How long should you practice?

» Posted by on Jun 26, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

One of the most frequently asked questions by both parents and students is “How long should I practice?” Practicing is an acquired skill, and perhaps the most important. It can be taught in the sense that a framework for how to practice can be learned. The internal mechanisms (i.e. “feeling” whether you can confidently play something at a practice, playing, or performance level), however, have to be learned independently. This is earned through diligent practicing and concentration.

Busy parents like to put a number on how many minutes their son or daughter should practice. Students like to put a number on it so they can feel like they did enough and then go play. The real way to successfully practice is to set a goal you can practically achieve in the amount of time you have available. Then don’t stop until you’ve achieved that goal.


 

S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Specific – Make a goal that is specific to what you want to accomplish. For example, “learn the first two lines (or pages for advanced students) of the piece.” Here are some other good goals:

1. Memorize X amount of the piece 2. Be able to play from measure 1-25 without any note mistakes 3. Play measures 1-10, 3x in a row without any mistakes 4. Exaggerate all the dynamics and play the first section without missing any 5. Play through with the metronome set at X number of beats per minute 6. Simply play through the piece once to see if you can

Measurable – Yes, you can measure your goal. Quantifying your goal with numbers such as how many times you’ve played through by memory (I use ten times), or how many times you play with perfect articulation, etc. are good methods for measuring your goal.

Attainable – We’d all like to be able to play a piano concerto straight through without any mistakes on the first run. Is that attainable, though? Absolutely not. Set a goal you can actually attain. Be reasonable.

Realistic – Make realistic and practical goals. If you only have a half hour available to practice, don’t make a goal of memorizing the entire piece. As a psychology student, I learned that the best students have proven to be those who have a realistic understanding of how long it takes to accomplish tasks. For example, thinking you can write an entire page of a research paper in 10 minutes because you have a football game to watch, vs. knowing that on average, it takes you an hour to write 1 page. The piano student who knows it will take about an hour to get a first run with correct notes, playing at a slow and manageable tempo (there’s another area of reality to explore: don’t play faster than you can accurately – you’ll only solidify wrong notes in your playing) will be much more successful than the student who tries to do it in 10 minutes.

Time-Bound – When will you finish your goal? For short-term goals, setting a time or day of the week is good. For example, a daily goal might be to simply practice. Okay – so set a goal for when you’ll have practiced by. For advanced students, a long-term goal such as “have the piece learned and memorized a month before the concert” is a great time-bound goal.


 

Here’s a general time-frame, though, for how much you should practice.

Beginner: 15-30 minutes/day for 5-7 days per week

Intermediate: 30-60 minutes/day for 5-7 days per week

Advanced: 1-3 hours/day for 6-7 days per week (Chopin suggested 3 hours a day)

Concert Pianists: 2-10 hours/day for 6-7 days per week

 

…these times change when you have a performance coming up.

 

Hope this helps!

 

1 Comment

  1. A follow up/P.S. to this post.

    As I prepare for a performance this month, I’ve been trying to put myself in the place of a student exposed to my suggestions. One thing to remember is that it’s not always easy to follow these guidelines. We all have hard days and our concentration can be compromised. I’m no exception. On these days, I make an easy goal such as “just play from the beginning to the end with a nice, slow, relaxed approach as many times until it reaches 10:00.” I made it sound easy, and it’s not always. My attention will wander to what I did that day, what I’ll make for dinner, anything is fair game. And it happens. Avoid it, but accept it for what it is when it pops up.

    Final suggestion: Do the best you can in that moment. Accept that it won’t always be the best practicing you’ve ever done or ever will do in your entire life. JUST DO THE BEST YOU CAN IN THAT MOMENT. Trust me, you’ll reach your goals eventually with this approach.

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