How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice?

2 hours? 4 hours? 8 hours? 12 hours?

How much is enough?

Is there such a thing as practicing too much?

Is there an optimal number of hours that one should practice?

What Do Performers Say?

Some of the great artists of the 20th century have shared their thoughts on these questions. I seem to recall reading an interview with Rubinstein years ago, in which he stated that nobody should have to practice more than four hours a day, explaining that if you needed to practice more than four hours a day, you probably weren’t doing it right.

Other great artists have expressed similar sentiments. Violinist Nathan Milstein is said to have once asked his teacher Leopold Auer how many hours a day he should be practicing. Auer responded by saying “Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.”

Heifetz also indicated that he never believed in practicing too much, and that excessive practice is “just as bad as practicing too little!” He claimed that he practiced no more than three hours per day on average, and that he didn’t practice at all on Sundays. You know, this is not a bad idea – one of my own teachers, Donald Weilerstein, once suggested that I establish a 24-hour period of time every week where I was not allowed to pick up my instrument.

What Do Psychologists Say?

When it comes to understanding expertise and expert performance, psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson is perhaps the world’s leading authority. His research is the basis for the “ten-year rule” and “10,000-hour rule” which suggest that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in any given domain — and in the case of musicians, often closer to 25 years in order to attain an elite international level.

Note that the real key here is not the amount of practice required (as the exact number of hours is debatable) but the type of practice required to attain an expert level of performance. In other words, just practicing any old way doesn’t cut it.

Mindless Practice

Have you ever listened to someone practice? Have you ever listened to yourself practice, for that matter? Tape yourself practicing for an hour, take a walk through the practice room area at school and eavesdrop on your fellow students, or ask your students to pretend they are at home and watch them practice during a lesson. What do you notice?

You’ll notice that the majority of folks practice rather mindlessly, either engaging in mere repetition (“practice this passage 10 times” or “practice this piece for 30 minutes”) or practicing on autopilot (that’s when we play through the piece until we hear something we don’t like, stop, repeat the passage again until it sounds better, and resume playing through the piece until we hear the next thing we aren’t satisfied with, at which point we begin this whole process over again).

There are three major problems with the mindless method of practicing.

1. It is a waste of time

Why? For one, very little productive learning takes place when we practice this way. This is how we can practice a piece for hours, days, or weeks, and still not feel that we’ve improved all that much. Even worse, you are actually digging yourself a hole by practicing this way, because what this model of practicing does do is strengthen undesirable habits and errors, literally making it more likely that you will screw up more consistently in the future. This makes it more difficult to correct these habits in the future — so you are actually adding to the amount of future practice time you will need in order to eliminate these bad habits and tendencies. I once worked with a saxophone professor who was fond of reminding his students that “Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.”

2. It makes you less confident

In addition, practicing this way actually hurts your confidence, as there is a part of you that realizes you don’t really know how to consistently produce the results you are looking for. Even if you establish a fairly high success rate in the most difficult passages via mindless practice, and find that you can nail it 3 or 4 out of every 5 attempts, your confidence won’t grow much from this. Real on-stage confidence comes from (a) being able to nail it 10 out of 10 tries, (b) knowing that this isn’t a coincidence but that you can do it the correct way on demand, because most importantly (c) you know precisely why you nail it or miss it — i.e. you know exactly what you need to do from a technique standpoint in order to play the passage perfectly every time.

You may not be able to play it perfectly every time at first, but this is what repetition is for — to reinforce the correct habits until they are stronger than the bad habits. It’s a little like trying to grow a nice looking lawn. Instead of fighting a never-ending battle against the weeds, your time is better spent trying to cultivate the grass so that over time the grass crowds out the weeds.

And here’s the biggie. We tend to practice unconsciously, and then end up trying to perform consciously — not a great formula for success. Recall from this article that you have a tendency to shift over into hyper-analytical left brain mode when you walk out on stage. Well, if you have done most of your practicing unconsciously, you really don’t know how to play your piece perfectly on demand. When your brain suddenly goes into full-conscious mode, you end up freaking out, because you don’t know what instructions to give your brain.

3. It is tedious and boring

Practicing mindlessly is a chore. Music may be one of the only skill-based activities where practice goals are measured in units of time. We’ve all had teachers who tell us to go home and practice a certain passage x number of times, or to practice x number of hours, right? What we really need are more specific outcome goals — such as, practice this passage until it sounds like _____, or practice this passage until you can figure out how to make it sound like _____.

After all, it doesn’t really matter how much time we spend practicing something — only that we know how to produce the results we want, and can do so consistently, on demand.

Deliberate Practice

So what is deliberate, or mindful practice? Deliberate practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, which is, for lack of a better word, scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of experimentation with clear goals and hypotheses. Violinist Paul Kantor once said that the practice room should be like a laboratory, where one can freely tinker with different ideas, both musical and technical, to see what combination of ingredients produces the result you are looking for.

Deliberate practice is often slow, and involves repetition of small and very specific sections of your repertoire instead of just playing through (e.g. working on just the opening note of your solo to make sure that it “speaks” exactly the way you want, instead of playing the entire opening phrase).

Deliberate practice involves monitoring one’s performance (in real-time, but also via recordings), continually looking for new ways to improve. This means really listening to what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong. For instance, was the first note sharp? Flat? Too loud? Too soft? Too harsh? Too short? Too long?

Let’s say that the note was too sharp and too long with not enough of an attack to begin the note. Well, how sharp was it? A little? A lot? How much longer was the note than you wanted it to be? How much more of an attack did you want?

Ok, the note was a little sharp, just a hair too long, and required a much clearer attack in order to be consistent with the marked articulation and dynamics. So, why was the note sharp? What did you do? What do you need to do to make sure the note is perfectly in tune every time? How do you ensure that the length is just as you want it to be, and how do you get a consistently clean and clear attack to begin the note so it begins in the right character?

Now, let’s imagine you recorded all of this and could listen to how this last attempt sounded. Does that combination of ingredients give you the desired result? In other words, does that combination of ingredients convey the mood or character you want to communicate to the listener as effectively as you thought it would?

Few musicians take the time to stop, analyze what went wrong, why it happened, and how they can correct the error permanently.

How Many Hours a Day Should I Practice?

You will find that deliberate practice is very draining, given the tremendous amount of energy required to keep one’s full attentional resources on the task at hand. Practicing more than one hour at a time is likely to be unproductive and in all honesty, probably not even mentally or emotionally possible. Even the most dedicated individuals will find it difficult to practice more than four hours a day.

Studies have varied the length of daily practice from 1 hour to 8 hours, and the results suggest that there is often little benefit from practicing more than 4 hours per day, and that gains actually begin to decline after the 2-hour mark.  The key is to keep tabs on the level of concentration you are able to sustain.

5 Keys For More Effective Practice

1. Duration

Keep practice sessions limited to a duration that allows you to stay focused. This may be as short as 10-20 minutes for younger students, and as long as 45-60 minutes for older individuals.

2. Timing

Keep track of times during the day when you tend to have the most energy. This may be first thing in the morning, or right before lunch, etc. Try to do your practicing during these naturally productive periods as these are the times at which you will be able to focus and think most clearly.

3. Goals

Try using a practice notebook. Keep track of your practice goals and what you discover during your practice sessions. The key to getting into the “zone” when practicing is to be constantly striving to have clarity of intention. In other words, to have a clear idea of the sound you want to produce, or particular phrasing you’d like to try, or specific articulation, intonation, etc. that you’d like to be able to execute consistently.

When you figure something out, write it down. As I practiced more mindfully, I began learning so much during practice sessions that if I didn’t write everything down, I’d forget.

4. Smarter, not harder

Sometimes if a particular passage is not coming out the way we want it to, it just means we need to practice more. There are also times, however, when we don’t need to practice harder, but need an altogether different strategy or technique.

I remember struggling with the left-hand pizzicato variation in Paganini’s 24th Caprice. I was getting frustrated and kept trying harder and harder to make the notes speak, but all I got was sore fingers, a couple of which actually started to bleed. I realized that there had to be a smarter, more effective way to accomplish my goal.

Instead of stubbornly keeping at a strategy or technique that wasn’t working for me, I forced myself to stop practicing this section altogether. I tried to brainstorm different solutions to the problem for a day or so, and wrote down ideas to try as they occurred to me. When I felt that I came up with some promising solutions, I just started experimenting. I eventually came up with a solution that I worked on over the next week or so, and when I played the caprice for my teacher, he actually asked me how I made the notes speak so clearly!

5. Problem-solving model

Consider this 6-step general problem-solving model summarized below (adapted from various problem solving processes online).

  1. Define the problem (what do I want this note/phrase to sound like?)
  2. Analyze the problem (what is causing it to sound like this?)
  3. Identify potential solutions (what can I tweak to make it sound more like I want?)
  4. Test the potential solutions to select the most effective one (what tweaks seem to work best?)
  5. Implement the best solution (make these changes permanent)
  6. Monitor implementation (do these changes continue to produce the results I’m looking for?)

It doesn’t matter if we are talking about perfecting technique, or experimenting with different musical ideas. Any model which encourages smarter, more systematic, active thought, and clearly articulated goals will help cut down on wasted, ineffective practice time.

After all, who wants to spend all day in the practice room? Get in, get stuff done, and get out!

UPDATE: Think all of this only relates to classical music? Jazz aficionados, check out this post on practicing effectively written by acclaimed jazz violinist Christian Howes for a helpful perspective and tips on practicing in jazz. Funnily enough, we were in Suzuki together back in Columbus, OH as kids, and both studied with the late British violinist, Michael Davis.

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Better practice, in 1 hour

Deliberate practice can be pretty transformative – but it’s just one third of the effective practice equation.

If you’d like to learn more about the other two types of practice, and how to integrate all three into your daily routine, you may be interested in Practice That Sticks

This concise, 1-hour, no-fluff practice course will teach you how to be a better practicer through 16 videos, and four 7-day practice challenges with step-by-step instructions and printable worksheets to guide you through it all. Click the red button below to get started:

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice...
Why Are Performances Still So Hit or Miss?

For most of my life, I assumed that it was because I wasn’t practicing enough. And that eventually, if I performed enough, the nerves would just go away and everything would take care of itself.

But in the same way that “practice, practice, practice” wasn’t the answer, “perform, perform, perform” wasn’t the answer either. In fact, simply performing more, without the tools to facilitate more positive performance experiences, just led to more negative performance experiences!

Eventually, I discovered that elite athletes are successful in shrinking this gap between practice and performance, because their training looks fundamentally different. In that it includes specialized mental and physical practice strategies that are oriented around the retrieval of skills under pressure.

It was a very different approach to practice, that not only made performing a more positive experience, but practicing a more enjoyable experience too (which I certainly didn’t expect!).

If you’ve been wanting to perform more consistently and get more out of your daily practice, I’d love to share these research-based skills and strategies that can help you beat nerves and play more like yourself when it counts.

