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Nick Tester, Head of Strings at The Scots College, shares his top 10 musical practice tips to help parents support their children:

Quality versus quantity

Thirty minutes of quality, focused practice is infinitely better then six hours of unfocussed practice. If something is played incorrectly your child will have to then unlearn the mistake. As a rule of thumb something must be practiced correctly an additional seven times more than it was done incorrectly. Therefore, if your child plays something wrong 50 times then they need to practice it 57 times correctly!

Practice what you DON’T know
Often, students consider just playing through a piece or technique as practice, but it isn’t. Your child needs to identify passages they are having trouble with, and work on those and only those.

Once these sections have been worked through, the reward is that your child now gets to play through the entire piece.

Record the practice
In this age of technology, good quality digital recording devices are easy to find. For example, most mobile phones create reasonable quality recordings. The best way for your child to critique themselves is for them to record themselves, then listen back and mark what they liked or did not like on the music sheet with pencil. From there, practice the parts that are marked in and then re-record.

Practice timetabling
Students are often not aware how much time that they actually have to practice. Parents could assist their children by showing them what time they have available to practice. Enjoy watching your child see how much time they do have and how they can use their time more efficiently.

Have clear mini goals for each practice
Goalless practice is a waste of time and your child will lose motivation. Help your child set a goal for each practice – It could be as small as playing Bar 8 correctly. Once that goal is passed, celebrate, then set another tangible goal.

Have clear major goals as well
As well as minor goals boys often work better if they know they have a performance opportunity to work towards. Therefore, make sure that your child takes advantage of all solo performance opportunities available, such as concerts and eisteddfods.

Allow your children to perform for you
Your children will be more engaged if they feel you are interested in what they are doing. One such way is to allow your children to regularly to perform to you.

Any time is a good time for your child to perform for you – some possibilities might include when you are making dinner, cleaning, or when friends and family visit. Once they have played, complement them on their performance and say what you enjoyed and what you think they could work on. Send them off to work on what you suggested and then get them to perform again.

Don’t be afraid to communicate with your child’s tutor
Your child’s music tutor should fill out a music record book every week for your child’s lesson. This is a great place for you to see what your son is working on and an ideal first place for you to regularly communicate with your child’s tutor.

Ask your tutors what you can do to help. The more engaged the parent (especially for younger children) the better progress your child will make.

Practice Challenge #1: 21 Day Practice Challenge
Children love a challenge so here is a great practice challenge idea. It takes 21 days to set a routine so set the challenge:

  • Practice 21 days in a row for at least 10 minutes. If your child misses one they go back to day zero.
  • Once they have reached the 21 days then they have started their routine, now see if they can keep it going.
  • It will help if your son knows that they are getting reward at the end too!

Practice Challenge #2: 20 Hour Candle Challenge

  • Buy a 20 hour (or whatever length) candle.
  • Light it every time your son practices. Blow it out when they stop.
  • Remember to reward when they get through the whole candle.


There are huge benefits of learning a musical instrument and following these tips to support your child’s musical practice will ensure they have the best chance of improving and progressing in their talents.

Written by Nicholas Tester, Head of Strings, The Scots College. To learn more about the Performing Arts opportunities available at The Scots College, download our Prospectus.

The Scots College is a proud member of the following associations.

The Presbyterian Church (New South Wales) Property Trust T/A The Scots College, Sydney Australia
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William Elder


Mr Alan Elder was born in Scotland and migrated to Australia with his parents at a young age. He attended The Scots College for all his schooling, graduating in 1944. He played 1st XI Cricket and was a member of the College Cadet Unit. After leaving school Mr Elder studied accountancy and retained a life-long love of the College, especially the Pipes and Drums. Mr Elder never married, however the significant bequest he left will allow his Scots family to remember him through the Lang Walker Business Centre.