Taking breaks while practicing

June 1, 2010 at 05:54 PM ·

I'd like to get some input regarding practice breaks.  I know some people make a point of not playing more than xx  minutes without taking a break.  Is there a strong rationale for practice breaks?  How much should one play and how long should a practice break be?  I guess if you play 30 minutes, there isn't much need for a break, but I am interested in hearing from people that play 2 hours a day or more.  How do you break up your practice sessions?  Do you just do it in one stretch, or do you break it up? 

 

Replies (27)

June 1, 2010 at 06:10 PM ·

 I often practice 2 hours and I have a ten minutes break after an hour, sometimes I stop for 5 minutes every half an hour depends on my day and how 'alert/awake' I am, I know myself and if I need a rest so that I can restart fully charged and give it all my attention then I stop, but yes the bare minimum is 10 minutes an hour for me.

June 1, 2010 at 07:13 PM ·

Yes, because:

1) It avoids overuse injury, even just to have short breaks.  No matter what instrument you play, you are using the hell out of your hands.  Spot rest is necessary for health.  On the viola, my scroll hand wrist MUST be rested because I'm still working on finding the best position for it.  On the piano if I'm doing something where I have to go over and over and OVER a certain section that involves big reaches and a lot of ff pounding, I have to rest my hands or else I'd probably never get the requisite 10000 in without tendonitis.

2) It allows what I'm doing to percolate a little in my head, which generally means that I improve when I go back and pick up the viola/sit down at the piano.  I can go for far, far longer at the piano though, and the improvements may be much smaller.  Part of learning is letting something sit a bit in your brain in peace and quiet and just work itself into your neurons, or actively mentally practicing by going over fingering without the instrument there to ensure it's engraved into your brain.

June 1, 2010 at 07:23 PM ·

Yes, I always take practice breaks.   Depends on my mood when they are, but I am quite disciplined about never letting them last longer than say 5 minutes at most.  I'll get a glass of water, move around a bit to avoid any stiff muscles, maybe check if I've an important email, then straight back to the violin.

June 1, 2010 at 08:34 PM ·

I can never play as long as I want to - but when I have time I will play and forget the time - 2, 3 hrs without stopping.  Oh, perhaps a sip of red wine :)  But this is only 1-2 times per week.  Other times its typically an hour or so...

ee

June 1, 2010 at 08:43 PM ·

It usually depends on how awake/relaxed I am, and what I am trying to accomplish. I usually try to keep distractions to a minimum (keep water and something to eat nearby, use only the metronome in my computer, etc). On weekends, which is when I have the most time for practicing, I usually take a small 10 minutes break to stretch, drink tea, breathe sloooooooowly and deeeeeeeeply, or just think about what I need to fix or what my teacher pointed out.

Also, when I can't seem to do something right, I have those "let's go over the basics" moments, where I do some bow hold exercises, check if my posture is OK, play slow notes, breathe consciously, count... I find it a good way to re-focus when I get frustrated =)

I think the measure for this should be one's attention span and ability to relax and focus - whatever works for you is OK.

June 1, 2010 at 09:40 PM ·

I typically break for about 15 min. after an hour's practice.

June 1, 2010 at 09:59 PM ·

I keep my prac break time viable, if I am practicing and keep doing something wrong I will either focus on something else for a little bit or just go take a quick 5 minute deep-breathing break,

But usually out of habbit I am breaking pretty often (Probably every 15 ~ 20 minutes just a quick 2~3 minute break) to map out what I've done in my mind, review how I am going... while also in a relaxing near-meditative state. Or I go and stretch for 5 minutes.

June 1, 2010 at 10:14 PM ·

I like to have a couple of practice periods per day -- afternoon and evening -- about 90 minutes per session. I wrap up each period while I still have a good attention span and an appetite for more work.

In the first session, I start with warm-ups on long bows, tone production, vibrato, basic shifts, and double-stops. During this time, I take about 4 or 5 mini-breaks, maybe 10 or 15 seconds each, to stretch and then walk around the floor a bit. After 20 minutes or so, I break for a few minutes by playing some material I've already mastered, just having fun with it. Then I dig in with bowing exercises; left-hand finger exercises; 3-octave scales and arpeggios; more ambitious shifting; and more ambitious double-, triple-, and quadruple-stops to round out the first hour.

After this first hour, I break for about 5 minutes to get some water, stretch, walk, sit, and stand up again. Finally, I go back for the last 30 minutes or thereabout with etudes and repertoire pieces. I like to intersperse periods of hard-core practice and drill with short stretches of fun stuff.

The second session follows the same basic pattern, though there's less hard-core drill and more repertoire this time -- again with a brief intermission after the first hour.

June 1, 2010 at 10:28 PM ·

I like to practice in 30 minute increments.  Physical breaks are important, but so is mental rest.

June 1, 2010 at 10:43 PM ·

What is a "break." When I play chamber music or in an orchestra there are ususally enough rests of a few seconds or so that they sort of count as "breaks."