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459 Responses

  1. hola:
    sorry for the bad translation, in this article you you mean that no progress beyond the 4 hours and the results decrease after 2 hours, then the ideal number Sobna practice 2 hours a day, or you mean that 4 hours fall if you do it all without Naptime

    Hi and thanks for your response

    1. Hello Juan!

      There is probably no “perfect” answer to this question of how many hours one should practice, as ultimately, it depends on the individual. However, yes, it seems that for most people productivity begins to diminish after two hours, and by four hours, the potential gains from practicing seem to diminish markedly relative to the cost of the extra time, energy, and effort that it requires. This is perhaps not the best metaphor, but it’s a bit like eating a cheesecake. The first slice is great. The second piece is still pretty tasty, but not quite as fulfilling as the first piece. You might start tiring of cheesecake by the third slice, and by the time you start digging into the fourth piece, you really aren’t thinking about how it tastes anymore.

      At the end of the day, know that number of hours is not really the critical factor. If you can stay focused and practice consciously and productively for 8 hours, terrific. If you can only stay focused for an hour, then so be it. Someone once jokingly remarked that music was one of the only skilled activities he could think of where homework was assigned in units of time (e.g. “practice your scales for 30 minutes” as opposed to “practice your scales until you can figure out how to make them sound like ______ 4 times out of 5”). With this in mind, so long as you can stay focused, productive, and fully conscious of what you are trying to accomplish in your practice session and not just mindlessly repeat passages over and over (which can create bad habits that are difficult to unlearn), I think you can feel free to practice as long as you’d like.

      Good luck!

      1. Sounds the law of marginal utility and diminishing returns. Satisfaction/pleasure decreases with each additional unit consumed (in this case, with each additional hour practiced per day).

      2. Your comments makes a lot of sense. It’s the quality and not the quantity that matters.
        To add to the conversation I would highly recommend that you take a few shorter breaks during each practice session. Basically because then you get the opportunity to stay sharp for a longer time.

        Good Stuff!
        Play On!

      3. I am a pianist not professionally, but descent. When I was 12, my mother told me to practice 75 minutes every week even on Saturday. I wanted to play piano just for fun. I was more into sports like soccer. My mother use to say no games or soccer until you have practiced. I never wanted to practice all the time. I was thinking maybe 10 minutes on my songs piece by piece alone. What would you suggest how many minutes I should’ve practiced?

    2. Itzhak Perlman: “For me, if you are very, very serious musician, specifically for the violin, I would say that 5 hours is the max.” The conservatory approach to practicing is 1) scales/etude work 2) old repertoire 3) new repertoire. So if you split that into 5 hrs (at least for violinists) it could look like 2 1/2 hrs scales and etude (and technique in general), 1 hr old repertoire polishing (and review if needed) and 1 1/2 hrs new repertoire.

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  3. Hi, I’d like to ask if you know how many minutes does the mental concentration, even if you have heard about the technique pomodoro “the 25 minutes” and if you recommend for the practice of
    instrument, and finally if you think it is better to sessions
    practice 40, 45, 60 minutes to be concentrated well which do you think
    which is the most appropriate.

    Thanks and sorry for the bad English

    1. Julio,

      I have to admit that I’ve not heard about the pomodoro technique you mentioned, but I’ll look into it. The question of how long to structure practice sessions is a tricky one as it depends on a variety of factors (how well-rested you are, the strength of your ability to concentrate in general, time of day, and so on). Try paying closer attention to when your concentration starts to fade during the course of your practice sessions over the next week. This will probably give you a pretty good baseline average. You can then begin to stretch your concentration “endurance” by going another few seconds or minutes longer the next time you notice yourself starting to fade.

  4. I am not a musician, but a painter, and as a painter I face many technical challenges such as color mixing, value judgment, drawing accuracy, etc. I can testify from experience that after four hours of painting I have a very difficult time concentrating and I begin to lose my way. The painting “performance” begins to suffer. What you have presented in this article I can see being very useful to me. Thank you!

    1. Kevin,

      Thanks for the comment – very cool to get the perspective of an artist. It is really interesting how generalizable across domains the 4-hour limit on intense concentration (such as required for deliberate practice or other such activities) seems to be.

    2. To be honest, it just depends on the individual. Personally, I am also a painter and can happily paint a house for 18 hours with only the odd water break.

      I’m an older beginner on guitar and this article has given me some nice tips re. practice organisation, but again I can happily practice consistantly for 12 hours or more and enjoy every second – without tiring.

      I should see great results if I properly plan and become more mindful of my goals.

      Thanks, and good luck to all.

  5. Thanks for the article. Excellent!

    I play both trombone and piano and take them both up seriously, so my practice time is very much divided. So I find it hard to give a good practice on both and stay focused throughout and for as long as i would like. So my question to you is what is the best thing to be doing in between practice that leaves you most feeling refreshed and ready to practice again?

    I have found that completely relaxing in between practice, i.e. just vegetating in front of the TV, can have a negative effect and make me feel more lethargic and unable to fully apply my concentration. Whereas continuing to do something mentally taxing naturally wont help matters. So what is the best thing to do?

    I’m sure there isn’t a steadfast rule and there as many factors as there are with everything, so it may even be an idea for you to do a full article about this and go into it from many angles, as I’m sure many other musicians share this question.


    1. Jason,

      Thanks for the comment and the article idea. You raise a great question – perhaps other readers will chime in with what has worked for them. I don’t know that this topic has been looked at in any systematic sort of way, so the answer probably depends on the individual. Like you, I found that watching TV (and even playing on the computer) tended not to be very conducive to a good day of practice.

      Have you ever experimented with taking a quick (i.e. 20-minute) power nap or going for a walk? In theory, the ideal activity for between practice sessions would be something that allows you to clear your mind a bit and refresh your body or get the blood circulating a bit without being too strenuous. You could even try an easy run followed by a shower. I’ve only recently begun learning about meditation, but there is some pretty compelling research on the benefits of meditation, and this may be worth looking into as well. In fact, I like a book called Mental Resilience, by Kamal Sarma. It’s as practical and down-to-earth a book on meditation as I’ve found.

      1. Hello. I play the accordion. What I do to make sure my practice time is effective, is I practice until I find that I’m not making any more progress – I make sure I’m paying attention to how much I’m actually getting done, and I s top in the middle of whatever I’m doing as soon as I realize that I’ve stopped being able to practice deliberately. This usually takes about an hour for me. After putting my instrument down, I do something that I can just do kind of on auto drive. Not something like watching TV, but something that still requires some amount of thinking, such as going to talk to a friend, going grocery shopping, reading a book, eating dinner. When I feel more relaxed, I go back
        to the accordion and repeat the process. I feel that this method gets maximum progress throughout the day for me, though it’s gotta be different for everyone.
        Sidenote on meditation. I have been interested in meditating, so I’ve looked at different methods and tried it out myself. For me, it does help me focus longer. When I get stressed out and stop progressing in my music, then after meditation, I’m able to go a bit longer. But it’s only a bit. It doesn’t allow me to concentrate much longer than I already have without some kind of other break in-between. This is just for me, though.
        Hoped this helps. Good article – thank you!

        1. Hi Jacqi,

          Thanks for the input! Figuring out what to do between practice sessions is tricky indeed – and I like your list of suggestions (TV is definitely a no-no).

      2. During exams last semester I snuck a table into my preferred practice room so I could study during my practice breaks. Worst idea ever… I felt like I was in a concentration camp. Now I keep my study strictly in the library and study areas, and I always a motivational self-help book into the practice room. Works a charm.

      3. I find that meditating for fifteen minutes or so between practice sessions is very effective for me. It not only rests my mind, but slows it down and re-centers it; allowing my 2nd and 3rd practice sessions of the day to be longer and more productive.

        While there are many forms of meditation I prefer mindful meditation. Since I’ve started meditating regularly I’ve found an increase in clarity, focus and energy which are not just beneficial for practice but for my overall well being.

        I also recommend regular exercise, a healthy diet and rest (The ancient Roman’s had a saying, “rest is when the fruit ripens”).

        Focused, deliberate practice is exhausting. Taking care of your body and mind outside the practice room is crucial in helping to achieve one’s goals (in any discipline).

      4. I love your ideas, they are really amazing. I play the Cello and the writing pad to write down your ideas and your thoughts about what your doing wrong, how to fix that problem, and etc is useful. I think it is really thoughtful of you to be explaining to people who need help about their instrument usage and what they could try to do better or a little less with their instrument. I absolutely love the 5 keys for more effective practices that you wrote about. I love how you showed and explained what performers and psychologists say and think about how many hours to play, how much practice is enough, is there a thing for practicing enough, and is there an optimal number of hours that on could practice. I think you’re an amazing writer and hopefully kids and adults can look forward to reading your script and information.

      5. Like the other person who responded, I also do other tasks between practice sessions. I find reading or watching tv is the worst things I could do. I never seem to be able to get back into practice mode. I find doing tasks like housework are a good break, like handwashing dishes, vacuuming or dusting. Getting out also helps so cutting grass or going out to run errands. Anything just to allow yourself to switch gears away from the music but not so taxing or mind-numbing that you can’t go back to it.

  6. Great article! I’ve tried to get this message across to students over the past years. So many think that if they spend more time that solves the problem (or gives them an excuse). This same concept can/should be applied to school scheduling and school calendars! Focused concentration over short periods yields better results than extended “mindless” hours. Thanks!

  7. Thanks Dr.Kageyama, excellently thought out and conceived article. These ideas are SO important. I wish somebody had taught me how to practice when I was a young kid. So many wasted hours. I spend so much of my time in lessons teaching my students these ideas. Thanks for helping me focus my ideas and inspiring me to renew my goals to move my students in this direction!

  8. What a great article! I was so fortunate to have as my first teacher in the ’70s, a lady who was very into “quality” not “quantity” of practice and so many of the things you write here are gentle reminders of her philosophies.
    It is all about the concentration, and practising “Smart”.
    Thank you for writing this so concisely:-), Ingrid

  9. Would you suggest that these guidelines for practice are the same or similar for all variants of musical genres? Classical, popular, jazz, folk? I play guitar, bass and piano but find it hard to practice on the bass because I am only practicing a part…yet when I play piano or guitar I play melody AND harmonic accompaniment and thus can hear and feel the entire form. So when I want to learn a piece, I do so by playing and practicing the piece on BOTH guitar and piano…then it seems to just fall in place on the bass. (Is that practicing with my head?)
    Thanks for a thought-provoking presentation!

    1. Hi Tom,

      Indeed, I’d argue that these principles and guidelines are essentially the same not only across musical genres, but most skilled endeavors in general (i.e. dance, acting, sports, public speaking, sales, cooking, and so on). One of my favorite books that addresses the topic of what it takes to achieve mastery is called, simply, Mastery, written by George Leonard.

