How long to practice

September 18, 2011 at 02:36 AM ·

 The age old question: How long should I practice?  I've always been a bit confused as to how long my practices should be.  I've had some people say 5 hours is the minimum and i've heard 5 hrs. max

I was watching a video on youtube where Itzahk Perlman answered this question and his response was, practice should be limited to 5 hrs. maximum, made up of 50 min. hours with 10 minute breaks.  Anything longer than that can be counter productive and physically painful.   My first instinct was to take Perlman's advice cause I feel like not listening to Perlman on playing the violin would be a bit like not taking Einstein's advice on a math equation.  I personally tend to practice 5-7 hours everyday It's hard for me to stay at just 5 hours cause I enjoy playing so much, I can't just put my violin away and be done for the day.  No matter what i'm doing i'd always rather be playing, whether practicing or performing.

So I was wondering how long other professionals or college students practice and do you believe there is such thing as too much practice?

Replies (28)

September 18, 2011 at 03:54 AM ·

Albert Einstein plagiarized the work of Olinto De Pretto and David Hilbert. Probably not a good idea to use him in an analogy as above.

I have a friend who I went to school with from the 8th grade through high school. He was something of a trumpet prodigy even in 8th grade and was always first (rarely second) chair trumpet in state band competitions.

He earned a bachelors in music education and went on to earn a masters in trumpet performance from Northwestern University. He told me that when he was at Northwestern he practiced\played for eight hours a day every day. It was all I could do to practice thirty minutes a day on the trumpet. My embouchure would tire rather quickly and I always had problems with the higher registers. Likely due to the fact that I wasn't practicing\playing for several hours a day building those facial muscles.

Not sure if there is any correlation between violin and trumpet practice, but I can practice five hours a day on violin with ease. I so wish I had chosen violin at age 11 instead of trumpet.

September 18, 2011 at 09:15 AM ·

It is not the hours you spend but the quality of the work you achieve. Some people do more in 90 minutes than others can achieve in 8 hours.

If you practise correctly you only need do betwen 2 and 4 hours depending on how many works you are learning, or the workload as against time span. If you have to learn a concerto in a week then you might need to spend 3 or 4 hours a day on it, depending on the concerto of course.

September 18, 2011 at 10:49 AM ·

September 18, 2011 at 11:13 AM ·

I recommend to my students to distinguish between practising and playing. Play as much as you like, and practise as much as you need to, as long as you are completely focused on what you do.

September 18, 2011 at 12:56 PM ·

Hi. There are certain kinds of questions that come up on v.com fairly often - such as "what should my next piece be" or "what to play at an audition", and indeed "How much should I practice" where the poster rarely if ever mentions having discussed this issue with their teacher. Or maybe they have, and just want more opinions. Just curious about this.

Anyway, the legendary pedagogue, Leopold Auer - teacher of Elman, Heifetz, Milstein, etc., etc., used to answer this question: "if you practice with your head, 3 hours are plenty. If you practice with your fingers, no amount is enough." I also saw that Perlman segment. Of course, each person has individual needs, talents, goals, and is at a different advancement level.

Jessica, I admire your love and enthusiasm for the violin. And you're at an age where you can and should, as a violin performance major, put in lots of practicing and you should be OK, as long as you keep relaxed. If your goal is to learn a lot of repertoire and get it into your fingers, such a regimen is OK for a while, but not forever. That said, I do sense an obessive/compulsive aspect as well. (Not that I'm a psychologist; I just play one on tv!) You should control the violin in a healthy way, not the other way around. For a short-term goal, such as a major recital, audition, competion, etc. more than 5 hours is OK for some weeks, but not ongoing. As you get older and busier, both professionally and personally, you'll need to learn how to practice much less, but very efficiently, and make each blow tell. Recreational playing through stuff is another matter, and is fine - but even that can go too far. Put the fiddle away sometimes and stop to smell the roses. And dare to take 1 day a week completely away from the violin. It will do you good.

Also, I wonder how you're left with the time and energy to attend to your other school work, and other things.  If you broaden yourself as a person, by taking other subjects seriously, imbibing of art, fine literature, and having some personal life, you'll end up as a more complete and mature artist.