When I practice alone, I tend to skip rests in the music and find that if any body parts strart to hurt or get numb, I wil stop to "shake them out."

I don't stop unless I have to, but the older I get, the more I have to.

Andy

June 2, 2010 at 12:07 AM ·

Thanks for starting this thread, Smiley. Having researched this topic quite a bit, I feel confident reporting that healthcare professionals and teachers worldwide advise that regular practice breaks are crucial to musicians' health. What's more, well-timed breaks can enhance our learning by helping us to stay mentally fresh.

From a health perspective, tired muscles are more prone to injury, so we should ideally pause for breathers before we become fatigued. Also, incessant repetitive movement - as often occurs in the left hand of a violinist practicing alone - can result in irritation of tendons and tendon sheaths. Such irritation can typically be prevented, though, when we adopt healthy movement habits and slot in ample breaks.

In general, 10 minutes of rest per hour is a standard amount, as Jo suggests, although we should flexibly allocate rest time according to our needs. In solo practice, for instance, 5 mins. of rest after playing for 25 is often about right. In group sessions, 50 mins. of music making followed by 10 mins. of rest may work fine, provided that the repertoire and pace aren't strenuous.

FYI, I've posted a number of articles on The Musician's Way Blog about health and injury prevention. Here's a link to the posts in the 'injury prevention' category:  http://musiciansway.com/blog/?cat=73. I hope that you find the articles helpful. 

 

June 2, 2010 at 12:35 AM ·

Out of two or three hours in a typical day, four or five before bigger concerts, I definitely take several breaks.  My rule of thumb is that when my mental sharpness drops, I need a break; but the break has to be short enough not to lose the physical dexterity gained in the first half hour or 45 minutes of pure technique practice with which I warm up.  Usually because of other commitments I will have to split the hours up into two sessions, one in the morning, one in the evening; but because of the length of time required to get the physical dexterity to peak, especially in the first/morning session, I don't want to lose what I've gained by taking too long a break.

Informative thread!

June 2, 2010 at 12:35 AM ·

Out of two or three hours in a typical day, four or five before bigger concerts, I definitely take several breaks.  My rule of thumb is that when my mental sharpness drops, I need a break; but the break has to be short enough not to lose the physical dexterity gained in the first half hour or 45 minutes of pure technique practice with which I warm up.  Usually because of other commitments I will have to split the hours up into two sessions, one in the morning, one in the evening; but because of the length of time required to get the physical dexterity to peak, especially in the first/morning session, I don't want to lose what I've gained by taking too long a break.

Informative thread!

June 2, 2010 at 01:03 AM ·

30 - 45 mins - Tuning, long bows, scales and arpeggios, double-stops, shift changes / etudes, vibratto etc.  

rest for 5 minutes.

30 - 60 mins Ususally something like one old piece and one new piece. I'll probably play longer sections of familiar pieces and a few bars at a time of something new. Sometimes it's one bar over and over! 

 

 

 

June 2, 2010 at 04:11 AM ·

My practice is about half breaks/half playing. Still being a beginner there's too many different things that need constant focus, I'ld just be slopping out notes by the 50th minute if my playing times lasted that long. It more ends up like Play 10, rest 1, play 5, rest 3, play 10, rest 15, etc.

Breaks are filled up with easier, but productive, things while my brain recharges: rhythm and ear training, finger stretches/exercises, reading theory/pedagoguery/v.com, listening to things on youtube. The breaks help guide the practice and I end up relaxed and comfortable the whole time even if I'm off that day and end up playing for 4+ hours.

June 2, 2010 at 04:50 AM ·

I take a lot of little breaks. It depends on a lot of factors. For technical details, I break every 15-20 minutes to make sure I'm staying on top of what's required of my concentration. For playing through a whole movement, obviously it requires longer time if I were to play through more than once in a session, which could be 45 minutes or longer. To prepare for performance, I also need some longer session to build stamina which could last longer than an hour.

I also take breaks without stop playiing: I switch tasks to give my brain a break. I would work on one spot for 15-20 minutes and move on to a different spot for the next15-20 minutes, and then on to the next... In the past I tend to work on one tough spot for a long time until I nailed it.  Now I see how inefficient that approach was.

Also as a rule, if my mind starts to wander, it's time for a break.

June 2, 2010 at 05:54 AM ·

I take breaks often too b/c I don't play so often and if i kept going for 30 min, I might overdo it and have a sore shoulder. But I found that if I take a short, even 1-2 minute break, (and I'm usually getting something else done in the house) my vibrato has loosened up very nicely. More seems to have been accomplished than if i had been playing without a break. Well, I'm a total amateur, who must make an effort sometimes to play less violin, so--

June 2, 2010 at 06:03 AM ·

My longest practice sessions are on the weekend when a break is called for.  They coincide with doing housework: laundry cycle and dish-washing cycle breaks every 30-45 minutes throughout the day. 

If I'm caught up on my housekeeping, then I simply take a 5-10 minute break every hour or so and do something different.  It helps in preventing tension and allows for the music to sink in.