      Your idea of learning the other parts involved in the group, so as to have a better sense of where your bass part fits into the whole is a great idea. Classical musicians can benefit from this kind of approach as well, especially when it comes to orchestral excerpts, which, played in isolation out of context, often feel and sound more like etudes than great music.

    2. I have found practicing with one of the computerized music practice programs with the bass helped me tremendously. I used “Band in a Box”, but there are others available since – (that was eons ago when I used this program.)

      The classical players no doubt wished there was a orchestral version of these programs – one that would “drop out” their respective instrument so the person who wanted to practice could add it back.

      Of course, already mentioned is recording one part so you can practice the other parts. Music I was composing that I could hear but was not able to play and sing simultaneously actually “taught itself” to me by recording parts separately and repeatedly listening to them together (without playing or singing anything.)

      1. Years ago there was available, MMO for music minus one. An orchestral arrangement, complete except for your part. You might want to check and see if they are still available, and for the particular piece of music you are wanting.

  10. These are ideas all worth remembering. I find them most difficult to remember when I have an enormous work load to practice. When I’m in a position where I need to cram a lot of music, I often get to a point where I think “Ideally I would stop right now because I’m not practicing efficiently, but unfortunately I have to learn this music now so I need to trudge along regardless.” Still, in those circumstances the principles of mindful practicing are the same even if one needs more than four hours to cover everything.

    1. Fred,

      Indeed, it’s awfully tough to practice productively when we’re feeling a time crunch (which is probably more often the case than we’d like it to be). Sometimes even a quick 2-minute water break or poking our head out the door for a breath of fresh air when we’re in the midst of a frustrating lick can help get us out of our unproductive rut, clear our head, and get back on a more productive track. The industrial psych literature indicates that people are more productive when they take breaks; I expect that this finding would be just as applicable to musicians in the practice room as well.

  11. From what I’ve seen, the breaks are essential. Especially if you have the time to really clear your head between sessions. In my experience, I can usually go an hour-hour and a half, then take a thirty minute break, then about another hour before I’m just spinning my wheels.

    This is an excellent article; however, thank you.

  12. I’ve been struggling on HOW to practice for over 60 years. This year I started with a most fantastic musical opportunity and I said I can’t do it. With this now maybe I can.
    Thanks ever so so much.

    Also I’ve been very comfortable with practicing about 2 hours a day in the late afternoon.
    My best time to learn is late at night – just before I go to bed – I’m an owl.
    Also I started – playing for fun when I get a chance in the early mornings.

    I’ll try again. Thanks ever so much.

  13. I’m preparing to write an article on practicing music (it will be a bit different than this one- much longer for one thing), and I’m looking for a bibliography on music practice. Have you run across something like this, or compiled your own?

  14. Excellent article!

    I found out some of this stuff, interesting enough, by being required to cut way back on my practice. Indeed, I practiced way too much because I thought it was required since I just couldn’t get that consistent sound (classical guitar).

    As my index finger cramped up on me and carpal tunnel began to set in, and my hand got sore, there was no other choice but to cut way back. And guess what? I actually sounded BETTER in just a matter of days and resolved SEVERAL problems and issues.

    This article puts the cap on it–thankyou!

    1. Hi Matt,

      It really is funny how much can be accomplished when we don’t have much of a choice. What is that common saying? Necessity is the mother of all invention, or something to that effect? There’s an adage I like that I believe I first saw on my favorite blog Lifehacker, called Parkinson’s Law, which states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

  15. I find dividing my practice time. I spend about 15 minutes on scales and arpeggios just for technical. Then another 15 minutes playing things that are fun to play. A couple of hours doing the “hard” practice. usually in snatches of about 45 minutes. And I think your article is going to improve my focus for the hard practice, as it’s all too easy to lose focus and drift into mindless reps as you so aptly point out. And about an hour of organizing playlists for the ipod, on Sibelius doing arrangements, surfing youtube, or score reading, not really practicing per se, but activities that support it. And then of course listening as much as possible– actively whenever I have my brain to myself. This article is getting a link on my blog.

  16. Thank you for a well written article. The conversation it has generated is also informative. Seems it boils down to no single across the board answer. Yet focus, goals, time limits, spending time in other activities are an overriding theme. It applies to so much in life. Being fully present in what you are doing is a foundation for quality.

  17. What a great article. It has been personally helpful and I’m requiring all of my students to read it. As a follow up, have you written anything about how to measure “deliberate practice”? Besides determining an effective length of time to practice (not too much, not too little), how do we create benchmarks for ourselves to actually see how much we are getting accomplished? I’ve listed a couple of ideas on my own blog: the “breakthrough day” when all practice goes well, monitoring metronome markings, being able to play longer stretches of music, and improvement in tone quality (verified by a recording device). For the more “artistic” elements of music, though, like tone color and phrasing, how do we ensure that we are practicing these effectively and making progress? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    1. Tammy,

      Great question; the idea of articulating deliberate practice in behavioral or measurable terms is a helpful one. A couple thoughts come to mind.

      Practice log

      If the point of practicing is to sound better, and sounding better requires the advancement of our skills, we can measure practice time productivity not only by how we sound, but by what we have learned. Often, we just launch into practice and go at it without any particular agenda other than just to improve in some general way. On the occasions when we have a clearer idea about how it is that we would like to improve, we enter into our practice session with more of a targeted problem-solving mentality, and more productive practice often follows.

      For instance, let’s say I’d like to clean up the intonation in the first line of an unaccompanied Bach movement. The process might go something like –> Let me figure out which notes tend to be out of tune –> Hmm…let me figure out in which direction they are out of tune, and by how much –> Ok, I wonder what I’m doing currently that makes them consistently out of tune in that way –> Well, it seems that I a) am clenching a bit which throws off my accuracy, and b) need to adjust what I’m aiming for as it seems my idea about where these notes are is a bit off, and so on. From this process, I may then have figured out a few technical tweaks that help me play the line better in tune, which I can write down in a practice log (so I don’t forget what I’ve discovered), which becomes one of the measurable outcomes of having had a more productive practice. Note that even though I’ve figured out which notes are out of tune, in which direction and by how much, and even why, I may not in that single practice session develop the skill to consistently execute what I’ve learned. But over time, with more practice and problem-solving, I’ll start hearing progress as well.

      Music first
      I’m a big fan of Robert Duke‘s work at the University of Texas at Austin. He and his colleague have written a great document called The Habits of Musicianship which gets at the idea that we have a habit of creating a separation between the technical and artistic aspects of music-making, with musicianship becoming almost like an add-on reserved for when technique is more established. This resonates with what Leon Fleisher once said, which is that one only needs as much technique as is needed to say what they’re trying to say. In other words, a reminder to clarify our musical ideas first, then the technical details that support them.

      For instance, a particular phrase might be most convincing (and based on the score, also make the most musical sense) when the opening note is played in a single bow, despite it spanning several measures. Pulling this off will require greater bow control, which will require figuring out the optimal combination of bow weight, speed, and point of contact between bridge and fingerboard, as well as minimizing the arm tension involved such that there are minimal wobbles or shakes when one is nervous. Starting with an idea of what one wants this phrase to sound like, then using this target to identify the technical issues that have to be solved in order to bring to life the sound one hears in their head can help ensure that we don’t get too lost in problem-solving mode and forget that we’re ultimately trying to create something of beauty, not just solve a series of technical puzzles for our own satisfaction (which I’ve been guilty of far more often than I’d like to admit).

  18. You should take a look at my practice videos on my YouTube channel kathywilliams76. I’m no elite musician, but post my practice sessions to inspire others. You should also mention that 30 minutes of technical work, scales, long tones and staccato will save a lot of time down the road because if you have the fundamentals down pat then you don’t have to spend time working on them in your piece. For example, that staccato bit in the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto is a piece of cake if you can already staccato that fast, and you sightread better in difficult keys if you do returning and interrupted scales from the Baermann method in those keys. And at least 15 minutes of your practice at the beginning should be a warm up on your long tones and staccato etc. After all, you wouldn’t do sport without a warm up, why should music be any different?

  19. Thanks for sharing the great article. My question is when we learn a new piece, it seems inevitable that we practice mindlessly. Because we are still at a stage of “sight-reading.” how do we practice with our head when learning a complete new piece?

    1. Another great question. One key to practicing mindfully even when we are in the very beginning stages of learning a piece is having an idea of what exactly it is that we are trying to accomplish (or as Stephen Covey’s 2nd habit suggests: Begin with the end in mind). Whether it is based on recordings of the piece, or score study when there is no recording, having a concept of what we would ultimately like the piece, movement, phrase, note to sound like can keep us focused on trying to make continual progress towards our goal, and avoid the trap of mindless repetition sans phrasing, dynamics, etc.

      That being said, we needn’t get overly obsessed with it sounding perfect the first time through either. Practicing mindfully doesn’t mean we must have a zero-tolerance policy for mistakes, otherwise we could easily spend weeks on just the first phrase. One of my teachers helped me understand this by describing practice as an iterative process using the metaphor of filters. He suggested that when we’re hiking and need to filter water for drinking, we don’t take water from the stream and use our finest filter. First we use a filter to get the rocks, dirt, and sediment out. Then a finer filter to get rid of smaller particles, then an even finer filter still to remove larger bacteria, and only then do we use our finest filter to remove the smallest microscopic elements that could make us ill.

      Iterative. Helpful concept, and also a fun word to use because it makes you sound really thoughtful and kinda brainy – but in a good way.

  20. Great article. I’ve been working my way through “Practicing for Artistic Success” by Burton Kaplan and this article reiterates many of the same ideas. Kaplan’s book has charts and methods to engage the brain in practicing. I have found one suggestion most helpful – plan out the practice session with goals for the next day immediately after finishing a practice session. I have done that for years in the area of homemaking, but never in the area of practicing.

    For health reasons I have incorporated 2 sessions of 20 minutes of Skilled Relaxation every day. This is a great way to rejuvenate between practice sessions.

      1. Dr. Kageyama,
        I am an eighteen year old girl from India. I have been learning Western Classical violin for 11 years now. As much as I am in love with Classical music, I am also thrilled by listening to jazz, samba, rock and other genres and often try other genres on my violin/piano! Music is my only passion!! Recently, however, I noticed the development of a nerve ganglion on my left hand and it has deeply affected me. I have taken the necessary medicines for the same and the doctor told me it’s not there anymore.Even so, I am not as confident as I was before and my mind is full of negative thoughts about how I will never be able to perform well and I’m afraid I’ll never be able to play my violin again :'( Even during my practice sessions, most of my time is wasted in feeling dejected- that I’m unable to improve- and I don’t want to feel this way! I want to be confident through and through…

        Your article is really inspiring, sir! I will certainly try the methods mentioned here. Could you also tell me as to how I can get rid of my anxiety during practice sessions as well as on stage during a performance? I really want to share my music with the world and make people happy!! But how can I do that when my anxiety is making me unhappy?

