How To Help Busy Teens Make Time For Music

Young drummer student

Article Written by Guest Author – Crystal Casey

One of the biggest hurdles to learning an instrument for any age group is making time for music practice, and it only gets more difficult with age (until retirement.) School-aged children are often already engaged in multiple extra-curricular activities and completing nightly homework. As they grow into teens, both their activities and their homework become more advanced and demanding, and they will likely have a social life in the mix as well. If they have siblings and both parents are working, there is the added complication of organizing their time and activities around their family’s schedule. Fortunately, there are many ways parents can encourage and support their busy teens as they learn to manage their musical practice time wisely.

How can I help my teen with their time management?

Time management is learned in our teenage years, and managing time to learn an instrument is a great way to practice this important life skill. Discuss with your teen how much time they believe they can devote to musical instrument practice each week, as well as their short-term and long-term goals. Maybe they want to learn their favorite song on the radio or Mozart’s Sonata in C Major by the end of this month. Perhaps they want to complete and pass a Royal Conservatory of Music or ABRSM exam, or be proficient in barre chords by the end of the school year. Having a few long-term and short-term goals is a great starting point.

To ensure your teenager is using time effectively to practice music, suggest they spend 1/3 of their practice time working on technical studies and 2/3 on repertoire (songs that they are learning or enjoy playing.) Occasional free play is a good thing and can spur on creativity, but there is little benefit to practice that turns into a random noodling session every time the student sits down. Make sure your teen is aware that they should be methodically engaged in structured rehearsal during their practice.

How many hours per week should you practice an instrument?

Female violin teacher giving lessonHow many hours a teen devotes to practice each week depends on the individual student. Their age and level must be considered as well as their goals. A 13-year-old student who just picked up the guitar for fun will not need to practice 4+ hours a week, but a 17-year-old piano student who will soon be auditioning for university music programs likely should. Students should regularly communicate with their private music teachers about how much practice time is expected of them. Teachers with Forbes Music do an incredible job working with students to find creative ways to fit music practice in their lives no matter how busy they are.

There are however some overarching truths for any instrument learner. For one, practice is a life-long activity that doesn’t stop once you have mastered your instrument. The more you learn, the more you know you have to learn. That’s just the nature of the beast.

Secondly, it is recommended that practice is well-distributed over time rather than completed all at once. For example, it’s much more effective to practice 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week than to practice 2.5 hours every Tuesday. We retain our knowledge and muscle memory far better when we practice for short intervals regularly over long periods of time. It’s no different than athletic training in this regard. And interestingly, knowledge gained during the day deepens in sleep. To see lasting progress, it’s important to practice, sleep, and repeat.

Students who simply cannot practice every day shouldn’t fret. Some days are just too busy, and that is understandable. However it’s important to understand that even 5 minutes of practice is better than none. Waiting for dinner to finish up? Check out a tough section of the song you’ve been working on. Have 10 minutes between online classes? Run through that Hanon exercise you just started this week. Can’t sleep? (A big one for teens!) Relax with a few of your favorite slower-paced pieces. If you can keep a moment of practice in the back of your mind and think to do it when those little opportunities arise, these moments can add up to a tremendous benefit.

How can my teen practice music in the car?

Much of our days are spent riding in a car to and from work, school, and other activities. While the car is not an ideal place to practice the cello or piano, some instruments like the ukulele, harmonica, and flute are more portable. Singers are in luck, since singing can be done anywhere that doesn’t disturb others. There are also mobile instruments for easier practice, such as mini guitars, keyboards designed for traveling, and drum practice pads. But more importantly, there are creative ways of practicing without your instrument. If you can listen, vocalize, clap, tap, or take notes, you can practice music anywhere.

Believe it or not, fingerings can be practiced on thin air. As ineffective as that may seem, studies have shown that mental practice is highly effective, particularly for movement accuracy and velocity. In one study, students who mentally practiced a 5-finger pattern daily had the same neurological changes and reduction in mistakes as students who practiced the same pattern for the same amount of time at an actual piano.

Air-playing aside, practice does not even need to be that physical. Listening is one of a musician’s most important skills. If you can’t hear it well, you can’t play it well. It’s that simple. On the road, students can engage in active listening to hone the ear on the music they’re studying. Students should listen carefully without distractions and can even write on a notepad specific elements they hear, such as instrumentation, time signature, song form, and key quality— (Is the tune major or minor? Are there any key changes? How does this affect the mood of the song?)

There are also apps and websites that are designed to strengthen the ear through guessing the interval or chord quality, as well as note-naming and rhythm apps that help improve sight-reading. This can be a fun way to strengthen music skills in a pinch, and it’s quite important work that is often overlooked at home.

What social activities can my teen do that also help them with their musical skills?

Young singer training her voiceOne of the most essential aspects of being a teen is the social life. With school, work, and activities sometimes getting a bit too overwhelming, teens deserve to get to spend time with their friends relaxing and having fun too. Fortunately, there are things teens can do together for fun that will also enrich their musical life.

Going to a music show of any kind is a great experience, and will help maintain an interest in music and the arts. Any show will do, from a local rock band to the ballet. Experiencing a variety of genres and disciplines is fantastic for musical growth and creativity.

If your teen is progressing to an early intermediate level of playing their instrument, they could start a band with their friends. The band experience is a great way to encourage teen music practice and artistry.

Singers can join a local youth choir, and string players or pianists could try for a youth chamber group. There are even instrument-specific group lessons designed to provide a social environment of like-minded individuals while supplementing (but not replacing) private lessons.

Even certain sports such as badminton, tennis and ping pong can improve musical skills indirectly through improving hand-eye coordination and timing.

Above all, you want to avoid burn-out in your teen while still seeing improvements in their skills. Social musical activities are fun, engaging, and don’t necessarily feel like work. While practice is a form of work, students who see practice as more of a getaway from the routine, rather than part of it, tend to practice more. Combining structured regular rehearsal with social activities and active listening to music will go a long way. Communication is key, so regularly and casually check in with your teen about how much they’re practicing, struggles they’re having, and accomplishments they have made. There’s no need to be demanding, but let your teen know that you are in their corner when it comes to making time for music in this busy world.

Music lessons sound time consuming, where should we start?

Being busy is no reason to delay getting started with lessons. A great music teacher can help discover exactly how music can fit in your teen’s life, no matter how little extra time there may be. Music can make life richer, build self confidence and self esteem, and releases a chemical in the brain that has a key role in setting good moods. For anyone with teens, we know that’s a value proposition worth having! So reach out to Forbes Music to get your teen on the road to perpetual good moods playing music!

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