does taking a break during practice sessions help?

Edited: May 24, 2018, 9:34 PM · in a lot of practice sessions I've noticed that people take regular breaks throughout their practice time. I tend to practice in two 90 minute chunks (mainly because I lose motivation when I take a break). I don't feel physical pain after practicing and I feel like I'm able to focus for 90 minutes, but I want to know other people's experiences.
which do you think is more beneficial? do you think it's necessary to take consistent breaks?

edit: also wanted to add: what do you think are helpful things to do during a break?

Replies (13)

May 24, 2018, 4:48 PM · Yes. Someone said "musicians are the athletes of the small muscles", and we could learn a few things from the sports medicine professionals. The physiology and metabolism are the same for large and small muscles. It takes time for the fuel and oxygen to replenish after exertion. And; ideally, we should alternate heavy and light practice days.
Edited: May 24, 2018, 5:21 PM · Taking a break certainly will help! 90 minutes of practice without a break is too long for best efficiency. You may not realise it at the time but your concentration and focus will likely start to waver after about 45 minutes (incidentally, a common length for school lessons). I suggest replacing the 90 minutes with two 35 minute sessions with a 15-20 minute break between. Think also about having the 90 minute chunks in more widely spaced parts of the day, with each 90 minute chunk being split into two as I've just said.

During a break it is important to walk around to get circulation going in the legs, to do some upper body stretching, and to drink something.

You mention losing motivation when you take a break. I think this is a consequence of those long 90 minute chunks - your focus will have got tired and with it your enthusiasm for the next chunk. It will help if you have shorter chunks. You can also try arranging your practice schedule so as to have the more interesting stuff after a break as something to look forward to.

Edited: May 24, 2018, 6:44 PM · Breaks allow the body and mind to rest and also allow consolidation to occur.

There is a bonus benefit to the longer breaks that Trevor suggests - there have been a few studies* that show that mind wandering (thinking about other less stressful things, or doing low difficulty tasks such as the dishes, showering, or TV) can support consolidation and gestation of ideas - e.g it can help you come to eureka moments. How many times have you been stumped on a problem, put down the cause, and taken a walk, hopped in the shower, or turned on the telly only to have the solution just pop into your head later!

*Research is sparse and evidence is weak, but does typically support a benefit. This falls under the 'can't hurt' category of practice motivations.

Edited: May 24, 2018, 8:56 PM · During breaks neuronal connections are reinforced between the motor and sensory strips of the cerebral cortex. When this happens, ganglia within the cerebellum emit signaling proteins that engage the X45Y receptors within the parietal lobe. Simultaneous arrival of a critical concentration of these signaling molecules is what results in Eureka moments.

The science on this is still somewhat weak however.

May 24, 2018, 9:19 PM · I did clinical and cognitive psychology, I know what happens under X condition, but not always the mechanics of why it happens.

Thanks for sharing Paul :)

May 24, 2018, 10:03 PM · (scheduled) Rests and breaks ARE part of the training. It's not just because you may be tired. They increase the efectiveness of the whole exercise.

I think these rules are important and I follow them:
- It must be in the program. Exactly when, and exactly how long.
- You can't do anything engaging during the rest. No checking the internet, watching TV, reading, etc. Make yourself a cup of tea and drink it looking by the window, or sit down and do a 10' meditation, or do some stretching. When the rest is over (*Ding*), go back to the practice.

May 24, 2018, 10:24 PM · I find breaks to be very beneficial when I feel like I've lost focus or my brain gets tired. I take breaks whenever I feel like it. Personally, I'm not the type that loses motivation from practice breaks.
May 25, 2018, 2:18 AM · The practice will feel different after the break.
Which is fine!
May 25, 2018, 9:59 PM · Something I heard is that tasks involving memory, learning a language for example, that you remember the most from the beginning and the end of a session before a break. If you can break it down into smaller sessions then there are more beginnings and endings where the learning is at its strongest.
May 26, 2018, 7:11 AM · I take a fifteen minute break after practicing an hour.
May 26, 2018, 7:26 AM · I usually practice 1 hour 30 min, but I practice 45 min, take 15, practice the other 45 min later.
May 26, 2018, 7:38 AM · I'm like Violin Kudu except that I spread the 15 minutes out ., so for example I do a Schradiek like exercise a few times over with increasing speed. Once I sense that a small few minutes break would be good, I take it then restart and it'll feel easier.

Once you take a small break, it'll also get one used to "starting" a piece with the benefit of having warmed up and practiced it a few minutes ago.

Edited: May 28, 2018, 10:22 AM · Bravo to Joel Quivey, for his very simply stated explanation of Why taking practising breaks is a vitally healthy idea! Having little to add to JQ's very profoundly well stated reasoning, I'll add bits of advice from my legendary private violin mentor, Nathan Milstein, with whom I studied for over 3 & 1/2 years at his Chester Square in London home ~ Mr. Milstein was possessed w/exceptionally strong physical endurance & was always w/his Strad 'fiddle' & bow, almost safe to say, non-stop! Whilst imparting so much of his great knowledge and wisdom regarding violin playing + innumerable aspects of such, he would often times express his Mantra of not practising too much & particularly w/ bad habits which only increased their badness, as it were! To the contrary, he stressed 'making something' from clear thought of the mind and although he never used the word, 'visual', I'm sure this was part of his own subconscious strength in willing magical hands to implement 'ideas' off his vivid master 'computer', aka, the Milstein extraordinarily developed mind & imagination, out of which came the idolized 'Milstein sound' & wizardry for just starter's ~

Throughout my over three and one half years private study (at least twice a week w/each artist-pupil tutorial a minimum 3 hours duration & sometimes 4 (or even 5 when readying for concerts), Mr. Milstein never RX'd a Time-table of hours to practise and rest, but it was mutually understood that one had to take breaks in between prolonged practise period's. For sure, yours truly, practised 5 hours daily & then some - especially if I had any advance notice of a d minor Day or D Major Day, which all violinist's would concede being challenging to say the very least!! The Environment of Milstein was unlike any other and I'm even including Mr. Heifetz, although as our original Violin Master Class relaxed, Mr. Heifetz would sometimes encourage us to have bits of fun! (In this regard, Jascha Heifetz was known to take at least a 6 week break in Summer's to enjoy other interests/hobbies following his very grueling globally encompassing 120 + concerts pr year each season of the JH performing & recording seven decades fabled concert artist career!

Later on when Jascha Heifetz agreed to Master Teach at USC's specially formed Institute of Special Music Studies for JH, Piatigorsky & Primrose, all 7 of we pupils showed up by invitation of Mr. Heifetz, which took huge parts of JH's uniquely invaluable time, yet were miracle's all 3 6 hr days pr week of intense study w/Jascha Heifetz, who in time, invited us to pupil parties at his Malibu Beach House for lots of chat, gossip, food galore w/alcohol to go 'round for all/or & JH musical charades! My experiences with both my Violin Masters were unbelievably enriched & amazingly down to earth after initial periods of 'getting to know each other' had passed, both violinistically &also personally, for neither Great Artist had time to grant any not 'possessed' to improve/ learn and absorb such enlightened aspects (with highly guarded 'secrets') from Giant's, JH & NM Violin Art ...

Never intending to penn a mini 'Epistle' on my Violin Mentor's, one hopes it will offer insights into the posed question of practise breaks being helpful to
the improvement of one's playing. I would bet my life on intelligent practise breaks needed to refresh the mind, body & spirit/s in between daily practise and, especially, under pressure to audition or pre-performance practise!

Sincerely submitted by ~

Elisabeth Matesky / Chicago & parts Further

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