Having trouble practising more than a certain amount
I am a pre-university music student who has recently become much more serious about violin. Of course I enjoyed it before but my passion has grown and I really want to reach new levels with my playing.
I realise it's quality over quantity, but quantity is obviously also important, so I've been trying to work up to about 5 hours per day (from 2 hours which I had been doing before). However, I've been having difficulty getting past 3-4 hours. It's like a mental block or something, and I procrastinate a lot after that point. Does anybody have any ideas as to why this may be happening, and what you would do about it?
Edit: Just to clarify, I do love the violin, I enjoy playing & practising (even scales!) and this is not for a lack of motivation. It just stops coming after a few hours.
Thank you for reading :)
Maybe you could look at parts of your practice that are not efficient rather than extending the length. If your brain is overloaded after a long time, you may not be getting much out of that extra practice time. Getting some exercise or a nap in between sessions might help you get refreshed for another session.
Leopold Auer used to say that if you were serious, practice three hours a day; four if you are a little stupid. (He said it, not me.) Anything more than that is wasted time.
you could always break it into two practices
Take breaks whenever your brain feels like it. Practice as much as you need to in order to satisfy yourself, even if it's just 2 hours. Personally, I do not practice a lot (fairly advanced student at the beginning Bach unaccompanied level), but make good progress and get all the work done.
Thank you all for your helpful tips!
The other thing is that you can't go from 2 hours to 5 hours overnight. It just takes a while to build up the stamina. But I agree with the others that 5 hours seems like rather a lot.
3-4 hours/day good practice is a lot. But it maybe helpful to explore this question:
I guess I was basing the 5 hour thing on a lot of very, very good violinists in my area who do that much. I'd really like to get to the level of competitions & opportunities they have. I don't mind putting that amount of effort in although it does seem like a lot right now.
At what level are you playing now? How old are you, and how many years have you been studying? What is your goal -- do you hope to become a professional?
I am 18 and hoping to become a professional orchestral player. I've been playing since I was 7ish but didn't always take it very seriously - had some serious issues with performance anxiety and frequently got discouraged. (This has been sorted out.)
Break it up into sections, as has been said, and take breaks within those sections.
Has your teacher told you that your current level of accomplishment makes it very likely that by time you're done with an MM, you still won't have reached the level of someone who's able to get a full-time pro orchestra job?
With all due respect, that's between me and my teacher, and this question was about practice hours. I have seen you & another person here do this to several other teenagers & I find it completely inappropriate. As an amateur, especially, it's totally out of line.
The thing is, she's not an expert, and a lot of her assessment was inaccurate - the type of thing you read on the internet, not the type of thing you actually observe in real life.
Actually, I asked about your level and your ambitions because it's relevant to "how much practice is a reasonable amount", and how those hours should be spent. If you had said, for instance, that you wanted to maximize your immediate opportunities to become a better player while you were still a student, but you had no ambitions for a professional career, I'd have said "stop practicing as soon as you can't focus any more, rather than trying to push through". Since you want to go into a performing career, four hours is almost certainly a minimum, rather than a nice-to-have, so you've got to practice as much as possible.
I didn't actually ask how much practice is reasonable; just, basically, "how can I practise more".
Gemma, I think there are a few things you need to do in order to practice 5 hrs in a day. Time management is one, but you don't seem to concerned by that, so I take that you have plenty of "free" time available, however, if all you have is 5hrs straight, then it's a whole different matter. You can't be fully engaged in constructive practice for 5 hrs non-stop. You need breaks at regular intervals, so you really need 6-7 hrs of available time to get 5hrs of practice. You need to sustain your focus and motivation. That is also difficult to do without breaks. You also need a well structured practice routine, which will help maintain motivation as you won't get tired of doing the same things for too long. Though I don't practice that long (I don't have the time available for one thing), when I see that I lost my focus and I'm getting sloppy, I stop and do something else for a short while like making myself a tea, checking eMails etc., then get back at it. Sticking to your practice routine I think is important (and sometimes not easy to do).
When I asked something on this forum and experienced members provided their advice for free, then no matter how harsh it seems to be, the first word I would have said is, 'thank you'.
I do have a fair amount of free time yes. Thank you for the advice, breaks and structure are definitely something I will continue to work on.
What works for me when I have to mentally focus for an extended period is to do something completely different but physical during breaks - for example go for a run outside, or do an hour of yoga, or salsa dance or even take a nap. Something that helps relax and stretch out your muscles and also rests your brain.
Thank you. Also that sounds like a great idea, I'll try going outside for 10 mins each our or so.
Practice efficiency, or how to do things with as little time and effort as possible, is certainly a very interesting subject, and one that I’ve been researching for a certain time now.