September 18, 2011 at 01:16 PM ·

I don't like Perlmans statement too much, but he has a reason for telling us so.

I think he himself practiced much more during his youth than 4 hours average.

Anders Ericsson writes also, that the amount of time one can really deliberately concentrate is 4 hours a day. but I think no one is perfect. Even if your practicing is really focussed you will sometimes start playing, wich is of course also a part of practicing. If you have new works to learn plus some rehearsals and the daily technique programm you can and should easily surpass the 4 hours mark. When you look at the top performers there is always a big time- and energy-  investment behind the success wich is often not talked about.

Of course you can maintain and develope your technique in 4-5 hours a day. But if you are really interested in music it is no problem at all to look and listen to music all day long.

Just some examples: I lived with a Jazz trombone player, who started very late with the instrument. His goal was to practice 10 hours every day!! until then I didn't even know that is possible for a trombone player but it was! No injuries at all. The Injuries usually take place when you make a break and go back to old routines immediately.

Another story is about me attending a master class. i never practiced that much average over a week my whole life. After the course I told that to my teacher and some collegues, telling them that I never practiced 7 hours a day before. And they looked at me at said "thats not even much" ;)

 

Ok, but more important than the time you are spending at your instrument is the intensity you think and feel about music. if your mind is intensed in listening and learning, wich is a matter of training and passion for music, than you can accomplish things quite easy without so much time at the instrument, because you dont have to learn the actual music on the instrument. Remember that only your mind is able to master an Instrument, not your fingers and only your mind and soul is able to understand music, not just your ears. Without that practicing is nothing. With dedication and involvement of your inner musicality and thoughts your practicing will never get useless, boring or harmful to the body and/or mind. At least thats my believe...

September 18, 2011 at 01:24 PM ·

Raphael Klayman had some further reaching thoughts as mine I guess. I read it after posting mine.

About the exsessive time on the instrument he sais that it can be OK for some time but not forever. That is true i think. Sometimes one has to reach for something higher and more hours get useful, but they are demanding and going back to a healthy practice time on the instrument is very important. Also breaks are important. It all depends .. ;)

September 18, 2011 at 03:10 PM ·

I like the comment making the distinction between practicing and playing. If you want to really hone your practicing skills - check out Burton Kaplan's products and his practice workshops. He has dedicated his teaching career to helping students learn how to practice effectively.

I do think "playing" is an important part of integrating what you've done while "practicing". I think the point to make is the proportion of time spent "playing" should be less than "practicing".

Smiles! Diane

September 18, 2011 at 07:37 PM ·

Thanks, Simon. Actually, I think Perlman's advice is quite good. Perhaps he practiced 5 or more hours a day in his student days at Medowmount, under the thumb of Galamian. But as an adult, he had the reputation of not practicing too much. Michael Rabin, on the other hand, regularly practiced 7 or 8 hours a day. I think that this can be unhealthy. I'm also concerned about that master class advice re 7 hours 'not being that much'. Aaron Rosand, one of the great virtuosos, who always worked hard and carefully, and is a very demanding teacher, was asked at a public forum by a student if 6 hours a day was a good average. Said Rosand: "6 hours is too much".

As some of us have been saying, we can make a useful distinction between practicing and playing. Spending hours and hours struggling with technically and physically demanding music - with perhaps the added stress of needing to really get it into your fingers for a looming performance or audition - is worlds apart from reading through sonatas of Handel and Mozart - not that perfecting those is all that easy.

It was also a good point made that some get more done in 90 minutes than others do in 8 hours. I've sometimes been asked by colleagues how much I practice. I've often been met with disbelief at how little I usually practice, when I'm just practicing to keep in shape - indeed 90 minutes of my own system of scales and exercises is all I need, with at most a relaxed optional hour or so reviewing repertoire. But I consider that disbelief a back-handed compliment!

BTW, Jessica, how do you arrange your practice on a typical 5-7 hour day? What do you usuallly start with, end with, cover?

