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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Do you practice in one long session, or several short ones?

June 23, 2012 at 4:19 PM

Do you practice in one long session, or in several shorter ones, over the course of a day?

This week's interview with David Garrett made me think about this issue. He said that he spent much of his late teen years in pain, from injury. Part of his recovery involved switching to practicing in short sessions -- no longer than a half-hour at a time -- as well as changing his positioning, regular weight training and just taking control of his life in general. He said the short sessions were better physically, as well as mentally.

I confess, when I'm really on a tear, practicing for something, I'll go for a good hour and a half before stopping for a break. Three hours in a day has always been the max for me, though; call me a wuss. I've never been able to put in six-hour practice days; certainly not six hours in a row!

In general, do you practice in one long session, or several? What are your thoughts about the matter?

From Jim Hastings
Posted on June 23, 2012 at 5:10 PM
I voted SEVERAL. Three hours is the max for me, too -- usually two 90-minute sessions with a few hours in between for other things. First session is more practice, less play; second session is the reverse.

For me, two sessions are more effective than one. The long break helps me recharge. During the sessions, I pause frequently to stretch hands and arms. Like DG, I train regularly with weights.

From Atilla Yasar
Posted on June 23, 2012 at 5:57 PM
I practice in really short 'sessions' (5 to 30 when I'm really focused) because I got distracted by my laptop so easily :P
From Man Wong
Posted on June 23, 2012 at 5:55 PM
I'm just an adult beginner and haven't been practicing regularly in a long time -- other than working daily w/ my 5-yo -- so can't really say for myself.

But I do encourage my kids to break it up into 2-3 shorter, more manageable sessions. They usually only go 1/2-hour to 45min per session upto 1-hour max per session.

IIRC, Itzhak Perlman recommended (on his YouTube channel) going maybe 50min at a time, especially if you intend to do 3-5 hours (or more) per day -- and in that case, he counts the roughly 10min breaks as part of the total practice time.



From Mendy Smith
Posted on June 23, 2012 at 6:33 PM
I time my short sessions with the laundry cycle on laundry day, and in-between housework on non-laundry day. During the week, 1 hour max.
From Peter Kent
Posted on June 23, 2012 at 7:23 PM
While not a directly related answer, when teaching at the HS level, one of my constant tenets was that, "Miracles Happen During that 2nd Hour of Practice"..and this was a personal discovery for me years back...I believe Leopold Auer claimed that if you couldn't get it done in 3 hours a day, find another profession.
From elise stanley
Posted on June 23, 2012 at 7:51 PM
I usually do two, 1+ hr sessions which is sort of interemediate but I voted for 'shorter'

I can see why miracles happen on the second hour - it takes one to just get really into it and drop any inhibitions/fix new errors etc!

From Joyce Lin
Posted on June 23, 2012 at 8:23 PM
No more than 50 minutes of playing in one go, but my problem is that my 10 minutes break often becomes 30 minutes or longer... ;) Also, I use a stopwatch to time my practice time for each item, and it means the actual practicing time on the instrument only, so it excludes things like tuning, rosining, changing books, setting metronome, notating, note taking, etc., also the seconds are omitted, which means my 50-minute session is actually a lot longer than 50 minutes...
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on June 23, 2012 at 9:56 PM
You forgot the category of "one short session." ;-)

I voted for several short sessions, but I actually do both. Sometimes on a weekend I'll just get going and not want to stop, and that will be one long session. I usually don't have the time for that, though.

