How Much Should I Practice?

At some point, everyone asks the question “How much should I practice?”  Both students and parents wonder how much is enough.

I am going to share with you some of my insights I have learned by trial and error and through my own teaching.

Amount of Time vs. Getting Something Done

Most people often think about how much time a person should practice rather than what is getting done.

I think this is inherit in our culture where practicing four hours a day sounds impressive to people.

It really doesn’t impress me and I’ll tell you why.  What’s important is not how much you practice, but what you are getting accomplished.

Focus is the Key

A person can spend four hours a day practicing is still get nothing done.

They are making sound the entire time, but may not be able to walk away knowing that something has improved.

In fact, if they haven’t improved any, I feel very sorry for them.  They just wasted four hours of their precious time.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be doing something else if that’s what happens every time.

The key is not how much time you spend, but how focused you are.

Why is Everyone Improving Except Me?

In college, I became really curious as to why other people practiced a lot less than me and seemed to get more done.  What am I doing wrong?  Why can’t I get this?

I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me.  Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for this kind of thing.

Soon, I decided to become my own guinea pig and experiment with my practice habits.  I also combined research I was studying with this in an effort to implement some of what I was learning.

What I discovered was that I could get the same amount (and sometimes more) accomplished in 30 minutes rather than what used to take me 2 hours…and I was practicing more than one instrument.

Do You Know What Made the Difference?

Focus!  I began identifying what the exact problems were and forced myself to only practice those spots.

The temptation is always to start from the beginning and play all the way through your music.  Never do this!

That is a good way to really waste your time.  Instead of practicing the stuff you know (which is what everyone wants to do), practice the real problems.

How to Focus Your Practice Time

1.  Figure out what and where the problems are.  Isolate the problems.  What’s happening that needs to be fixed?

2.  Decide how to fix them.  How can you tackle this problem?  Can you write in counting, notes, or other things to help?

3.  Circle the problem spots.  This will force your eye to go directly to those places and work on them.  The chances of you remembering them tomorrow are slim.  Marking them really helps and will save you time at every practice session.

4.  Only work on the problems.  Not until after you work out each spot can you play other things.  Really make yourself do this.  The focus will be well worth your time.

5.  Take it for a test drive.  See if the problems are truly fixed or if they need more work.  Some of them can be fixed in a few minutes while others may take a few days or weeks.

You can do this by playing one of more measures ahead of the problem and gradually move out to a few lines before that spot.  If everything is fixed, then you can finally start from the beginning and check the status of the piece as a whole.

Don’t do this until all of the problems are worked through and continue to remain that way during your test-drives.

Do You Have the Right Mindset?

The next time you are wondering “how much should I practice?”, ask yourself instead, “where are the problem spots?”.

Stop setting the timer and concentrate on what needs to get done.  Create a plan of action on how to tackle your practice session.

Hopefully, you will find yourself spending less time practicing while getting more done.  I surely hope that is the case.  Time is too valuable to be wasted.

If you use these tips, I guarantee you will be using your time a lot wiser and much more efficiently.  They have worked for me, as well as, many of my own students.

In fact, this is something I teach and practice with my students right in their lesson.  You can do this too.

3 thoughts on “How Much Should I Practice?”

  1. This article in particular has helped me A TON! I’ve always been one to try to grind through problem parts and as you mentioned, i always did it from the beginning and working up to the problem part and of course as one would expect , the whole thing just stopped abruptly right in its tracks. Having done as you suggested, i isolated one measure that was giving me fits and repeated that over and over…starting excruciatingly slow at first. So slow in fact, it would be hard to tell i was really playing music. That very technique of starting slow and just repeating that one part for 15 min sure made all the difference. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Hey Gary! It’s great to see you here! So glad to hear you have found value in changing how you practice. By isolating the problem spots and only working on them, you may have noticed a difference in the amount of time you practice and what you get accomplished each time. How to practice is usually not a topic addressed by a lot of teachers, yet it is one of the most valuable lessons you could ever learn! Thanks for the feedback!

  3. Kenneth E. Yingst

    your focus practice on things I don,t know hit home with me. I have been playing fun. Things and thinking that was enough Ken

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