September 18, 2011 at 07:48 PM ·

Hi Jessica,

I admire your enthusiasm about the violin.  There is no real set amount of practice.  For some it might be more, for some it might be less.  Quality is more important than quantity, but some people need to practice more than others.  As long as you are practicing well, I think that the answer lies in whether or not you got the task that you had to do done (a reasonable one that is) and how much your body can take without feeling bad.  Exhaustion is never good, and like with sports, it is possible with the violin to overtrain the mind and body.

I think that you should trust yourself.  I admire Mr. Perlman very much and what he does works for him.  The amount is individual.  However, I do agree about the 50 minute hour thing.  That is the advice from many people (Zukerman also mentions the same thing and many others).  This seems more universal in the learning process, so that is certainly advice worth heeding.

My own two cents...

Cheers and best of luck!

September 18, 2011 at 08:19 PM ·

I do agree about the 50 minute hour thing.  [...]  This seems more universal in the learning process, so that is certainly advice worth heeding.

I won't disagree...but...never let the clock interrupt good work when you're in full flow!

Btw. My old school dropped the 45 min. lessons in favour of full hours. All are mighty happy with it...

September 18, 2011 at 08:36 PM ·

Supposedly someone asked the great Heifetz the same question.  He is supposed to have replied, "if you practice using your brains, then three hours a day is sufficient but, if you practice using your fingers, then no amount of practice is sufficient" or something along those lines.  Long and short, it is the quality and not the quantity that matters.  Are you fixing your problems during the practice or have you been perpetuating the mistake during the practice over and over again, is the bottomline. 

September 18, 2011 at 10:53 PM ·

Funny how The L. Auer quote is now on the "great heifetz'" tongue...

One short thought about quantity:

4 hours quality is better than 2. Depending on a person 6 hours of quality practice can be ok too. So Quantity and quality are important.

Especially for getting good stamina and consistency you need some quantity in playing and practicing.

Carl Flesch sais: one third of practice time on general technique, one third on applied technique (specific places in repertoire or new pieces), one third on playing musically. He also sais 4 hours is a good average if I remember right.

September 19, 2011 at 01:23 AM ·

@Eric Rowe:

Not so. I need only be aware of scientific writings that propose the same theories that Einstein claimed as his own, but which were published years before Einstein's first paper on the subjects now attributed to him.

If you're really interested in the truth and not merely furthering some tribal propaganda, I suggest you research the following scientists and their achievements and writings, some of which are dated within the parentheses: Robert Brown (1827); James Maxwell (1878); Lorentz, Michelson, and Morley (1887); George Fitzgerald (1880); Josiah Gibbs and Ludwig Boltzmann (1890s); J.J. Thomson and W. Kaufmann (1890s); Hendrik Lorentz (1892); Joseph Larmor (1898); Poincare (1898); Olinto De Pretto (1903); Friedrich Hasenohrl (1904); Wilhelm Wien and Max Planck (1900); David Hilbert; and Felix Klein to name a few.

The above researchers, mathematicians, and physicists didn't have the public relations organizations and media promoting them as did Einstein. David Hilbert is most responsible for the development of the General Theory of Relativity. Hilbert made the mistake of sending Einstein a copy of his research as a courtesy before the former published said research paper. Einstein took credit for Hilbert's work product and claimed it as his own.

September 19, 2011 at 02:03 AM ·

@ Tony Boone - aside from this being way off course re this or any violin thread, no one has to be be versed in scientific history to be offended by the language "tribal propaganda".

September 19, 2011 at 02:47 AM ·

September 19, 2011 at 04:13 AM ·

 Greetings,

I actually wrote some moderately intersting essays on practice if you go to `Buri`s studio` on this site. I like the one called something like `Gotta practice.`

I can`t honestly say I am convinced by the 50 minute thing although it is a major improvement on the one hour thing.   The obsession with dividing up practice time into hours is a bi product of our commercial/technical/salary earning culture. However, it in no sense refelcts true uman ability or capacity. Indeed,  those pople who practice with the specific intention of doing `one hours scales`  or `one hour of x` ,  insert any thing in the blank are almost always doing very poor practice in the last ten minutes when huge amounts of bad habits are learnt. This then carries on into the next hour making -both- the first and last ten minutes often more harmful than helpful.