From Marty Dalton
Posted on June 24, 2012 at 12:10 AM
I have the misfortune of practicing for very longs stretches (4-5 hours) without taking a break (except to get a drink from my water which I keep next to me). Fortunately, I get a lot of good, focused practice in during these stretches.
From Marsha Weaver
Posted on June 24, 2012 at 12:53 AM
Life happens, and I know I can't always depend on getting back for a second session. So I tend to do my practicing in one fairly long session. I also find that I get so involved in what I'm doing that I often REALLY lose track of time. I try to make a mental note of what time I begin, and as often as not, my sessions wind up being close to two hours long. I'm an adult beginner -- not a college-bound student or professional musician -- so I just figure that at whatever rate my progress happens, that's the way it's supposed to be.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on June 24, 2012 at 12:15 PM
30 minute chunks work for me.
From Nicky Paxton
Posted on June 24, 2012 at 1:03 PM
Same as Anne
From Yixi Zhang
Posted on June 24, 2012 at 5:08 PM
20-30min session(s).
From Skye Taylor
Posted on June 24, 2012 at 10:20 PM
I used to play all day every day in my youth, 8 hours was not uncommon at all. And I was a very intense player, playing both viola and guitar, and have always been drawn to very intense music. By the time I was 24 this had basically worn out my wrist, shoulder, and back, as I had been playing injured for years and just fought through it. Now I am 33 and still struggle with physical pain and disability due to my ignorance.
Present day, I stretch before playing, always take a break to shake out the tension at least every 30 minutes unless it is a performance situation (then I do what I can, when I can) and have to make a conscious effort in everything I do not to inflame the injuries. If I had it to do over again, I would have forced healthy moderation into my playing habits from an early age. This was instilled to some degree by my teacher, but she failed to teach me the why of it, so I let the emotional experience trump verbal instruction.
From marjory lange
Posted on June 25, 2012 at 12:20 AM
in college it was a sort of honor-badge thing to practice in multiple-hour stretches. When I grew up, I found that shorter is much better. 45-minute sessions, with a timer to end my 'breaks' works for me.
From Annette Brower
Posted on June 25, 2012 at 3:47 PM
I'm self-employed and work at home so I have the privledge of practicing for about 30 minutes at a time 3x-4x per day. I have a repetitive use condition that prevents those long practice sessions...which, frankly, the long practice sessions are a possible reason I landed this diagnosis. That's just my offense to anyone who plays for hours at a time.
From Ellie Phillips
Posted on June 27, 2012 at 12:10 AM
I usually practice in a few different sessions, which usually run about an hour to an hour and a half long, sometimes two hours. I often get tired while playing, and besides, I find it hard to keep up the focus that long. The breaks between sessions usually are about ten to thirty minutes.
From Raphael Klayman
Posted on June 27, 2012 at 2:56 AM
I didn't vote, but would like to comment. I didn't vote because how long is "long"? How short is "short"? Whether considered long or not, an hour is usually considered a classic unit of time to practice. If one practices more than an hour - or indeed many hours, breaks usually come between the hours. People work this out differently. Some people like to practice 50 minute hours, with a 10 micute break filling in the rest of the hour. If one is going to practice a number of hours, this approach fits them in most efficiently. Nevertheless I always preferred to alot myself a full hour, followed by a 15 minute break, followed by another hour, etc. Actually my 1st "hour" usually take anywhere from about 70-90 minutes, depending on various factors. This is comprised of my own system of scales and exercises. I pack a lot into this, and usually like a longer break, after which I'll get into repertoire. When just keeping in shape for myself, I rarely practice more than about 2 hours a day. When there is a recital or recording session looming, it might go to 5 hours a day. When I was younger, I sometimes practiced a lot ore than that for an intense project. I can't seem to bring myself to do that now - but I think I get more done in less time these days. There comes a point of dininshed returns, both physicically and mentally. With a big project looming, I try to clear my schedule as much as I can for several weeks, and if I practice as much as 5 hours a day, I will compact 3 of them in the morning - 1 hour, 15 minute break, another hour, etc. Then a long break for lunch, rest, chores as needed, and the last 2 hours late in the afternoon before supper. Though I've performed millions of times in the evening I've never liked to practice in the evening. I like to know that by supper I'm done.

In many cases it's necessary and good dicipline to be aware of the clock - especially when we have a lot of practicing to get in, and other things to do. But it can be a problem too. I must confess to sometimes being a little obessive/compulsive about the clock, and were I to try 50 minute hours, it would only be worse for me in this regard. Lately, when only planning to practice APPROXIMATELY 2-3 hours I've tried a different approach, which I find liberating. Let's say I plan to begin my practicing at 10 AM. Well what if I actually begin at 9:54 or 10:08? That's already a slightly subversive victory over my own self-imposed clock tyranny! I tell myself: "I'll start when I'll start, and I'll stop when I'll stop." Then for repertoire, let's say I'm reviewing or teaching myself a concerto, not with any performance looming, but for my own continued progress and growth. It makes a lot more sense to me these days NOT to say "OK I'll spend an hour or 2 today on this piece." Rather I'll say "OK I'll try today to go from letter F to letter L. At letter L there is a long tutti and thus a natural demarcation." In this way I'll often go less than an hour, but sometimes more. It's really very refreshing this way!

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