        Hoping to hear from you, sir!
        Thank you for the lovely article! :’)

        1. Hi Dhanasree,

          Ah, these are key questions indeed. Of course, it’s not so easy to address these kinds of questions in a simple comment. Aside from what you’ll find in other articles on the blog, there are certainly lots of books that you may find helpful. A good place to start is Don Greene’s Performance Success.

  21. I love this article! I am a vocal major, and many of my instrumental friends always give the vocalists a hard time because we don’t practice nearly as much as they do. They call us lazy and not dedicated. But in reality, we can not physically practice as much as they do because our instrument is inside us, and as you may know, if you talk for a very long time, your voice becomes sore. Same with singing. We can not put in the hours that instrumentalists do, because our instrument will start to not work as well. So with this information, I can show them that working longer than us does not make them better.

  22. Hello!

    Thank you for writting this wonderful article! I found this really helpful even though that I’ve heard this from my teacher some couple of times! Thanks

  23. This is probably one of the most vital articles for us musicians. All musicians. Having a strong ability in various music genres I get overwhelmed by practice sometimes. BUT, I do believe that practice does not make perfect, however, “perfect practice” does make perfect. I like the beliefe and the acceptance that resting is just as important as practice. I think that it is important that everyone, especially I, make our practice schedulres based on the information here. Take the time to engage our brains and our fingers will follow.

  24. I just recommended this article to some language learners. I think the idea of “mindless practice” is very valid to the way people learn a language.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Lynne,

      I hadn’t thought of learning a language in these terms, but you’re totally right. I can see how deliberate practice would absolutely apply to acquiring/developing language expertise more efficiently.



  25. What matters is what you expect to accomplish in a practice session. Practice doesn’t always mean playing with your axe to your moouth all the time. It may be reading and JUST reading your music. It may mean listening to the masters in recordings so you can achieve your own sense of mastering. The comment about intonation brings upon another consideration, practice intonation. Playing random notes with a tuner for the sake of intonation then practicing without the tuner to learn to hear intonation. As a jazz musician you want to develop your “bag of tricks” practicing modes and various scales even if it is just to grow accustomed to playing off the page. But none of this matters without some degree of inspiration which is exactly what this article does for me.

    1. Mary,

      Thanks for the additional info! Would love to hear more details about how deliberate practice applies to jazz musicians and the unique skills they work on in the practice room…


      1. Dear Dr. Noa,
        I have decided to begin a practice regime with your methods. I will let you know in a few months time how it works. It looks very logical. I am excited at the prospect of learning to be a better player. I believe that the questions that you have listed are so important in searching the solutions. I was looking on this site hoping to find a section for improvisation. If you can find someone, please do let me know.
        Thanks Denise

        1. Hi Denise,

          Yes, please do check back in a couple months with an update!

          As far as improvisation goes, are you familiar with Christian Howes? He has a website at that might be just what you are looking for.

  26. Dr. Kageyama, I would love to share information on this subject especially since I am also classically trianed. Like legit musicians, you must feel comfortable with scales. But with the jazz musician, we need to learn not only major, minor, chromatic, we also need to get a grasp on the modes, blues scales, be-bop scales. We have to learn to understand chord changes and develop a crazy sensitive ear. It is a must to have the jazz books such as the Jamie Aebersold series or the Hal Leonard play-along-books. It is nice to see what playing with a band which is the main purpoe of the books. Now, with all this practice you still are not a jazz musician. In jazz the performer/soloist is the composer when you begin to improvise, therefore the performer must develop an imagination. These bag of tricks are simply useless to learn, if you don’t first develop the intestinal fortitude to get out and play. Participate in jam sessions and open mics. You must practice not fearing mistakes and being less than perfect. Jazz is musical freedom. Many people say there is no wrong notes in jazz. Well this isn’t exactly true but mistakes should be the furthest from your mind. If you play something that doesn’t sound very good, your ear will help you to get out of that habit quickly.

    In a sense, mindless practice applies here also. There will be times as a performer you might run out of improvisational ideas, but you won’t have time to come up with a magical idea. This may be just the time to throw in some mindless drivle…but only briefly.

    I have a very hard time physically practicing longer than 2-3 hours at a time. I learn the music and the chord changes before I play it. I believe strongly in taking a break- so there should be a day or two of rest.But I concentrate on what I need to concentrate on and I find that it makes my next project so much easier.

    I hope this helped.

  27. When I studied w/ Jeff Berlin he said to practice 4 at the most. His point that you need to have a life or what could you possibly express to an audience. My favorite quote though is by Robert Fripp, which I’ll paraphrase here: “To get good at ones instrument, one must practice 8 hours a day. For some it’s 4 and others it’s 16”

    1. Why every famous performer is saying that 2 or 3 hours of daily practice is enough, IT IS RIDICULOUSNESS!!! There is an interview with Sarah Chang when she was 12 years old and playing Paganini 2nd concerto and she said that she is practicing 2 hours a day hahaahah, i mean there is noooo such talent that will play paganini perfect with 2 hours of practicing at the age of 12!! Come on! I don`t get it, why is it so hard to admit that they have practiced for 10 or 12 hours a day, there is nothing wrong with that!?

      1. Hi Marija,

        You’re right, I’m sure there is a good bit of under and over-reporting of hours of practice. And don’t forget that there’s a difference between playing 10 hours a day and practicing 10 hours a day. They may not be counting rehearsals, lessons, coachings, or merely noodling around the instrument as part of their practice hours.

  28. So many of the things I learned the hard way 20 years ago, spelled out clearly and rationally. Ah well…

    The specific penny-drop moment this article gave me was the relationship between mindless practice and low confidence. In my coaching I have been encouraging ensembles not to keep doing multiple runs-through of pieces each rehearsal because (a) it wastes rehearsal time, and (b) it locks in habits you are actually trying to change. Some believe me; others find it hard to let go of what they experience as a comfort blanket.

    Understanding how a mechanical rote approach actually undermines confidence, rather than increasing it as they currently believe, is going to be a useful tool in helping people into more productive ways of working. Thank you.


  29. I double dare any scientist to give 2 student probes the same practice schedule but one group practices 8 hours while the other only 2 or 4…i bet my jem prestige that the ones practicing 8 hours will outdo the 4 hours group, ive seen it, im proof of it, all the virtuosos did this..
    Vai 30 hours routine is the perfect example of it..

  30. none of the electric virtuosos got away with less than 3 hours a day NONE.
    Vai, Malmsteen, Gilbert, Satriani, Petrucci, Buckethead, Rustey.. they even practiced more than 12 hours a day.. look where they are now.. look where the 4 hours practicers are.. the hell knows..

  31. Sorry for the triple post, another example.
    Electric guitar again:

    Student A practices for 4 hours. Student B practices the same for 4 hours and then practices some other material for another 4 hours. eg. scales. After 3 years he will without doubt know a lot more than student A. Its common sense..

  32. It all depends on how one practices. Repeating a passage numerous times and playing the same mistakes means that you’ve done nothing but practice mistakes. Practice often means to just read the passages, recognize keys of each passages so that you can play them correctly and move on. I’ve had students come to their lessons and play passages incorrectly over and over again. I will remind them of the mistakes they are practicing. THen I make them look at the passages they are playing and often the passages may be variations of their daily scales. Once they recognize the passage they can play it.I do not believe that a person who practices 4 hours cannot play as well as another one who practices for 8 hours regardless of the numerous examples given. Reading a passage for a few minutes can equate to at least 2 hours worth of practice. Also, scales and etudes ate of course just as important as repertoire but I do not believe that they should or need to be played in the same practice window. One day practice scales, the next day etudes, the next day repertoire. Anytime scales, etudes and rep are played in the same practice session-etudes and scales should be used as warm-up and repertoire should be the primary focus.

    1. ITs pretty interesting, since some have the opposite strategy e.g practice the same things everyday.. i forgot however to take something into consideration, the violin and other instruments are way more stressing than the guitar.. one can spend 8 hours on the guitar pretty concentrated and not tire the body too much.

      Practicing mistakes or bad technique indeed is the worst case scenario.. i remember having to spend months just to tweak a couple of bad habits i picked along the way.. which arises another argument (applies again to electrci guitar): Some of the best have actually flaws on their technique, they however put so many hours and energy into it that they made it work..

      I encourage anyone to take a look at Steve Vais take on it:

      He even suggests you to spend 1 hour just exausting the multiple ways of playing a note or vibrato..
      I think there is no definite answer and learning is an individual process, but i do know something, when you love what you are doing, there is no such thing as practicing too much.. you will always want more.

      I am talking about 8 hours of concentrated practice of course (which can be done with perfect technique , concentration skills and pauses) the average person works 8 hours a day.. if music is your job or passion it seems like a decent amount of hours per day 🙂

      1. Spie, couldn’t agree with you any more. Thank you for shedding some light along with all the other nice people on here. Thank you for your expertise and wisdom Dr. Noa as well. I heard Charlie Parker practiced well over 10 hours a day. Raphael Mendez practiced over 12 hours on trumpet which is quite a physical feat and requires tremendous endurance. I used to practice trumpet for 4-6 hours a day in highschool.

        I do admit some of my practice was a little mindless, perhaps my mind was too tired to think after reading and practicing all the basics… so after that I would play melodies by ear and with intense emotion-I had so much fun doing this. I was always first chair in a band, I was first out of 25 trumpet players and the band was 1st in state. I’m not boasting but making a point that when you love what you do, you tend to spend a lot of time, and or making a lot of time doing it…you are only going to improve. I did have good teachers though, who taught me proper technique at a young 7 years old. Of course there were breaks of say 5 min here 5 min there, 10 min. But my endurance, tone, technique etc. grew a lot because I LOVED playing, making music.

        My favorite thing to do besides playing/making music with others was playing along with a record,tape, or Cd. I never thought practice was a chore, only when I was very young at 8-11 years old and wanted to play ball with friends outside and my father said practice 45-1hour first. Around 11 years old I was hooked for life.

        My point is that the best teacher is the best student, no one can teach you better than yourself…yes you need the wisdom and knowledge of others, but putting that into practice,experimenting in the “lab” has to be done and figured out by the individual. Practice should always be fun or something is very wrong. I like what one of my favorite famous musicians once said,I’ll paraphrase:

        ‘The instrument I play is often referred by band directors,orchestra directors, professors, parents, etc. as “Not a toy” but I say it is a toy…I have some much fun with it, if it isn’t a toy, then why do we “play” our instruments?’ Another paraphrase by a guitarist: ‘We (guitarists) don’t practice, we play’ That, says it all. Thanks for sharing everyone!

  33. Sure, music is a full time job but practicing isn’t just about playing your axe. Practicing is also abour axing your play. Working in the wood shed for hours is rather useless if you don’t also add listening and jamming as a part of the practice. When I say jamming ,that not only goes for jazzers but also legit musicians as well. And as far as actual practicing an instrument goes, taking the time to rest and enjoy everything that life has to offer solidifies what you learned.