In an idela world the goal would not be to use`x amount of time,`  but rather

TO ACHIEE A SPECIFIC GOAL WITHIN THIS PERIOD OF PRACTICE, HOWEVER LONG OR SHORT.`

this also includes rests about every ten minutes in which the goal and sub goals are reviewd to check one is on track.  Rather like a plane constantly correcting course.  During this time,  unless the conditons required to be in the flow (see my essay on practice) the practice is in large part a waste of time.

Once this position is recogized te amount of practice atually possible may drop markedly.  There is ample eveidence that one cannot concerate at the deepest level for more than aout ten minutes.  Whether this level of concenration is required for all one`s pracitce is debatable.  BUt Auer`s comment about forty minutes max is very telling.  I also find a lot of very thoughtful players who peak around the forty minute time.

How many violnists work this way?   Probably less than one percent .......;)

Once this position is taken a young player will,  in my opinion ,  gradually develop the ability to practice for somewhat longer periods ,  although still not rigidly looking at the clock.   The super talents will rapidly develop the skill of extremely focused practice for 7 or 8 hours a day or more when it is called for but for 99.9percent of us this level of practice quickly degenerates back into watching the clock,  trying to prove something and mindessness.

I have often noticed thta young players who `sort of like the violin,`  don`t push  hard until rather later seem to catch up with their peers who have been driven from a young age to practice long hours, are able to blossom into a remarkable talent simply because they haven`t been practicing in errors hour after hour,  year after year.

There are great players today,  the equal of those of yesteryear and vice versa,  who practiced a great deal at some point and still do quite a lot.   These are small in number.  Theses days many more people seem to be playing the violin,  have access to better teaching and so on and are convinced they are this kind of almost unique talent but sadly they are just members of a now huge pool of `middle class violinists.`.   Sadly they are not going to be world shakers and would probably have been much happier practiing much less in a much more thoughtful and rational way while having a chance to enjoy their youth.

You have to learn how to get the most from life at an early age or your dotage will be extremely boring.

Cheers

Buri

September 19, 2011 at 10:33 AM ·

Buri, once again you have given the definitive answer (also a few others too) - but you have put it in a way that we can't deny.

I would advise the youger, less experienced players on this forum, to make a serious note of this post in this very telling thread. Ignore it at your peril!!

September 19, 2011 at 11:35 AM ·

 and some of the best spelling I`ve done in yonks.....

September 19, 2011 at 12:23 PM ·

If you edit, it will be perfect ;)

September 19, 2011 at 12:41 PM ·

Re the 50 minute hour idea - I think it makes sense, though I've not done it. I usually prefer the idea of a 60 minute hour, followed by a 15 minute break, followed by another hour, etc. It gives me more time to practice and more time to relax. Even that has disadvantages. Certainly it's better to be more focused on the violin than on the clock, and if we get too hung up on any practice/rest division, we might find ourselves watching the clock more than the quality of our playing. If we need to get in a certain amount of practicing, and we don't have all day to do it, this is a useful dicipline, as long as we don't get too obssesive about it. 

Ideally, I prefer to work in segments which are close to an hour, but which may end up longer or shorter. Before I start a segment I ask myself "what do I want to try to accomplish during this segment?" Let's say I'm learning or reviewing a piece. I'll look at the music and see where there is a nutural cutoff  - eg maybe I want to go from letter A to letter D. and then there is a long tutti. That seems a natural stopping point. Let's see how meanigfully I can work this segment. I find this helpful.

September 19, 2011 at 01:14 PM ·

I'm not a physicist, nor do I play one on TV, but since back in grad school days Mrs. Dirac used to have me over for tea, I'll chime in my 3.14 cents:

We all have our physical and mental limits.  We can use the "50/10 For Five Hours" formula, or the Nine-Hours-A-Day schedule that Michael Rabin followed, or emulate Milstein's endless noodling, or something else.  

It is probably a good idea to take breaks before personal limits are reached.  Isn't that the ideal, that every minute of practicing is focused, concentrated, relaxed, and fatigue-free?

