Less time to practice = more efficient practice?

November 11, 2019, 11:57 PM · So this has been a crazy semester, where I've been basically performing all over the place, each week in a different town, different repertorie, even different instrument (thanks viola!!!). Due to the lots of travel and lots of time involved in learning the rep and rehearsing (up to 3 services a day) I've had very little time to practice for my development. I just did not have the time, and sometimes when I had it, I was so exhausted that I just couldn't do it. However, my progress hasn't been affected. In fact, I think in some ways I even made better progress with just 1-2 hours a day of very focused and objective (yet stressful) pratice, than when I'm regularly practicing hours and hours of scales, arpeggios, exercises, etudes, Bach, concerto, etc.
Has anyone experienced this? And if so, how can I transfer this "high-efficiency" to when I get back to my regular routine? Also, when you have less time than you need, do you do a little bit of everything, or you spend most or all of the time on what you think needs more work?

Replies (13)

November 12, 2019, 12:24 AM · I take it that "very focused and objective" is not a regular hallmark of your practice? If not, it should be.

Also, note that the most effective hours of practice, in terms of progress per minute, is the first two hours you play, with diminishing efficiency in the third hour, and much sharper decline in the fourth hour, and vastly diminishing returns after the fourth hour.

When crunched for time, most people will naturally deal with the burning fires first -- the things that really, really need work right now. They dump any mindless routine they've been doing.

Prioritization forces the mind to work harder.

November 12, 2019, 4:17 AM · I think our short, focused practice draws on the hundreds of hours of previous repetitive work.
Edited: November 12, 2019, 1:12 PM · Welcome to our world. Even full-time professional musicians have trouble making optimum practice time. Rehearsals, teaching, multiple concerts per week, travel time, and the demands of normal adult life combine to rob us of our practice time. One hint; most pro orchestra players are excellent sight-readers, it is a survival tool. I usually practice my orchestra parts twice; before the first rehearsal and right before the concert. I use a version of the Triage concept: This section I can sight-read, this part I can learn in rehearsal, this spot is technically beyond me-fake it, and only certain short sections get individual practice. Try to distill the technical part of your practice time down to one hour per day.
November 13, 2019, 12:51 AM · This fits very nicely with the more general observation that when you cut working hours people will do the same amount of work in 38 hours that they used to do in 40....
November 13, 2019, 2:38 PM · Getting less time to practice has definitely caused me to re-think how and what I practice every day. Efficiency is important, and every practice session should have a plan. As Lydia points out, if your practice sessions weren't "focused and objective", they should be from now on. So much of the key is careful listening - listening for what is actually happening vs. what your brain fills in or expects to hear. The next thing is to work at getting to the root of any problems and solving them carefully as to not repeat them. And, often, a lot of practice time ends up equating to hyper-critical work, which can be great, but ultimately we endeavor to play music, so focusing on that in our limited time can pay off, too.
November 13, 2019, 3:21 PM · If only,... If I could convince my students that focused concentrated practice can reduce practice time and get better results. If only,...
November 14, 2019, 6:03 AM · When I was a student the problem was not that I did not believe in good advice. It was that I couldn't be bothered to act on it.
November 15, 2019, 7:24 AM · I have 3 kids and they all play instruments.
We separate practice into "brain" and "ass" practice.
Most things can be done with "brain" practice, some needs "ass".
So during our practice, we always evaluate what needs brain and what needs ass... That way we do not waste time by endlessly repeating stuff that needs focus and vice versa.

Also, sometimes the brain acts up and you can't make good use of it - you can put your ass to work then and still make for a good practice.

For instance - I would watch TV and play scales and riffs on bass guitar with a metronome. That's ass practicing, not brain.

November 17, 2019, 9:40 AM · Not too many years ago I decided to time my focused practice time with a stop watch. If my attention wandered off went the stop watch and I stopped playing. I found that in the period of about 5-6 hours I actually was able to get only 2 hours of focused work.
Edited: November 17, 2019, 1:49 PM · continued- I had a coach that said she practiced 2-3 hours a day, but it took all day to do it, because of the interruptions. A possibly apochryphal story - A pro. violinist's routine was; get up early to an alarm clock, breakfast, dress in a suit and tie, get in the car, drive around the block (!), go into the back door to his studio and practice, no telephone, no tv...
November 17, 2019, 5:46 PM · I am curious about this as well. I remember a couple weeks ago I had a lot of things going on that didn't allow me to practice as much as I usually did abeit not being very good practice most of the time. I had a lesson coming up and I hadn't practiced my concerto in a few days due to rehearsals, coachings, classes and the like. I was able to practice for maybe an hour before I had to go to my lesson. Strangely enough I remember being very focused during that short time and practiced the things I knew where usual problem spots. After the hour I went to my lesson and it ended up going very well. My professor barely had anything to say that I was doing wrong. Most of what he said was musicality things instead of the occasional "that's out of tune" or "no play it this way." It's not that my lessons are usually bad, but rather that this one was better. It started to have me wonder if I was practicing wrong and or too much.
November 17, 2019, 9:28 PM · I often think that if I had the efficiency I have now along with the hours I had before I was efficient (before adulting, having kids etc), it would be amazing. So, look at it as a big opportunity :) I try to have a big audacious goal about my playing and a process goal every week. The big audacious goal is something general in my playing, not about a piece (for example, playing with less tension). The process goal is about how I approach my work (small vs. big picture, zen, lots of recording etc - i.e. HOW do I want to approach my work this week). This helps give me structure and keeps it fresh. In terms of dividing time, I usually work in ratios when I can (so 1/3 is technique for example). I do lots of rotating of rep for sure. There is only one or two things I do consistently every day - currently it's practicing octaves, as I have a piece coming up with lots of them and I tend to get freaked out. Happy practicing - it's such a luxury! Susanna Klein Practizma.com
Edited: November 18, 2019, 12:37 PM · I used to remember things very well, but now, in my seventies, I can't recall all the details. A very famous violinist (of the caliber of a Heifetz, and someone who knows the origin of this paraphrase will probably supply the correct violinist) once said that a violinist only NEEDS about 15 minutes of practice per day, but that most musicians do NOT practice, they just play through the music. Even if they are working on a difficult spot, they will start far too early before the spot in question, and play too far beyond, wasting time. One needs to work on the specific note (or two or three notes) until they are perfected. Then add a note or two before and after. Then perhaps a few more before and after. This is done for each problem spot. IF (and that is a big IF) one has the time, one then runs through the entire section or the entire piece. BUT RUNNING THROUGH IS NOT PRACTICE. PRACTICE IS WORKING OUT THE PROBLEM SPOTS! Practice is about wisely and efficiently using the time one has.

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