    1. I agree with you 🙂
      I do however believe one can accomodate all the things we mentioned into either a 4 or 8 hour routine.. thats where an excellent teacher makes a hard working student shine.
      It requires tremendous mindfulness from the student too, one can practice the mechanic excercises like mindless scale runs or trills for periods where one is not at the fullest concentration point, and when energy is restored concentrate on the creative process again.

      Some also say you should focus on your strenghts and exaggerate them, others say you should always seek to improve that which you lack and transform it into strenghts.. guess music is like life and every approach is valid as long as it gets you the results you want.

  34. hello, when you say that you do not get great results after two hours refers to when these become straight? or refers to day? recommend that you do two hours 40 minutes to stop such other 40 so 10 minutes to complete the two hours to do 40 minutes in the morning, 40 in the afternoon and 40 at night, which we would recommend you according to your experience?.

    greetings and excuse my English is terrible

    1. Hi Juan,

      The two hours was referring to practice over the course of a day. This phenomenon of diminishing returns came from economics I believe, but applies to many other things as well. For instance, athletes certainly benefit from pushing themselves harder and harder in training, but beyond a certain point, working out more doesn’t improve performance much.

      In the case of music practice, it seems that the gains we make per unit of time tend to diminish as the hours begin to add up. It’s just like anything else – we’re fresh and alert when we start studying for a test, but after a few hours we just aren’t learning at the same rate, or absorbing as much information as we were when we started. Whether you practice in chunks of 20 minutes, 40, 50, or 75, the important thing is to pay attention to when you are no longer practicing mindfully. That might mean you’re due for a break.

      Note that this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice more than 2 hours a day, it just means that you’re probably getting the most bang for your buck in the first two hours of practice. I’d encourage you to do what you can to make the first hour or two of practice as productive and focused as you can, and try to work on as much high-value, high-importance stuff while you are mentally and physically the most fresh.

  35. Hello,
    I am finding that I am not consistent in my practice and playing. I go through certain stages in my ability. Just one week ago I was playing great, now everytime I play it just doesn’t feel right and it sounds horrible. It seems as if I can’t even play a basic song well. Do you have any thoughts, advice, or solutions??

    1. Hello celloboy,

      It’s a little difficult to say without knowing more about what your practice habits look like. On one hand, if things change from week to week (and you’re not sure why), it could very well mean that your good habits and bad habits are both pretty well ingrained, and you would benefit from more of this deliberate, mindful, thoughtful practice to identify and reinforce the good stuff. There are times when this is an indication of our ears as well; as we improve and are able to play at a higher level, we start hearing more and more things that could be better. It can be discouraging to climb one mountain, only to find yourself at the base of the next higher mountain, until we realize that this is what the process looks like, and that the mountains never end. The book Mastery (by George Leonard) helped me realize this, become more patient in the practice room, and appreciate the process.

  36. Celloboy, exactly what are your paractice habits? Do you warm up before playing? Personally, warming up defines your quality of practice. Do you visualize your music when you are NOT practicing. Do you read your music before playing it, especially before you actually practice it. I wonder if you are experiencing the old adage ” outta sight outta mind”.Practice is a culmination of many things not just the tactile. Your music should be full of pencil markings that identify scales, phrases and sections that repeat themselves. Do you practice the entire piece or just portions. I always have my students concentrate on portions of big pieces because things often repeat themselves so why practice the same segment more than once…

    Another idea, make a copy of your music and cut it up. put the pieces in an envelope and just take 1-2 pieces and practice them, only and nothing else. This is especially helpful with the more difficult passages. I do believe this idea comes from athletes and it is in a book. If I can find the book, I will post some information on it. I hope these ideas are helpful.

  37. The other day, my daughter was acting like this boring, repetitive set was really blah. Her posture slumped, her intonation was bad. I took her aside and told her that she had to play it like she meant it, no matter what it is, because it’s all a road. If you practice like it is lame, then you will perform it like it is lame.

    1. Anyways here is what Howard Roberts (founder of GIT has to say about it)
      (which supports the concept that you can pretty much practice all the time you want, be as productive as you can, as long as you manage your time frames correctly)

      ” Two Kinds Of Memory

      There are two kinds of memory involved in the learning process, motor memory and data memory. Your motor memory is the training of the physical or motor skills and your data memory is the memorizing of conceptual data. If you are training motor skills, you can practice for many long hours without doing any harm. The more of this kind of repetition the better. In fact, much of this kind of learning can be accomplished unconsciously. A person can achieve wonders while mindlessly staring at the television, playing or doodling for hours, even with the sound on.
      With data memory (memorizing scales, fingering patterns, licks, songs, harmony etc.), you must work within very short time frames, making sure you do not exceed your attention span. Bear in mind that your attention span will vary from day to day, and may be as short as five, ten or fifteen minutes at any one sitting. The signal that you have come to the end of your natural attention span, may be anything from staring at the wall, to thinking about your vacation, to playing that little old blues lick you have known since you were seven. In this case, your unconscious mind is telling you, “you’re done, you’re full, and you’ve had enough for now”. This is perfectly natural. So take a short break. It’s no big deal. You’ll recover quickly and you can continue on effectively.
      Remember, then, that there are two completely different aspects to gaining musical control of the instrument. First, learn by mental rehearsal, visualization and recalling it from memory. Second (though no less important), develop and train your motor skills through repetition. Don’t fall into the trap of confusing these two different types of learning by spending hours working without concentration trying to acquire conceptual data (data memory). Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that there is a short cut to acquiring motor skills.


      Studies have shown that the mind is like a camera. Once it gets a clear impression of the material, the picture is snapped into focus. You have it. It can now be recalled and replicated in order to train the motor system. Memory should not depend on repetition. Rather, the rote learning we are taught in school is actually destructive to the learning process. What you should be doing is looking at the material once to get a very clear, focused picture: then, mentally rehearsing it without actually using the instrument. On the old rote-memory system, you are taught to repeat the learning process over and over. This is where you start to forget. The picture blurs, and you do not learn how to remember.
      Reinforce this new way of learning by staying away from the printed page as much as possible. Make the snapping of the image only once a matter of habit. Practice recalling the sounds and visualizing the fingerings that match those sounds. Do this when you’re stuck in traffic, waiting for the bus, standing in line at the bank or having lunch. In time this will become a second nature, and you will become a perpetual learner, able to learn as much away from the instrument as you can with it in your hands.

      Time Frames

      You may ask “ How long should I work on new material at any one time?” The answer is, you should work on new material in very short time frames. A few minutes of concentrated, thoughtful study can make a solid impression and can prove far more beneficial than hours of unfocused drudgery.
      You will need to assign yourself breaks by the clock until you become sensitive to your own physical and mental signals. So get yourself a kitchen timer and time each section of your practice.

      I recommend practicing:

      15 minutes on
      5 minutes off
      15 minutes on
      5 minutes off

      When your timer goes off, obey the discipline of the signal. Do not break it and go beyond your assigned time limit! Then as time goes by and you become better at managing your time, you will become more and more sensitive to your own limits, and you’ll be able to sense when you have gone on too long and need to rest. Remember that, while on the old method it is all right to practice until you drop, the new method requires you to re-train yourself for a whole new kind of learning experience.”

        1. It often depends on the individual, whether a fixed time schedule works effectively or not. I’d say give this a shot and see how it goes. Modify, tweak, and reflect on your observations as needed to come up with a schedule that works well for you.

      1. I have to strongly disagree with Mr. Roberts on this point:

        “If you are training motor skills, you can practice for many long hours without doing any harm. The more of this kind of repetition the better. In fact, much of this kind of learning can be accomplished unconsciously. A person can achieve wonders while mindlessly staring at the television, playing or doodling for hours, even with the sound on.”

        You can do plenty of physical harm if you’re not conscious of your posture, the ergonomics of your instrument, the feedback you’re getting from your musculature, etc. Both Dr. K and the also very wise Bill Plake ( make this point repeatedly. “Mindless” practice of ANY kind will waste a lot of your time and do much less good than the kind of concentrated practicing Dr. K (and many others) advise.

  38. How about review? I don’t want to forget pieces I already learned.That takes time.Also review can help w/ learning new material faster. You mentioned the motor skill. I know that applies to speed.How is the concentrated practice and gaining speed for a passage ( or in generel) connected? Should I limit these times too? Like when I use the metronome to gradually increase speed? Thanks

    1. I stumbled across a study once which suggested that the most efficient way to get a motor skill up to speed, was to focus on speed first, then accuracy second. I can see where this could apply in some cases, but I’m not sure if this applies to music or not.

      Remember that the number of hours one practices is not the relevant factor – it’s how one practices during those hours that is the real key. The 10,000 hours number is just a number, just like 25 is a number – the number of minutes it takes for muffin batter to turn into muffins (assuming the right ingredients and the right oven temperature). It just seems like expertise requires at least that much time spent practicing deliberately to “bake”. Maybe I should put it like this: feel free to practice as long as you like – so long as you are fully focused and concentrating on the task at hand. If you’re going through the motions, your mind is wandering, or you’re no longer listening and analyzing and making specific adjustments, then stop. For most, our ability to devote this sort of mental energy to the task at hand, seems to tap out around 4 hours. This goes with reviewing repertoire too; you’ll get a lot more out of it if you play through something with some sort of purpose rather than just playing through it mindlessly to keep the notes under your fingers.

      1. First of all I love the whole site, it’s great that someone’s finally seriously attacking the intricacies of mastery in music.

        Referring to developing speed I stumbled upon this interesting video of a sort of masterclass given by Shawn Lane. He is a rock guitarist (legendary for those in the know, apparently) who developed freakish speed on his instrument at an early age. I am not a big fan of his music, but after viewing a lot of his videos on YouTube I concluded that when it came to speed this guy knew what he was talking about. He describes it as a process of starting fast and then “cleaning it up” over time, a kind of top-down approach. The relevant info starts at 1:30 in the video: Anyway what he says sounds similar to the study you mention in this comment. Personally I have found that playing a fragment once for accuracy, once as fast as possible, and then 3 more times as slowly as necessary for accuracy is effective and more engaging then staying at one tempo, inching along, or repeatedly trying it fast. By “as fast as possible” I mean to play the fragment without regard for the notes at all, and only pay attention to the “gesture” of it. Over time the gesture becomes the vehicle for the notes, I think. It might be important, though, to only practice the gesture a little bit, or in smaller proportion, because one may ingrain the incorrect notes and get frustrated.

        Thank you for the article and please let me know what you think

        1. Interesting, Pierre, thanks. I like your use of the word “gesture”. And indeed, if I’m understanding the motor learning literature correctly, we don’t have to be quite as worried as we often are about ingraining bad habits, as long as we utilize corrective feedback and make it a point to make corrections and adjustments in a mindful and thoughtful way.

