Just those few minutes will help improve your skills, so you can more readily enjoy playing music later! Serious athletes train (run, lift weights, stretch) so that when it’s time to perform, they are ready. So should serious musicians. As with most skills, the more time you devote, the more rapidly you’ll progress. A daily routine with a significant focus on technique will result in dramatic growth within a period of months. ATTACK THE ASSIGNMENT: When most people think of practice, this is what they think of. They play through their assigned pieces a few times; maybe slowly, maybe fast. Sometimes they need to play an assignment a few times, and on the third try, they get it right…so they move on to the next song…so now they’ve practiced it right once, and wrong twice! PLAY FOR FUN: Isn’t this why you play an instrument? It’s fun! Always end your practice by playing something you like to play. It may be what you just learned when you attacked your assignment, or a solo from 2 years ago that you memorized for a school concert. Whatever it is, play for fun for AT LEAST AS LONG as you Build Technique. YOU'LL GET RESULTS! I began playing in 5th grade. Starting in 10th grade, I began a routine similar to the one above. I went from being about the 3rd or 4th best sax payer in my school to one of the top 10 in the state of Pennsylvania by the beginning my senior year. Though I wasn’t a music major in college, this routine allowed me to become the lead tenor player (beating out other music majors) in the jazz band. As a private teacher, and professional musician, I still have found that when I apply this routine rigorously, my growth as a musician is noticeable. I urge you to adopt this routine. It will build discipline, confidence, and allow you to more fully enjoy music.
Here's what a good routine might include: BASIC BEGINNER ROUTINE: (For first year players.) ***Technique Building: *Long tones- G major scale, up and down, 8 seconds per note (2-3 minutes) *3 note finger drill… G major…done 3 times (1-2 minutes) ***Attack Assignment: *Worked on one line each night until it could be played perfectly. Next night, played the line(s) from the night before, and then added *the next line. (5-10 minutes) ***Played for Fun: *Figured out how to play the song from Sponge Bob Square Pants. Played it repeatedly to annoy older brothers and sisters. (5–10 minutes) Total: 15-20 minutes per day… very specific and productive. INTERMEDIATE PLAYERS: (For 2-4 year players. Growth will be noticeable and steady.) ***Technique Building: *Long tones- Chromatic Scale, up and down, from G to G. 10 seconds per note (5minutes) *5 note finger drill… G major…done 3 times (5 minutes) ***Attack Assignment: *Worked on one line each night until it could be played perfectly. Next night, played the line(s) from the night before, and then added the next line. (10-15 minutes) ***Played for Fun: *Just got a “Brittany Spears For the Saxophone” book, and memorized the first song. Parents in hiding (5–10 minutes). Total: 25-45 minutes per day… very specific and productive. ADVANCED ROUTINE (3 years and up, if they are gung ho! Good routine for more serious high school players.) ***Technique Building: *Long tones- D major scale, two octaves, up and down, 10 seconds/note (6 minutes) *All Major Scales up to 4 sharps and flats - any that couldn’t be played on first try had to be played 3 times correctly! (5-15 minutes) ***Attack Assignment: *Worked on one line each night until it could be played perfectly. Next night, played the line(s) from the night before, and then added the next line. (10-20 minutes) ***Played for Fun: *Played along with F Blues CD…worked on improvising (10-? minutes) Total: 30-60+ minutes per day… very specific and productive.
Here's some advice: As with most skills, the more time you devote, the more rapidly you’ll progress. A daily routine with a significant focus on technique will result in dramatic growth within a period of months. *** LONG TONES: This exercise is extremely important for two reasons. 1. It allows you to focus on your tone/sound. By holding one note out, for a 10-12 second stretch, you can focus on nothing but refining your sound. 2. It allows you to play faster!!!!!! How????? While you are concentrating on your sound, you should relax your fingers and let them sit in perfect position, touching all the keys. It is this training that will allow your hands to be where they should be when it is time to respond! Think about this: If you played every note written for saxophone (low B flat to high F, and held them for 12 seconds, then rested for 4, that’s just 16 seconds times 31 notes, or 496 seconds…less than 10 minutes to concentrate on every note possible and learn your instrument! To play a 2 octave major scale (basically the full range of your instrument) would be less than 5 minutes! *** SCALES: Major/Minor/Chromatic/Jazz: It doesn’t matter! Any scales you practice will build your technique. But only if you do it right! 1. Play them slowly enough that you can move your fingers accurately and exactly. If you can’t play the scale 3 times in a row at that tempo flawlessly, then you are playing too fast! Accuracy builds speed! 2. Make intelligent choices with fingering options. This is your chance to practice the correct move, so that later when you are playing, it is automatic. 3. Vary your patterns: Go up and down. Move in 3rds (ex. c-e-d-f-e-g-f-a-g-b-a-c-b-d-c) once in a while. *** THINK ABOUT THIS: If you played scales at 1 note per second…a slow pace…you could play a scale in 16 seconds…that’s easily 3 scales per minute! So why are you playing less than 12 scales a day???? Imagine how much better you could play in less than 5 minutes a day!!
HOW DO I LEARN NEW SONGS? 1. Play through it slowly (once or twice) noting trouble spots. 2. Start at the end. Why? So you know where the song is going! 3. Play the last 4 measures. If you succeed, now try the last 8. If not, try it again. Still can’t get it? Try just the last 2 measures. 4. Once you get a chunk you can play well, do it 3 times in a row. Once you can do it 3 times in a row, you’ve got it! 5. If you note a spot where you mess up repeatedly, isolate that spot and attack it! Keep making the task smaller, even if you have to break it down to 2 notes. Once you do it 3 times in a row, add to it, and move on. 6. If you reach complete frustration at one spot, move on to another spot. You are probably over-thinking. Often the next time you come back to it, (even if it’s not until the next day!) you’ll find that you can play it! 7. Stop if you’re too tired or too frustrated. Your practice becomes counterproductive at this point! You can come back to it again soon, or tomorrow! 8. Remember, anything you truly take time to learn, will stay embedded in your hands forever! It’s like riding a bike. Music is not infinite. Someday that same pattern you practiced today will pop up again in another song. ***Once you’ve got a piece together, play it 3 times perfectly. Enjoy it, and concentrate on making it as musical as it can be!
C'mon. Do I really need to write this? Play WHATEVER YOU WANT! Try to learn songs you like, play hi notes, low notes, make funny sounds, play as loud as you can, as soft as you can, songs to annoy others, find out what songs make the neighbors dogs howl (I grew up next door to 6 St. Bernards! No Lie!) Improvise, play the blues. Just play! Anything you do that you can repeat, means you've learned something new about the instrument!

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