What do you consider a good pace for learning material?

October 9, 2016 at 12:29 AM · I know everybody's learning pace is different and everyone has different levels of skill, talent, goals, etc. But I would love to hear what you all consider a good amount of time to spend working on a piece (for instance, a movement of a concerto or a full concerto). What would you say is a marker of decent progress, versus a length of time that would make you think, "Hm, that's a long time, maybe that was too difficult for you"?

As an adult relearner, I am in no particular rush to learn things quickly, but I've recently been looking at all the pieces I would love to tackle and wondering when I'll be able to make a dent in the list at the rate I'm progressing. In the past year, I've learned one concerto and one movement of another. I have a wonderful teacher, but he doesn't teach many adults and I notice he doesn't push me to practice more hours so I don't have a sense from talking to him whether I'm making good progress, average, or whatnot.

For some background info, I've done Mozart 3, Bruch, and first movement of Mendelssohn. The longest I spent working on a single piece was Praeludium and Allegro for seven long arduous months, and it was probably too hard for me when I started it. But it was a valuable experience and built a lot of technique -- that was the piece where I started practicing more rigorously and afterward I felt my progress make leaps and bounds.

Replies (6)

October 9, 2016 at 02:37 AM · Too many variables not defined. How long do you practice every day? How many different things are you working on at once? Do you practice just your repertoire piece(s) or do you have scales, studies, daily sight-reading, chamber/orchestra music to deal with, etc.? If you feel your progress is making "leaps and bounds" then unless your teacher looks exasperated every week, I'd say you're probably right. If you practice an hour a day and you're doing a couple of repertoire pieces plus scales and studies, and if P&A was too hard for you when you started, then 7 months is totally reasonable to bring it up to a performance standard.

October 9, 2016 at 04:19 AM · I agree with Paul. The answer is "it depends".

Furthermore, not all pieces are internally at the same difficulty. In real music (not stuff written specifically for pedagogical purposes), there's often a handful of measures that are going to take 50%+ of the total practice time. You can effectively learn a work quicker if you never really get to the point where you reliably nail those passages. This approach is not entirely uncommon when students learn works -- i.e., when there's no pressure to really get everything 100% correct for a competition or other high-stakes performance.

Also, not all learning is linear. You may struggle with something for weeks or months and then one day it just seems to click.

As an adult returnee, during the period when I was practicing a steady 1 hour a day and sometimes more, I was able to do learn four major concertos a year plus some short works, in addition to orchestra and chamber music. I did some etudes as well as exercises, also.

Right now, on a much less steady practice schedule, averaging about 20 minutes a day, I'm doing roughly a major concerto a year, plus multiple short works, along with orchestra and chamber music. I play etudes and exercises but they are much smaller portion of my practice time.

I feel like my playing isn't improving very quickly, but I really don't practice enough. There are very specific things that I've learned to do that give me a sense of satisfaction, though.

At some point in time you will reach a stage where you are less learning to play the violin than learning to play new repertoire. Repertoire that's below your technical level should be learnable in a short amount of time.

October 9, 2016 at 04:57 AM · Thanks for the input. I agree that of course "it depends" is the most likely answer for everything, but I didn't want to bog down the initial question with too many specific details. It isn't so much that I want validation for how I happen to be progressing with my specific situation, but more that I was curious about what other people would consider to be a satisfactory a pace of learning.

(To fill in some of those variables, I practice 1 hour a day, spend about 20 min of that on scales and etudes, and the rest on repertoire. I feel like I make slow but steady progress in this scenario. I would love to up practices to 2 hours a day, but that isn't usually feasible.)

October 9, 2016 at 05:05 AM · A satisfactory pace probably depends on your general level of impatience. I am impatient. If something is too difficult, I find it hard to motivate myself to practice. If something is too easy, I find it hard not to procrastinate on working on it (so performance deadlines are really useful for me). I'm searching for a Csikszentmihalyi flow state, which requires just the right level of challenge.

October 9, 2016 at 09:36 AM · K.T., et al.,

I'll see Lydia's 50% and raise her a Pareto 80/20. That means about 20% of the challenge music should consume 80% of your time because that is where the music is teaching you something new. How fast you learn the lesson the music has to teach is less important than how well you absorb the lesson.

That 20% is where you, and your teacher, need to focus. Developing the technique and skills required for the most difficult passages will pay off.

An additional thought is for you and your teacher to identify the particular skills/techniques that you need to develop and chart a course through the vast sea of music that will develop those skills and techniques in a logical and progressive way. Have a great journey.

October 9, 2016 at 10:34 AM · Adult amateur students usually have expectations way beyond their possible practice time, and it is hard for the teacher to pace the work.

But I do feel that intonation, rhythm and tone are non-negociable, whatever the level.

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