This weeks question is the most often asked question around practice irrespective of instrument, ability or standard.
We’ve all heard the boastful musician who claims “I do six hours practice every day” or the teacher that says “If you have lessons with me you need to practice four hours every day”. Comments like these can leave us mere mortals feeling inferior and less than good about the practice we are doing. Scratch the surface and as we shall see there is more to this practice thing than the amount of time you spend doing it.
There are two great myths surrounding the amount of time spent practising:
Myth Number 1: One size fits all.
As musicians we all have different abilities and different strengths and weaknesses. In addition we have different backgrounds, cultures, commitments and any number of other things that really mean no two people should be doing the same amount of practice.
Myth Number 2: Reality vs Perception.
The amount of practice people actually do and what they say they do are very different. When musicians are questioned they are liable to “exaggerate” the amount of time they practice. There is a culture in western musical instrument learning that more practice must be better. This focus on quantity over quality is very detrimental to the learning process.
You can work out how much practice is right for you but you need to consider a number of factors:
1. What standard are you on your instrument?
If you are beginner you will not be able to do the same amount of practice as someone who is grade 5. Likewise someone who is a serious player at a music conservatoire will do considerably more.
2. What educational level are you at?
A large part of learning an instrument is being able to think through issues and remembering to address them properly, the more advanced your education the better you will be able to do this.
3. What instrument do you play?
Some instruments are physically more tiring to play than others. For example the stresses on a brass players lip muscles mean they cannot do the hours of practice that some pianists of violinists seem to do.
4. What other calls do you have on your time?
Do you partake in many other groups and activities? Are you sporty or do you value your social life? Are there family commitments you need to fulfil? These and many others can impact the time you have. Careful here though not to confuse these reasons with excuses for not practising!
5. What goals do you have?
This last point is perhaps the most important and really what drives someone to practise. Nobody practises because their teacher of parents say they must. The motivation to practice must come from you and this in turn comes from the goals you set yourself. If you want to get grades and play faster than anyone else you are much more likely to practise and focus on the time you have.
You should think very carefully about each of the above and discuss them with your teacher – they will go a long way to showing how much practice you should be doing.
Our answer to the question, “How much practice should I be doing?” can be summed up in one simple statement:
Enough to achieve the goals you have set for yourself
If you have read the above you should realise the actual time in minutes is not the measure by which you should judge your practice. You should judge yourself by what you get done in the time you have. For those that still want to use this yardstick our advice is as follows:
Beginners – those just starting out learning an instrument – 5-10mins per day.
Moving On – those students who have passed the beginning stage and have perhaps done a grade exam or two – 10-15mins per day.
Intermediate – these people are no longer beginners and are developing their technique and tackling the middle grade exams – 15-20 mins per day
Good – players who are beginning to take the instrument more seriously and are considering completing the final couple of grade exams – 30-40mins per day
Serious – those who are thinking of making a career out of music need to work hard as music can be a tough business. If practice time is well focused and depending upon instrument then – 2-3 hrs per day
Professional – if you are one of the fortunate to have made it to professional status as a musician you should be experienced enough to know how much of what sort of practice you need to do – variable.
Is there any question about practice that you’d like us to answer? Get in touch and let us know!
Enjoy your practice!