Speaking of...

 

September 19, 2011 at 01:47 PM ·

 there is probably a big difference in terms of how one takes it in mentally and physically between practicing 5-7 hrs daily because one loves it vs one has to vs one hates it.

still, overuse problems are rampant among long term serious violinists.  one usually does not recognize the breaking point until one crosses it.

can i bring my kid for some show and tell?  she cannot believe a person can practice 5-7 hrs per day willingly. how do you find time for computer games and TV??

September 19, 2011 at 02:05 PM ·

Buri wrote, "... TO ACHIEVE A SPECIFIC GOAL WITHIN THIS PERIOD OF PRACTICE, HOWEVER LONG OR SHORT.`

I was reminded of a quote, which I think was attributed to Santayana:  "A fanatic is someone who redoubles his efforts upon losing sight of his goals."

And I detect a whiff of fanaticism in someone who says they have a hard time putting the violin down after five or even seven hours of practice.  I won't go so far as to diagnose you with OCD, but I agree with a comment made above, that it does not seem healthy for a 20-year-old to be so single-minded, because that is an age at which there are so many other opportunities to develop one's self as a person and as a citizen, and one has a responsibility to that as well.

September 20, 2011 at 05:08 AM ·

Thank you so much for everybody’s responses.  Though I’m starting to regret my Einstein analogy as it created a much larger stir than necessary.

Ironically enough I do have OCD, which actually hinders my playing sometimes b/c I won’t be able to stop playing a specific note for up to 5 minutes sometimes (it’s something i’m trying really hard to stop).  Though I don’t believe it’s what drive me to play for 5-7 hours, 80% of the time I try to stop playing or practicing for the day but within 10 minutes the music is just running through my head.  It’s like having a vocal song stuck in your head except you can’t sing orchestral music it just sounds ridiculous so I want to go play again.

The comments about quality over quantity are a very good point and I will definitely take that into consideration when practicing from now on.

Raphael:  I usually just arrange my practice time by what i’m working on for performances and keeping up technique like: 1 hour- etudes/scales,  1 hour- previously mastered pieces as a warm-up...etc.
    Then it’s an hour on each piece i’m studying minimum and if I didn’t make much progress in that hour or still need to perfect a small section then I will run that piece into the next hour or the next, as long it takes to get to where I wanted

Al Ku:  Lol  well my practice is very much voluntary but I don’t play computer games and the only time I watch television is in the morning when I watch the news.  I do have time for other things though I just start practicing early in the morning.  While probably about 85% of my life is devoted to playing and the study of the violin/music I also practice yoga, go to school, read, dance, and work though it can make for rather long days.

 

September 20, 2011 at 06:26 AM ·

Greetings,

sounds like your having fun. But there is an odidty in whatt you wrote.  You say you use previously mastered piece sfor a one hour warm up.   You really shouldn`t need one hour to warm up.  But on top of that I think this is largely a waste of time.   It is much more sensible to keep one day a weke for reveiwing old repertoire and use your practice time for things you need to practice.

As Flesch frequently pointed out `the violnists worst failing is they practice what they can already do.`

Cheers,

Burp

September 20, 2011 at 10:37 AM ·

 hello, in my humble opinion, it is not only fine but wonderful that you ENJOY playing and practicing the violin.  the issue is perhaps as buri mentioned, how to efficiently go about it, so that you may benefit from others with more experiences.  not necessarily listening to everything they say, but use their knowledge to build your own path.

perhaps this thread also ties in with the other thread that asks about social life...

my opinion is that you people are trying to be extraordinary.  which means you probably will not do the commons things of the common people.  your way is not the common way.  you will use your time in a "weird" way in many people's eyes.  but as long as you enjoy what you do and do not get hurt doing so, make it a blast.

when you do your homework, do you simultaneously answer texting and emails?  that is social life right there! :)

September 20, 2011 at 12:07 PM ·

You may find this article both relevant and insteresting from the U.K.'s Telegraph:

www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/proms/8667329/Christian-Tetzlaff-Hey-kids-you-can-stop-practising.html

 

 

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