  39. What you say here ties it all up in a nutshell. Make sure that the bulk of your practice takes place within the first 2 hours. For me, If I fail to do this, anything afterward is like confetti. Something that will need to be cleaned up eventually which is just more work. I am referring to this quote here:

    Note that this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice more than 2 hours a day, it just means that you’re probably getting the most bang for your buck in the first two hours of practice. I’d encourage you to do what you can to make the first hour or two of practice as productive and focused as you can, and try to work on as much high-value, high-importance stuff while you are mentally and physically the most fresh.

  40. I am almost ready to head to the recording studio. In jazz, it’s not so much about mistakes as it is about imagination and being cool. Mistakes can happen, but it is how you use the mistakes that requires practice. Yes, you can make a mistake in jazz and make it sound like you meant for it to happen. You have to practice getting out of, what would normally be a, tight situation. So my practice involves thinking about chord progressions and how to move seamlessly through them even without the music in your face or instrument in your hand.

  41. Great article! Would it be possible to give references to the studies, facts, and research you cite? It would give more credibility to what you’re saying, as well as give the reader a starting point for further reading. Thank you kindly for your consideration.

    1. Hi John,

      Sure, here are a couple classic papers on this subject that are available online:

      Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. Th., & Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

      Ericsson, K. A., & Charness, N. (1994). Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49(8), 725-747.

      And then there’s the 918-page Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance which is not online, but here’s a sample chapter.

      I have to say that I also enjoyed reading the books written in the popular press about this research (e.g. Outliers, Talent is Overrated, The Talent Code, Bounce). If you were only going to read one, it’d be a tough call, but The Talent Code might be the one I’d start with.

  42. How does all of this apply to learning multiple instruments? Can I perhaps do 2 to 4 hours on Violin, have a 30 minute break and then do 2 to 4 hours on Piano? Realistically I tend to give each instrument 1 to 2 hours, but at weekends I try to give more. I play the drums too and have for many years, but Violin and Piano are new to me so I am giving them a little more attention, especially Violin which I’m loving even more.

    1. Much like studying for finals in multiple classes, our ability to focus and concentrate (and to a degree physical stamina as well) are the limiting factors in deliberate practice. It might freshen you up a bit to switch over to another instrument, but my guess is not by too much. The key will be to see what works for you, what your limits are, and what sort of practice schedule is sustainable over the long haul. I remember making myself go through huge marathon sessions on occasion that wore me out so much that it was tough (emotionally, mostly) to get myself to practice at all, let alone effectively, the next day.

  43. This is some good info. Thanks a lot. Even though I’m sure it depends on the individual, I’m wondering, does the “4 hour limit” apply when the hours are disbursed throughout the day? If I did 4 hours in the early morning and then another 4 hours at night, would the time inbetween be enough to refocus the mind for that 2nd 4 hour session? or are you pretty much mentally spent until you get a night’s sleep?

    1. Hi Ian,

      You could certainly give it a shot. Personally, I think this sort of schedule might be hard to sustain over the long haul (could maybe do it for a few weeks, but perhaps not for months), and the tricky thing is going to be ensuring that the quality of your focus throughout stays high. Say, if you started at 6am and did four 50/10’s (50-minute practice, 10-minute break), and then another two 50/10’s in the afternoon and two more 50/10’s in the evening theoretically this could all fit into a day. Most will probably find their focus wandering as the sessions start adding up and the days go by, but if this is something that you have time and the inclination to experiment with, there’s certainly no harm in trying to hack the 4-hour “limit” by being a bit creative. Let us know if you discover something that works for you!

    1. Hi celloboy,

      That’s a toughie. It’s a perfectly valid and important question that probably deserves a more thorough answer than this, but I think it depends on the person. I personally learn pieces best when I have a basic understanding of what it sounds like first, and then I throw away all my preconceived notions, ignore convention and what others have done in recordings, and take a closer look at what the actual score seems to suggest. I struggle trying to go the other way around. It’s probably my Suzuki upbringing.

      But my wife (a pianist, and no Suzuki background) starts with the score first, and generally listens to recordings only when she’s already developed a pretty strong idea of what the piece is about. It may be no coincidence that she has stronger instincts for contemporary music than I.

      My guess is that the readers of this blog have their own ways of learning and practicing new music as well; perhaps some will respond to this, or you may even be able to ask some of them directly via their blogs or contact info.

  44. Often the hardest part about practice is getting started. If you are someone who finds it difficult to practice regularly don’t get hung up on how much practice you need to do. Instead of thinking about minutes just set yourself the target of picking up your instrument and at least starting to practice every day.

  45. This article is remarkable. I’ve always felt that there was a solution besides the 10,000 hour model. Other things in life have taught me that it’s best to work smarter and not harder. I thought, how can I do this?

    It’s with attention.

    Your article is talking about exactly that. It’s about bringing the most intense attention to your practicing so that every move is deliberate. As more of a blues guitarist I have been experimenting with ways to get more out of less hours especially when you come home from a day job feeling drained and only have energy for an hour at best of practice.

    I still think it’s useful to segment out the time you have, 5 minutes on this phrase, ten minutes here and there, but as long as it serves an ultra-specific goal.

    Once again, great article!

  46. Well Jimi Hendrix used to take a shit with his guitar still around his neck … so that should give you an idea – you never never never stop playing !!!!! Ha ha

  47. rideforever, seriously??? That was waste of a good sh*t. Don’t sacrifice such a wonderful moment with anything strapped around your neck.

  48. Hi there!
    First of all great article! It’s so nice to be able to discuss such an important subject like music practicing. I have two questions to you:

    I’m a drummer, and we are taught by many teachers that rudiments is the way to go, and that they should be practiced every single day in order to progress. Now rudiments in my opinion are as mindless as one can think of: repeating for 30m or 1h a set of exercises, which rapidly gets boring for me and my mind gets distracted very quickly, which doesn’t happen if I’m playing over a song. How to improve technique without doing this mindless exercises? We are taught that it’s the only way, which kinda contradicts what you discussed in your article…

    My other question is related with having the ability to keep to your schedule. I have a day job of 8h, and after my job I normally go practice for 2h or so. Since it’s very exhausting to work 8h, it’s very hard to be concentrated when practicing, being much easier just to lay down some songs and play along them and reach my zen state, which on other hand doesn’t really help on my progression as a drummer. How to get the proper motivation to stick to a plan and being disciplined in this case? Or it’s just a lost cause?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. Rafael,

      I think that most of the time teachers are biased to their own methods of learning. I am beginning to feel like though rudiments will improve your skill, but it’s more like 20% versus learning songs improve you 80%. There’s more to music than mindless exercises -especially- if you want to develop improvisation. Rudiments won’t teach you that.

      I work full time too 8-5pm and I 100% understand where you are coming from as far as having the energy to put into practice. You race home, whip something up to eat (probably junk processed food), jump on your instrument, and struggle to concentrate and keep from falling out of your chair. I’ve struggled time and time again with the motivation to practice, write, or record. However I do have one way that I deal.

      The absolute best way to get the proper motivation to stick to any practice plan and be disciplined is to BE ABSOLUTELY CRYSTAL, 100% CLEAR ON YOUR GOALS.

      It’s no small feat, but you should set aside time whether it’s a day, several, or a month to really visualize what you want out of music. This has been the only I’ve been able to deal with the exhaustion that comes with working a day job full-time.

      I would also dedicate time to diet and exercise as those things will boost your energy. Speaking of Zen, I find it a good time to meditate when I just get home from work so I can calm my mind and shake off the worries of the workday. It makes concentrating much, much easier when I practice. Hope this helps!


    2. Thanks for the response, Kyle. I thought I’d add my 2 cents as well.

      I think I’d probably want to know more about what these rudiments look like, but I think you can still find a way to look at these exercises from a mastery perspective – that is, to constantly be seeking ways to improve them in some way. To make them more even, or more precise, and so on. I’ve mentioned the book Mastery, by George Leonard before, and this comes to mind. One of the most impressive things I’ve ever witnessed in music, was cellist Natalia Gutman playing a scale. The bow control, sound, intonation, precision, fluidity, ease, effortlessness were all exquisite and remarkable – we were all blown away. And I assume she always played even the most basic of scales fully aware and completely attuned to what she was doing and what she was working towards.

      I might be inclined to make your practice time centered around specific music-related goals rather than time. And once you’ve identified compelling goals, perhaps to restrict your practice time, so that you are only allowed to practice a certain amount of time (and make this less than you feel you ought to practice). If we have lots of things we want to get done, and relatively little time in which to get it done, we can’t afford to dilly dally or get too obsessed about something minor. We have to move on. And we tend to be more motivated to work on things when we have less time than we want.

      1. God points, as they say, work expands to fill the time allotted. I really feel that everyone has their own things to work on that will give them the most growth. The trick is to do some self-examining to figure out what that is.

  49. Great article. I’m going to try some of the ideas that you wrote about. This may make practice something that I look forward to instead of something that I have to do. Maybe that’s why some people don’t look forward to practicing, ’cause they don’t have a Practice Plan. I’m gonna make my plan out right now. Cheers!

  50. Great Article!

    If I were able to tell the young me anything, it would be to practice better,not longer. I would concentrate on how I learn a piece of music and not the mindless repetition that I did. I would practice sight reading so I could learn the basic piece faster, and then spend my energy on refinements, not spending the majority of my time learning the piece.

  51. I’ve been on this site alot quite recently when i came across this article. I am about to become a first year music major, and i had to take the time to learn how to sight read quite well. I am a guitar player and though i have played for years, i was not raised learning how to read music. So wrapping my head around practicing less than 2 hours a day is hard, because i sight read for at least an hour if not more. i need some advice

  52. Hi Dr. Kageyama,

    I stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago and I must really thank you for all your thought-inducing articles. They made me start to look at music and practising in different perspectives. I have found them to be extremely useful in helping me become a more effective music student.

    I am one of those who fall under the category of mindless practising, and in retrospect, I am guilty of approaching my practices using these inefficient methods:

    “I must complete the whole cycle of major and minor scales in 1 hour in 120bpm.”

    “I must practise 4 hours today.”

    “I must repeat this particularly difficult section over and over until I get it right.”

    Those, and over-emphasizing on the quantity of practice over the quality. Of course, it is debateable when we talk about quantity of practise in terms of building stamina as it is different for all individuals.

    For a start I tried out the method of grouping my practices into 45-minutes sets, with each set having to deal with 2 different issues (e.g. 1 articulation study and 1 lyrical etude so that my mind is kept fresh), and resting my mind for about 10 to 15 minutes after each set, perhaps taking a walk, chatting with my friends or doing some push-ups. I found that while I pried my ears open and having certain goals in mind during my practice, I found myself subconsciously working intensively on importantly aspects of these studies in the 45 minutes and my goodness, it was extremely draining because,

    1) Certain playing issues that was masked over during mindless practices surfaced, and

    2) I pushed myself to complete as much as I can in the 45 minutes. This is good in a way as I constantly searched for the best ways to tackle my playing issues within the time constraint. I will need to move on to the next task instead of getting stuck with the same problem.

