The main reason for practice is not to remember how to play a specific note, but instead to develop good technique and comfortable motor coordination. This means that practicing should be done frequently. I instruct your young musicians that 4 - 5 times a week for 10-15 minutes for beginning students and 15-20 minutes for 2nd year and up is their goal. If it is spaced out every other night, this is perfect! Consistently practicing keeps the hands, fingers, and mind in great musical shape! Even though students sit/stand in one spot to play, the hand and facial muscles need to be in shape just like an athletes body. Remember, endurance and coordination take time to build up! Repetition, repetition, repetition!
Practicing is not like other homework. Understanding what to do and actually being able to do it are two completely different brain functions. Most beginners and young musicians can cognitively understand what to do, but hey need to teach their muscles how to do it, then do it with comfort and ease. I will only assign a few exercises or lines of music for homework, so little that it might not even fill up 15 minutes just going through it once or twice. Have your child repeat it a few times. I will email all practice assignments home. Don't waste your time!
Playing through easy parts or music from the past is fun and it has it's benefits, but when you are trying to grasp a new skill, it can waste your time and distract you. Most students are very busy and utilizing every minute is important. Practice the difficult passages first. Then, add the easy ones in, putting the whole line together. Make it fun!
Practicing a few measures over and over again isn't fun. It is very tedious and mentally taxing. Especially if you are 8 or 9 years old. There are games you can play to minimize the boredom. When your child practices a few measures because they are hard, they need repetitions. Tell them, "I bet you can't get it 5 times in a row perfectly without making a mistake" or, "If you can get through this 5 times correctly, you can stop (or possibly a reward of some kind). The last idea I can give you is to test them. The goal being 5 correct repetitions, but if they make a mistake they start back over at 1. They need to get them 5 times in a row! It will take sometime and might be a little frustrating, but when they get it that is the reward itself. They will get a sense of pride and some confidence. Maybe even practice without being told to! Invite a friend over! Have a party!
It sounds really silly, but band can be more enjoyable with friends. If your neighbor or a friend lives close by (or even if they don't), invite them over for snacks and some homework time. Part of the appeal of music (band or orchestra) is that it is group work in school. When they go home to practice, it becomes quite the boring task. When they play with friends at home, they can learn from each other, help each other, or giggle at each others silly mistakes! They quite often hold the instrument incorrectly and a friend can help them see how someone else does it.. After 15-20 minutes of work is over, there are snacks and hanging out with their friends! The K.I.S.S. method!
Keep It Short Silly! It can be tempting to put an 30 or 45 minutes into one night because they have the whole evening or day free. Please (PLEASE, Please), don't let them do this. Studies have shown that long periods of focus for young children wear out their ability to retain knowledge and skills. They only remember what they do at the beginning or the end, but what is in the middle is forgotten. This is not efficient. They are better off squeezing in 5 minutes in the morning before school and 10 before bedtime at night. Spreading out the nights of homework evenly through the week reinforces good habits and new skills. Moderation is the key, just like dieting! Essentially, it's snacking for your brain! Don't stuff their brain too full in one session! Clap and Say Before You Play!
Practicing can be done without instruments. If a particular passage is hard or confusing, whether it's the rhythm or notes, clapping the rhythm and saying the note name is a great technique to use. It reinforces the rhythm without the coordination problem of the fingers. Plain and simple, there is less going on between their reading, moving fingers, and breathing .