The 15-minute practice rule

The 15-minute practice rule

Burwell and Shipton (2013) provide an illuminating insight into the practice strategies of university-level music students. The project was an action-research model to develop the self-regulatory skills of instrumental music students through the use of generic practice strategies and tools for time-management and self-evaluation.

15-minute practice rule
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The authors suggest that instrumental practice strategies of students is not systematically taught during lessons. This may lead students to practise ineffectively, with no clear goals and objectives in mind for repertoire during practice time. Often, what may occur in lessons are responses to difficulties in repertoire, addressing the immediate problem with a model or a solution. This approach, however, does not provide students with long-term strategies to problem-solve and address technical issues on their own, leading to frustration at the inconsistencies and inefficiencies in practice often report by the participants prior to the study.

In general, there is little evidence teachers understand how their students approach practice, and little explicit reference to practice during lessons. There is suggestion that students model their practice on the content of the lesson, however, this does not provide effective tools for problem-solving technical issues or develop long-lasting and efficient practice techniques. Practice strategies seem to be developed on an ad-hoc basis and response to a particular challenge. As best, approaches and advice to students for the  development of practice strategies is at best, sporadic.

Existing research suggests the ability to self-regulate and use a range of metacognitive strategies is helpful during music practice. Metacognitive activities include planning, monitoring, and evaluation of practice (Hallam, 2001). Self-regulation includes setting goals, planing actions to achieve the goals, and reflection and assessment on the outcomes of the set goals (Zimmerman, 1998). In addition, personal traits such as motivation are important (Hallam, 2012). What is known are that advanced musicians apply a full range of metacognitive and self-regulation tools during their practice (Nielsen, 2001) and this may be the factor which separates the good from the truly outstanding instrumentalists.

The study consisted of 8 participants, undergraduate music majors. They attended three seminars on strategic practice strategies they were to implement during their practice times. This strategic approach consisted of a focus on practice, rehearsal, and performance. Practice was viewed as ‘self-teaching’ in which the participants had to plan, monitor, execute, and reflect on their practice, therefore self-regulating their practice sessions. Furthermore, the practice sessions had a ’15-minute practice rule’. Students were to practice something specific in their repertoire which needed to be address and to practise it for a full 15 minutes. After that, the students were expected to move onto another area to work on.

The results found students felt they improved and were more efficient in their practice time than they had been previously. The use of the short-term targets identified with the 15-minute practice rule provided students with a framework for practice. For some participants, issues remained such as the identification and problem-solving of repertoire and technical troubles. This suggests that beyond metacognitive and self-regulatory strategies, problem-identifying and problem-solving are far more advanced practice strategies, requiring further investigation.

The 15-minute framework provided students with tools to begin to develop efficient practice strategies above and beyond the specific modelling and technical issue solving which occurs during lessons. The students indicated they were much less frustrated with their practice. One participant remarked the practice tools provided led them to ask questions about practice and problem-solving technical issues during lessons they would have not thought of asking prior to the project.

Individual lessons are characterised by being responsive to individual student needs and this is seen as a positive aspect of the one-to-one tuition mode. However, the research suggests the necessity of a more proactive approach to the development of metacognitive and self-regulatory skills applicable to instrumental learning, as there appears to be a ‘gap’ in student and teacher knowledge regarding these skills.


Burwell, K., & Shipton, M. (2013). Strategic approaches to practice: An action research project. British Journal of Music Education(3), 329-345.

Hallam, S. (2001). The development of metacognition in musicians: Implications for education. British Journal of Music Education, 18(1), 27-39.

Hallam, S. (2012). Motivation to learn. In I. Cross & S. Hallam (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Music Pyschology (Vol. 1). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nielsen, S. G. (2001). Self-regulating Learning Strategies in Instrumental Music Practice. Music Education Research, 3(2), 155-167.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1998). Academic studying and the development of personal skill: A self-regulatory perspective. Educational Psychologist, 33(2-3), 73-86.

The 15-minute practice rule

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