    Usually by the end of the 3rd set (a little over 2 hours) of deliberate practice I have to call it a day because it is so physically and mentally draining.

    This method comes as a shock to my mind and body, but I am going to continue and hopefully see that it is effective for me!

    1. Hi Sean,

      Thanks for the detailed reflection of your practice habits. I think it’s really valuable to be able to see what others’ experiences in the practice room look like. It’s funny that we see other musicians’ finished products quite often, but often have no idea what they do in the practice room to get there.

  53. This article is completely fantastic. I’m going to make this the way I practice every time I do from now on. Thanks for writing such a helpful, and wonderful article. It taught me more about my playing and practicing than anything/anyone has.

  54. I believe there are problems using time as the gauge for practice success. For one, the practice required of an intermediate student differs significantly from that of a seasoned professional. No great virtuoso got that way with 30 minutes of mindful practice a day, but one can maintain their skills with that regimen. Another issue is instrument dependent. Some instruments have stamina issues (winds, brass, larger strings, e.g.) preventing the player from dedicating the same number of hours as a pianist. The teacher that most influenced my concepts of practice would tailor an intense 30-45 minute daily session where every moment worked to address the passages he wished to improve. If he was preparing to perform the Elgar Cello Concerto, for example, his choice of “warmup” scales, arpeggios, and chords would be in the keys found in the concerto, using rhythms and bowings from the work. The key for him was properly identifying what he needed to accomplish that day. In addition, as others seem to have found helpful, he scheduled some time during his week for just playing, to eliminate the temptation to “play” rather than practice.

  55. During my undergrad days, my piano professor (a brilliant performer) appalled some of the more “traditional” faculty members because he practiced astonishingly less time than was considered “appropriate”. He taught me that the secret was not practicing LONGER but practicing SMARTER. In the years since, in which the opportunity for longer practice has become increasingly rare, this has served me well. I have not read all the comments above and may be redundant here, but one technique that has made a world of difference to me in performance is learning the ending first. There is something really wonderful about being in a performance and the farther you go the BETTER and more confident it gets rather than the other way around, which is more usual. Excellent, excellent article. Required reading for my students now.

  56. “man, how you play so great when you SOOOO drunk???”-intreviewer
    “ya gotta practice drunk” zoot sims, world reknowned sax man

    i was beaten down from lesson one-and told to visualize every great trumpet player in the world sitting in my cell, and to focus on the moment. every goddam moment.
    “i used to practise 6, 7, 9 hours a day. now i practise 3 and listen to every note”-maurice andre
    i learnt a lot from cats who grew up doing 10 shows a day during the war. WWII.
    i learnt a lot from art velasco, ace trombonist-we started recording horn parts , over dubbing 3 and 4 section parts-shortly after he flew in from japan. he sounded like king-kong. road chops. you travel and pack/unpack, hit the mouthpiece, horn, bang, you practise your craft, stay up ridiculous hours, eat salads and drink gallons of water, struggle with jetlag, freezing cold terminals when a connection gets missed, sleep on floors, busses, trams…and make world-class music’
    i worked a 2-hour session, 4 parts each on 3 tunes,slept a bit, did a 2 hour big band in a bar, slept a little, played a 4 hour salsa job till 4am/struggled to get a sound at 1130 AM and played a 2 hour small group set at 2pm/the next day, i slept 10 hours, and played a big band again…
    no, it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t bach or stavinski/but it sounded right/and today i am buzzing away for tonights musicfest//on shows, for acts/concerts, etc we come in and read the things down, take a dinner break, and do an avg. 90 min performance, then never see the music til the act rolls in agin.amazing what some cats memorize…and there were 90 shows in between!!!some folks retain that music for years, and scare ya.
    doc severinsen warmed up for hours, starting with roadworkweights flapping his chops buzzing, then the mouthpiece crap, then low chromatix, more flapping then long tones/crikey. thats before noon!!!
    but trumpet is physically insulting to the body. like doc sounds pretty rough the first few hours/then BANG a golden bubble of pure beauty fills the space he stands in. the sound is all around, even behind him.big, pure, resonant, not loud, full…wow. awesome
    bobby shew walks in, flaps a bit, and doc. go figger…
    they both put in 10 hour days on the horn, and spent way more time figuring it out.
    guru bill adam says start with a great sound, move towards it-and you do 3 hours of sound-long slow low/high/fast chromatix/slow moving slurs…
    now i gonna go work a few bars of some chopin waltzes i am trying to transpose at sight/”just the notes” at slow tempo is absurdly hard for me. but my reading is getting better, my concentration is improving, and the humiliation is devastating.
    i thank you for many many new things to bust my ass on, and am going to buy lotsa batteries for my metronome&tuner.

    Two things i find work infallibly-practise slow/slower/sllloooower/and correct every mis-step as it occurs, no matter how many times it takes to get through 3 or 4 beats of a bar. then crank up the metronome, blaze through at tempo + a few clix, never stop, repeat…then slow way back down& focus on every phrase at 1/3 speed…exhausting
    painful, effective, boring, challenging, and you will sleep so hard after work it’s unba leeeeevable. you will be able to pull a 6 hour job off, though

  57. Great article! I can personally relate to every bit of advice, and it’s wonderful to hear it come from such experts. I’m looking forward to sharing this with my guitar students!

  58. In college I majored in music and even though 5 hours a day seemed to be the key timed mentioned I did 4 a day and could not seem to ever do 5, so interesting that I see that here.

    Now I am going for a mid life crises career change in court reporting and funnily it is all about practice just like music. So here I am again practicing daily chasing speed to get to 225 words a minute. There is an extremely high drop out rate, that is because they say the average is 2 years to get to the required 225 and the average one should practice is 2 hours a day. I do think it is almost crazy to get to that in 2 years where your fingers should be working without thought and what took me years to get to in music. So only a small minority get there and the rest drop out even though it is true they all could get there, but they pressure themselves with time and the cost of schooling. I definitely feel I have a one up because of being used to the whole practicing thing, I actually enjoy practicing in itself.

    With this the goal is simple though, 225 wpm as accurate as possible, and that is it, no need for interpretation. So my practicing daily is highly organized to what will get to that goal and I will change it if it is not working. Everyone has different techniques they use to try and get to the goal ASAP . I try to practice 2 hours a day and also try not to practice too much over that, don’t want to feel burn out.

    When in college I felt I did a lot of water practicing just to make sure I could say I did my 4 hours, no matter what the expense. Now as an older person I don’t stand for wasted practice and when I feel it happening, which I do, I revalute and change my routine.

    1. Hi Lara,

      I think musicians really have an advantage when it comes to learning new skills – we have a deep understand of how meticulous, patient, and detail-oriented we need to be to achieve a mastery level. It’s cool to see the parallels that can be drawn between practicing in music and practicing elsewhere. Thanks for sharing!

  59. As a “sleight-of-hand artist” (aka, magician), I am fascinated by this article. There are so many applications of your suggested practice method that extend so far outside of music and even performing arts, in general. I see this article as more of an expose of committing a new skill into the human psyche – whether that be performance music, magic, acting, or even programming in a new computer language. I plan to adjust my routine practicing into this model simply to see how it relates into my chosen art – and I can already envision the application. Thank you for the insight!

    1. Chris,

      Now that you say it, it makes complete sense, but I never would have thought about applying deliberate practice to the practice of slight-of-hand. You make a good point – imagine the level of expertise we would see in the world, if we were all committed to mastering our craft via deliberate practice!

      Actually, what’s a little unsettling is to think of all the professionals upon whom we are dependent, but who don’t engage in deliberate practice. Surgeons, for instance, perform a lot of surgery, but don’t necessarily apply the principles of deliberate practice for continued improvement. Here’s a fascinating article in the New Yorker about a surgeon who decides to enlist the help of a “surgery coach” to help him improve his skills.

  60. Excellent post. I added a link to this page on my website. I am learning to play a new one-handed saxophone after losing the use of my left hand after a hemorrhagic stroke in 2008, so I’m having to kind of “start from scratch” in many areas, such as practicing techniques. Trying to make sure I make the most progress in an efficient manner to make up for not playing for three and a half years.

  61. I’ll bet the author is not a trumpet player. Endurance is also an issue when considering practice length. If you have a four-hour big band gig on the horizon, there had better be a three or four hour blow or two in your recent history.

  62. The critical factor is to practice NEW ideas, techniques, structures, melodies. To constantly push to expand one’s musical vocabulary and bag of tricks is essential if greatness is to be achieved. Otherwise, and I’m sure we’ve all seen this especially in the pop world, one can play for 30 years with very little advancement.

  63. I’ve been a performing pianist for close to 40 years. I’ve never found the ideal practice regiment; it just never got a chance to materialize. Caught up in earning a living thru music, I find myself accompanying Dance classes, playing from 2 – 4 hours a day, 5 days a week (for the last 20 years). This effectively destroys any energy I have for practicing, and in fact makes me not even want to touch the piano by the time I get home. In addition, I perform with various jazz groups thur – sun evenings. The end result is I don’t practice at all from September thru May (when the Dance Conservatory is in session) and the rest of the year I’m just playing catch up.
    So if you have the time and energy to practice, DO IT!

  64. I am curious as to how this would relate to the often arduous task of learning notes–that is the very first stages of learning a piece upon its recent assignment. I often get very frustrated and feel that there just simply isn’t enough time to go through all the pieces assigned my in a suitable time period in which I can maintain a proper level of focus. Any thoughts or comments?

    1. Christopher,

      I’m a little biased by my own experiences and training, for better or for worse. Being a Suzuki kid, I learned music by listening to it over and over and over and over. By the time I set out to play a piece, I already had it in my ear. It was just a matter of figuring out how to produce what I heard in my head on my violin.

      I know that there are pros and some serious cons to this approach as well, but it’s what I’m used to. When I’ve had to learn pieces from scratch where there is no recording available, it’s been more of a struggle.

      Does anyone have a suggestion for Christopher?

      1. When learning something completely new with no recording, i like to work on small portions at a time rather than trying to go through the whole piece every time and start at the beginning again. I’ve seen people take on the whole piece (or large sections) then repeat repeat repeat. I highly suggest setting small goals … even if it’s just 16 measures (or less) per hour until it’s set in your brain. If you get bored, move on to another small attainable section then come back to the part with which you already tried to learn.