Also, https://bulletproofmusician.com/ provides very useful tips on effective, mindful practice and successful performance.
I agree with Lydia's remarks for the most part, and I have never seen her be rude.
During a "discussion" some things just happen to follow. Amazing where interest in a conversation can lead. That's why it's called a discussion, "Discussion Forum". I don't think Lydia was being rude. No need to bite at a friendly hand or kick at a volunteer.
Bulletproof Musician is a fabulous collection of articles, backed by science. The author provides private coaching as well, by the way.
Ivan Galamian and Dorothy Delay prescribed blocks of 60 minutes, with a 10 minute break out of each 60 minutes. Within those 50 minutes, you should have a plan of what you will work on, what problems you plan to solve, and for how long on each section.
Dear Gemma, I agree with Mary Ellen. Lydia has never been rude. She is always extremely helpful, fair-minded and tells it as it is. She is generous with her knowledge with saintly patience. Often times the truth someone utters doesn't please our ear so negative reactions are understandable. Part of our growth as a musician and a person is learning to go beyond the façade and identify who are our truly friends. Hopefully, when you go back to reread Lydia's comments at a later time, you'll appreciate how kind and how helpful she is.
Gemma, there are trolls or rude commenters in most online forums but as far as I know Lydia isn’t such person. IMHO most V.com members more than understand that the moment they say something bad to you, you could shoot them right back in split second as we are just strangers in such an online setting.
Gemma, it was not Lydia who was out of line, but you. Sure, it's hard when someone tells an aspiring high-school athlete what it takes to play professional football, but it's good stuff which needs to be taken in.
Lydia is a stand-up member of the forum, and I have never known her to be rude -- only helpful. You will find that from many v.commies. I hope you will re-read her messages with that in mind!
Thank you everyone for your very valuable advice. This was the kind of thing I was hoping for and am very grateful. Will be reading again in detail & writing everything down.
"I will not be told by complete strangers, in an unsolicited manner, that I will 'probably never make it anywhere with music'"
Gemma, this is how I read the conversation.
For me the short answer to the OP's question is that it is the student's body and brain telling the student that it is now time for rest and recuperation. If the student doesn't take a rest then things will be made unnecessarily difficult - ask any athlete who over-trains.
I agree - it's always important to take breaks, especially when trying to build up stamina.
This is no grand criticism of Lydia, whose contributions are intelligent and obviously are a result of clear sightedness and I like very much reading her remarks.I will say though, partly because I see it a bit from OP's side (as in I empathise with how she reacted), that one can say pretty much convey a similar message in different ways, some less frightening and more positive than others. When one says second tier conservatory (which sounds a bit elitist and could be interpreted tp be condescending), work your tail off, hardest worker (terms that are very easy to use and remain abstract
Mary Ellen, I do the same thing with people who have the notion that they want to be professional violin makers. I wouldn't be doing them a favor at all by leaving them with the belief that making a living at it is easier than it is.
Exactly. It is a moral issue in my opinion.
Reading the original post about her tendency to procrastinate a lot and being of the "digital generation": Gemma, how much of that procrastination is due to your phone or other activities that make it harder to want to return to practicing?
There is a tendency on this forum, especially when it comes to cases of aspiring teenagers, to present the brutal reality of classical music. It is all well intended but it could be done (from the perspective of someone who deals 18/19 years-old undergraduates every day) in a way that is less condescending. They are still kids.
I agree that the derailment of Gemma's original question was unduly harsh and unnecessary.
As a side note, the English bit was genuinely intended to be a compliment. We've got a variety of folks writing here for whom English is not their first language, and when they write well, I generally think they deserve to be complimented on their mastery of the language.
My understanding is that many countries (e.g. Canada, Australia, NZ ) have provisions , formal or informal, that would give priority to local talents in many fields. It is certainly the case in academia. It is likely to be the case in pro orchestras too, but I have no firsthand experience.
Gemma, it looks like everyone here is rooting for you. I think David Zhang put it better up above than I could think to articulate it. I do appreciate people feeling comfortable to put their opinions out, though, and sometimes a little friction is the price for encouraging a variety of opinions, which is a good for anyone reading.
The OP asked how she can practice longer and harder. Okay even though I'm an amateur I'll try to answer that as directly as possible.
"Seems to me, whether we are adults or teenagers asking for help, that a lot of folks forget that there IS another person on the other end of the screen reading these things AND that the members of this forum DON'T have to be as cutting (direct, clear) as they are. And really, "our job" here on the forum is to help others when asked, not to crush others. "
The thing is though, the context of this particular question did not warrant a critical response vis a vis the way it was delivered (a "reality check").