 

June 2, 2010 at 07:44 AM ·

@yixi wrote:

"I also take breaks without stop playiing: I switch tasks to give my brain a break. I would work on one spot for 15-20 minutes and move on to a different spot for the next15-20 minutes, and then on to the next... In the past I tend to work on one tough spot for a long time until I nailed it.  Now I see how inefficient that approach was."

I was making the mistake of just playing through the whole piece repeatedly (and predictably repeating my errors) and then started focusing on the difficult parts - but now I think I am making the opposite error by staying on each too long.  I'm going to try as above - identify a few tricky spots and focus on each for 15 minutes or so in a cycle. 

June 2, 2010 at 08:56 AM ·

I'm guessing the main reason people take breaks is to prevent repetitive strain injury (that's why I take breaks anyway) so here's some information I learned.  In the music school here everyone smokes together outside of the practice halls when they are taking a break and for a while I did this also but I have since quit smoking on the advice of a physical therapist.  He said that nicotine makes you more likely to suffer from repetitive strain injury.  Apparently it inhibits your body's healing process.  If you don't heal as well your tendons are more likely to be inflamed.  I don't mean to offend any smokers, I'm just passing along the information.

June 2, 2010 at 10:20 AM ·

As with any learning situation, you really should have at least a 10 - 15 minute break per hour....stretch...walk around a bit...lie down for a little while...get a drink...collect your thoughts and think how the practice and/or technique could have gone better...

If you don't do this, you lose concentration...things aren't absorbed as they should be....

Take a look at any learning facility...eg: School...Uni...College...They have breaks for these reasons,

June 2, 2010 at 10:38 AM ·

I practice for 20-25 minutes during breaks of a couple of hours in which I contemplate why my progress is so slow. There is an upside to this; I never feel fatigued when I pick up the violin, and I don't suffer chronic muscle injury. I do not envy prodigies and virtuosi because I know if only I could practice as much as they do I will be just as good.

I may live in a fools paradise, but hey, who said I'm not happy.

 

 

 

 

June 2, 2010 at 05:45 PM ·

My practice sessions range anywhere from a half-hour to an hour-and-a-half.  I take several short breaks during that time -- as soon as I start feeling any pain or too much tension in my hands, wrists or shoulders.  Even a break of a minute or less seems to be enough to renew my ability to play pain-free (for a while).  I've been very surprised at how soon muscle fatigue sets in, even though I've practiced nearly every day since January.  My left shoulder and forearm seem to be most affected.  I've started doing a mini weight-lifting program (I have a nice softball-sized rock for this purpose) off-and-on during the day, and it does seem to be helping a bit.

June 3, 2010 at 03:02 AM ·

Ok this is just a way to big discussion for a very simple answer; If you are tired, rest for a while. When you feel better, continue practicing. No need to have a time limit for resting, you should rest just as much as you think you need to and after you do so, keep practicing.

 

June 3, 2010 at 11:44 AM ·

Hi Leonardo,

The reason I posted this thread is that I do not take breaks.  I sometimes play 2-3 hours with no breaks.  Personally, I do not feel the need to take breaks.  However, I have heard that breaks are important for medical reasons (e.g., avoiding repetitive strain injury) as well as musical reasons (allowing the brain to assimilate new things).  I'm trying to get a sense of whether breaks will extend my violin playing life, as well as make me a better musician.  So far, it seems the consensus is that breaks help on both counts.

June 3, 2010 at 12:27 PM ·

The bigger part of this question, to my mind,  is the use & organization of practice time, not how or if we schedule breaks. Very persistently playing through stuff, or looping small sections can work, or not. Stopping to consider what we just did well or poorly, and thinking about how to proceed makes more effective practice, IMO, and also amounts to a "break" for the body. Sue

June 3, 2010 at 12:49 PM ·

Leonardo - Sure, the concept of taking breaks may seem simple, but I've learned that we should take regular breaks before fatigue arises, esp. if we practice at length. Not just for the reasons I mentioned earlier but also because when some tissues need recovery time, we won't necessarily detect it right away.

For ex., when playing, we string players move our left hand fingers repetitively. This movement causes tendons to slide through sheaths in the wrist, and a lubricating fluid ensures that there's no friction.

This lubricating fluid is used up during movement and restored during rest. Nonstop playing can result in an insufficiency of this fluid, and then friction arises between tendon and sheath leading at first to microtrauma and later to significant injury (e.g., tendonitis).

Given that there aren't a wealth of sensory nerves in these tissues and they don't undergo dramatic chemical changes like tired muscles, we commonly won't perceive when rest is needed. Often, string players don't realize that there's a problem with their practice habits until they incur injuries.

Smiley - Although no one can predict what a particular individual's practice threshold might be, it's safest for us to take regular breaks when playing or doing any other hand-intensive task such as typing. As I see it, doing so is a fundamental aspect of self-care for musicians and can help us make music for life.

You can read much more about this and other topics related to living the musicians' life on my website and blog, and in my 2009 book, The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness.

Best wishes, Gerald

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