To come back to practicing, there are many "goals" in a practice session, and it can help to switch goals frequently: e.g. concentrate on tone, then
I follow the entire discussion thread and when the OP said: "I'm not sure where I fall on the scale, I know there are better & worse violinists of my age but that's about it.", this suggests to me an invitation for reality check.
Frieda Francis, phone isn't really an issue, I think it's just that I'm used to focusing on a million things at the same time so violin for 4+ hours in one day is a bit of a challenge. That was just an idea though, I don't know if my upbringing has anything to do with it. Thanks for your tip about planning practice - actually tried that yesterday and it worked!
I agree with Yixi. And I'm amazed at the amount of projecting going on here in some of the reactions. Nobody is trying to crush anyone. If you want to see real blunt, possibly hurtful, honesty, just seek out any one of the many threads where a high school student posts that they are playing (for example) Accolay, are first chair in their high school orchestra, and want to go to Juilliard to become a soloist.
Mary Ellen, I am not against constructive criticism, as long as someone has asked for it & you have a very accurate view of their situation (ideally have heard them play).
Gemma, have you posted videos of you playing?
No, there are no videos, and respectfully for the millionth time I did not come here for criticism on my playing or my ability to get into an orchestra.
Just to be clear, my intended context was twofold: Gemma stated that she wasn't sure how she fell on the comparative scale, and the amount of practice necessary is related to that context. My intent was to convey that she would be looking at a lot of years of practicing more than her peers, and that doing so now would be a good idea. Apparently this was taken more harshly than I intended it.
The reality check from Lydia wasn't necessary, but wasn't totally out of context.
All those things are true, regardless of the - possibly too angry - way I worded them.
Gemma, I only asked about a video because you said:
Gemma, had you better expressed your disapproval of the commenter, I believe you could have won a lot more support.
It's not in the numbers, it's who is correct.
Alright gang, I think we've squeezed all the juice out of this horse.
Christian, I'm offended by your calling an aspiring young violinist a horse.
Juicing horses is a very ..... niche .... hobby.
Its one think to give a grounded direct applicable criticism (for instance on how to improve a certain technique or practice) Yixi. Its another think to be offering unsolicited advice laden with some moralising (again with all due respect I say that). Gemma is here for support, as we are all in one way or another. It seems like Gemma is an intelligent and applied person who cares and is asking for applicable advice on a certain subject; I do not think that allows one a platform on which to give what is fundementally a sermon on work ethic,on what her chances are for the future, etc. Mary Ellen correctly diagnosed this -positively in her point of view- as something to do with morality, she picked up on the overtones as did David.
Anyone commenting on an internet thread suffers from 'knowitallism,' myself included. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't. The hard part is when the original question gets lost in all the posts- do you feel like your question was answered?
I do feel like my question has been answered. In fact, I just completed my 5th hour of practice for the day - thank you again to those who helped!
Yay! Brava, Gemma!
5 hours of practice is crazy. I truly wish I had that sort of discipline.
Professionals - and Ardent Amateurs! - often play more than 5 hours a day.
Well if you just play you won’t ever get better...
There's plenty of stasis. Whoever you're quoting, who said there's no stasis, was just trying to say something pithy and quotable. Apparently they succeeded.
No there isn’t. There is slow progress, or even very slow progress, or slow or very slow decay, but stasis doesn’t exist.
We're just going to have to disagree. If your philosophy makes you feel better, by all means, stick with it.
Practicing 5 hours is not that hard if someone is obsessive and determined, and knows how to set goals and practice "smart." External situations like having to play in front of others is another big incentive. I have noticed that after some people get more advanced, it becomes easier to go for longer hours. Partly it's the repertoire demands, but partly it's also that you become far more discerning about your playing and you know how to "teach yourself" when you are very advanced. I think a lot of people at the Mendelssohn level aren't at that point yet, so it can be harder to feel motivated.
‘We're just going to have to disagree. If your philosophy makes you feel better, by all means, stick with it.‘
Julie O'Connor above mentioned goal oriented rather than time oriented practice, to which Gemma replied she needed the time limits.
Gemma, you have my admiration for standing up to the naysayers. Especially as a teenager. Good for you; may that tenacity stand you in good stead.
J, I’m not sure practicing 8 hours per day would be a very good thing...
Roman, I didn't mean to suggest practicing for 8 hours a day, nor do I have any specific recommendations for longer or shorter periods than the 5 hours being asked about. My reference to 8 hours was as a point about a 'standard' work day in other fields.
J Ray, thanks for affirming my belief that Jason Haaheim's article is relevant to and helpful for this thread. Yes, I read
I would recommend Daniel Coyle's book "The Talent Code" to anyone interested in practice and improvement. Similar to "Talent is Overrated".
I'm pretty sure as a student, Gemma has a lot more time than someone working 8 hours a day (unless she has a significant part-time job).
Is there though a risk of burn-out and psychological exaustion over the long run? Of course it depends on the person, but Ive recall reading of young really committed excellent students who practiced a lot.. got to a point where there was a psychological block, an apathey set in and they just stopped to the frustration of the parents. After a long while, they might come back to it with some regret for having dropped it.
Yeah but wouldn't that also be a risk with 3-4 hours? And if you're doing any less than that, you probably won't make it to professional standard at all. I think a better goal is to learn how to prevent burnout, rather than just do less work.
I agree with Gabbi. I think this is why it's important to have a teacher who has "been there and done that," i.e., a working pro. Gemma has parents who are musicians too. If she has the kind of relationship with them that allows her to discuss fears, dreams, etc., openly and in plain language, then she is at a huge advantage.
"I'm pretty sure as a student, Gemma has a lot more time than someone working 8 hours a day (unless she has a significant part-time job)."
The same qualities that make them good violin students makes them good at everything else. "Good" in this context means efficient, self-motivated, mentally engaged, keen to please their superiors, and a focused, businesslike demeanor. You do see them with their phones, but you don't see them in front of the TV very much. And most importantly, weekends are work days, to catch up on studying, get ahead on projects, etc. They seem so precociously independent, but it's important for parents of these kids (like all parents) to keep an eye on their health and general well being; it's easy to assume things are okay when grades are good and your child is banging out violin concertos one after the other.
J Ray, I think you're touching upon something very important and probably deserves a separate thread, namely, what counts as practice? Why we seem to be still learning/improving after a practice session away from violin or even after a good night sleep or even a day or two?
I interpreted Roman's quote "There is no stasis. You’re either getting better, or you’re getting worse" to mean exactly that. If you don't play for 3 days, you might get worse on some techniques, and you might get better on other areas. You are constantly moving up or down on some dimension. It's unlikely you'll be exactly the same as where you were 3 days before.
My point is that these kinds of slogans are basically worthless. It's just philosophical conjecture. There's no way anything like that could ever be substantiated or generalized.
I agree with Paul. There are so much to be learned from modern science about how we learn and how we improve through interval trainings.
Paul Deck only believes in measurable phenomena :)
Erik that's not entirely true but I think my threshold for what I consider to be complete BS is much lower than some others.
Agree with Paul. I like evidence. But I wouldn't call philosophical conjecture worthless. And I would distinguish aphorisms from philosophy (critical thinking.)
If it weren't for burn out, I think it's absolutely possible to fill a work day's worth of practice (I think it was Donald Weilerstein who practiced 10+ hours/day at Meadowmount when his peers, e.g. Perlman, worked for 4. They made fun of him but he was hell bent on doing what it took for him to achieve what he wanted.) Just working on technique, slow tuning in positions, tuning in shifting, velocity for the left hand in patterns and shifting, arpeggios, tone production, various bowing, can easily take up a couple of hours. Slow tuning on a few pieces of rep can easily take another couple of hours. We haven't even touched upon speed work, memorization, phrasing, score study, and later, playing through, practicing starting and preparing tempo and style, etc. Of course you can't possibly cover everything you need to attend to daily, but the more you discover what it takes to prepare a piece for performance, you realize there's more than enough to do.
I think that it might be helpful to take a break for your mind, and do something completely different for some time. Also, 100 comments!
10 hours a day for 7 weeks in a row?!
Jeewon I agree with you.
Stasis? This does not mean not practicing, but practising long enough and efficiently enough to keep at the same level. Which is what I do until some new challenge kicks me somewhere rude..
Yixi, Jeewon- good points on the nonphysical side of practicing: mental practice, studying the music, etc. Should they be included - though the OP probably meant counting the physical side of playing only - they should account for something.
What I meant by that quote, is even though the effects are not perceptible and not measurable in the short-term, they become perceptible and measurable in the long-term.
When I agreed to disagree with Roman, my hope was to avoid that sidebar from taking over the thread. But perhaps at this point the thread has exhausted its original purpose anyway. I doubt a serious student like Gemma cares very much about our pointless bickering over stasis, since that is not her goal.
Come on, relax! If everything we say on this forum must be "substantiated and generalized", I am not sure how much is there left to be said.
We now seem to agree Paul, so the sidebar can be closed :)
An hour of
While I agree unmindful practice can create bad habits, where is the scientific evidence that it will "undo many hours of the mindful kind"?
No "scientific" evidence, Gabbi, just an opinion (based on experience and observation)! For example I find that in my practice the morning after a gruelling orchestral session, I have to re-do the basics to recover tone, intonation, and precise articulation.