  65. Since I started playing by ear at the age of 5, and am now over 70, and have made a good living as a pop pianist/organist, I regretted that I never got to study piano, however, I never practiced, but only played, and played and played. I was addicted to making music, and I still am. No practicing for me. Thank you God. Wanna see me play? go to and search yamaho5 and Voila! Wally Brown

  66. Hi Dr. Noa …

    This has been a most educational read and I will appreciate the information for a long time to come. My current Coach (I’m a Baritone) pointed me in the direction of your article. I believe that I do currently engage in very mindful practicing for short periods at a time and I think I got that idea from the (non-musical) college studying method, “where there’s a will there’s an A”, which emphasized the difference between “hard work” and “smart work”. That being said, I believe the Problem-solving model and the journalling will serve me very well for continued improvement because while I do mindfully practice, I’m not as detailed in my questions to myself as in the model and it’s so easy to forget what you felt in your previous practice, thus the importance of a journal (which my coach has been after me to start since we started together a few months ago).

    Also I do believe as stated in one of the previous questions that vocalists definitely need more “breaks” than instrumentalists because of the very fragile anatomy of the vocal folds … do you agree?

  67. I have found both the article and the comments fascinating. Such a wealth of material!

    Recently I was reading a series of articles on singing by the great Australian soprano Dame Nellie Melba. In them she addressed the subject of practice as follows:

    “Your practice should be divided into periods of actual singing. At first they should be very short, not more than five minutes at a time, gradually working up to twenty minutes. Three periods of twenty minutes each are enough for any student.
    But the time of study, apart from actual singing, should extend over several hours daily. How are you to find the real meaning of the words of a song unless they are read over many times, both silently and aloud? Should they be in a foreign language which you do not speak, much time must be spent in translating them, so that you know the exact meaning of every word you sing.”

    So Melba divided the concept of practice into physical practice (which should be done sparingly and with diligent attention) and mental practice (time taken studying the music). And of these, the one that comes first is the study away from the instrument. Melba’s argument is that it is difficult to use your time with your instrument effectively if you don’t know what you are doing!

    For me, as a musician and as a mother whose child is starting to learn an instrument, I also wonder about how practice is taught to young musicians. As a child, I know that I was given no guidance by my music teachers about how to go about practicing. It was something that I had to learn about later. Does practice have a prominent place within current music pedagogy?

    1. Jennifer,

      This is great, thanks for posting!

      I can’t say that I know much about current music pedagogy training and best practices. I suspect that others more familiar with this area can respond to your question better than I; frankly, I’d be curious to know the answer to that question myself.

      From personal experience, with my two little ones starting cello and violin this year, I can say that there seems to be more emphasis put on what to practice than how to practice. I think it’s a lot of work (mentally and emotionally draining) for parents and teachers to guide their kids through deliberate practice at that age – and there is pressure to demonstrate progress, which I suspect may be measured in units of repertoire, rather than quality of sound, ease of playing, or creative improvisation for instance.

      The few times we’ve had the awareness and patience to engage with our own kids that way, it’s been fruitful I think. Essentially it boils down to asking more questions, encouraging the kids to listen for themselves, and problem solve, which I think the kids find more engaging and interesting than “ok, play that same passage 3 more times exactly like you just did” (even though that way is quicker and easier). With deliberate practice at that age, they may not progress through repertoire as quickly, but I suspect they end up learning more about music and how to be more comfortable with their instruments. What have you observed with your own child?

  68. While I completely subscribe to this philosophy and strive to discipline myself to this high standard of practice habits, I am not sure how appropriate this concept is for beginner students.. Except for a parent monitoring and guiding practice sessions, I wonder about the discipline of a young student to strive for this standard. I wonder if the “quantity of practice” technique may be more appropriate for beginner/dabbling musicians who aren’t totally sold out to their instrument yet… Thoughts?

  69. Good article. I play piano and horn, and I find that practicing each instrument is a unique experience and requires a completely different mindset. On the piano you are constantly learning a huge new set of notes and patterns….lots of info for the fingers and brain to digest. On the horn you are playing much simpler music, but striving for purity of tone, intonation and connection between the notes, plus playing in a convincing lyrical way. And physical endurance is a big issue, so just putting in the hours and right kind of playing is in fact crucial to keep your chops strong. But you are right, the “do it over and over again til it’s right” mentality is the proverbial definition of insanity. Good work, keep it up.

    Roger Kaza
    Principal Horn
    St. Louis Symphony

    1. Hi Roger,

      Thanks for the note. Indeed, that is an interesting thing that I’ve learned about brass players – the need to maintain a certain degree of muscular endurance. That’s certainly far less of an issue for string and keyboard players.

  70. Thank you for sharing such an insightful and thought-provoking article! I am now rethinking not only my own practice, but my requirements and suggestions for students as well. Bravissimo, maestro!

  71. Great article , although I disagree with a fair amount of it well as agree 😛

    kk …my main concern , was the whole not going over 4 hours thing for practice …umm , you can condition yourself to practice more hours and have great results …also , if you just make whatever your practice routine /schedule consistant and take a break every so often ..then you’ll be great ! …anyways my practice is 11 hours guitar , 1.5-2.5 hours vocals one month straight at a time with a 4 day break and i never feel burnt out or lazy .( I work from home)

    1. p.s. just practice a variety things and keep track of them……trust me , if you do an hour of straight technique then go into some thing like “chord explorartory mapping ” , then your mind wont get bored 😛

  72. Loved the article!!

    I do have a question. For me, it’s never really been an issue of smart practicing; I always have goals when I get in the practice room. For me, the issue has been getting myself to the practice room. I find it hard to get motivated and practice. When I’m there, practicing is wonderful. How do I keep myself motivated to the point where I will practice every day instead of every other day??


    1. Hi Roddy,

      If the difficulty lies in getting started, perhaps commit to playing for 1 minute, and then you can quit if you want? Chances are, you’ll probably just keep on playing at that point anyway – but you don’t have to either.

      We often wait to do things until we’re motivated to do it. Funny thing is, motivation often increases after we’ve taken action, so if we want to get motivated, it helps to simply take action and sidestep the internal dialogue, rather than playing those mind games with ourselves.

  73. I Don’t Practice the guitar that much methodically but I do play the guitar a lot, i play guitar when ever I see a guitar mine or some one else’s. I probably end up playing guitar on a good day for up to seven hours or more just messing around with song ideas or with other people jamming. I do I guess practice improvisation a lot because that is mostly what i do when I play guitar. This article seems to pointed more to classical musicians particularly violinists. This Article is very good but I am unsure of how I would apply this to me playing guitar unless I was learning a hard song or going to play a gig with songs I wrote or covers?

    1. Hi Jevaan,

      I’m probably not the best person to ask about improvisation – you might want to check out Christian Howes’s blog, and articles such as this.

      Deliberate practice applies anytime we are trying to improve a specific skill as effectively as possible. Whether it’s practicing the guitar, writing more effectively (Ben Franklin did a lot of deliberate practice in his writing), or improving one’s knife handling skills as a chef.

      Are there technical challenges on your instrument where you could benefit from improvement of some kind? This is one pretty straightforward area where deliberate practice would come into play. I often recommend Daniel Coyle’s work on The Talent Code as a great presentation on the concept of deliberate practice.

  74. I will be marching DCI(drum corps international) this summer. For a Drum Corps practicing more than 12 hours per day is an everyday thing for us, however this does include physical training as well. 12 hours is the average day to day schedule(this does not include individual practice time). what are your thoughts on this sort of practice?

    1. Hi Paul,

      Sounds like an intense summer ahead! In regards to your question, the key is differentiating between playing (rehearsing, playing through, etc.) and practicing in the way that Ericsson et al. define it. For many instruments, it’s certainly possible (and not even all that uncommon) to play a combined 12 hours a day, but doing deliberate practice for that length of time may be a challenge, and probably not so fruitful.

  75. Funny … one of my favorite professors used to say “Practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent!” 🙂 Great article … and I can totally appreciate the approach and deliberateness.


  76. So how do you encourage children or teens to work effectively? Cognitive development must play a part in being able to apply these principals – or do kids naturally apply these principals when doing something that they love?

    I ask this question because I have noticed that kids and teens naturally go through love-hate relationships with things they love. I expect the worst time for kids to give up an instrument is when they are going through the “hate phase” because most work through it and eventually come back to the “love phase”. The problem with the hate phase is that this is when the kid or teen only time that they play is in a lesson, progress becomes slow and they are most likely to become disenchanted with music-making in general.

    1. Hi Ruth,

      That’s a great question, and one that I’m not sure if I have a good answer to (check back in 10 years when my kids are in their teens). I do know that kids can very naturally fall into deliberate practice mode without any prompting from adults. My 4 and 6-yr old often go into deep problem-solving states where they completely ignore the outside world when they’re engaged in something they are naturally intrigued by.

      You’re right that the worst time to give up an instrument (or sport, friendship, job, or marriage, for that matter) is when you are in the “hate” phase, because we tend to be more biased in these moments than when we are in a more neutral state where we have more objectivity about the situation.

      People often say that deliberate practice is not fun, but for me, that’s when practicing became fun. Because there were goals, problems and puzzles to solve, and a clear sense of progress. If kids can find a way to make playing more about solving puzzles and less about putting in time or just learning notes, they may find it more engaging. Shorter practice chunks with clearly defined puzzles to solve might also help during the “hate” phases. Good luck!

  77. This is what I have been looking for my son. He has been playing for about two years now, he is in a great music academy. The one area I think he needed work on was his practicing. I am very happy his teacher emailed me this article.

    My son has read through it and seemed to find the article very interesting. Dr. Noa Kageyama I wanted to know if your online course would be right for him he is 14yrs old and been playing for about 2yrs. now. I also wanted to know if you are offering anything in Miami,Fl any time soon.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Lawrence,

      I’m obviously a bit biased about the course, as I think we could all benefit from developing skills like confidence, focus, and so on. But putting all that aside, it’s tough to say if the course would be right for your son or not without knowing more about your son’s specific situation.

      Age is not an issue, as I’ve had folks as young as 11 get a lot of benefit from the course. It’s more about what level your son is at, and what he and his teacher are working on at the moment. The course is intended to help musicians perform better under pressure, so if he is not doing much performing at the moment, there might not be as much of an incentive to work on these skills. Then again, much of what’s in the course has application beyond music to maximizing our potential in other areas of life. The simplest way to decide might be to do a 30-day trial, so both you and your son would have an opportunity to take the course for a “test drive.”

      And yes, I’ll be in Miami in September and January!

  78. nice article, but i am concerned by what a word that was left out: fundamentals. Not fun, not sexy, but for string players anyway, scales and arpeggios, intervals, and just deep rather than long approach. (I cover all this in my practice chapter in “Real Men Don’t Rehearse,” an otherwise fun memoir of my days playing bass in the Boston Pops).

    Also some people see practice as a form of meditation . . . a daily ritual of sorts. I personally hated practicing but that’s just me.

    also a big surprise was just how much the “toyota lean” kaizen approach mirrors the practicing task. there are many facets to the same challenge. – jl

    1. Hi Justin,

      Thanks for the additional insights. Indeed, I never understood the point of scales, etudes, etc. until I understood deliberate practice. Then, it actually seemed sort of obvious how useful these exercises could be. On a related note, one of the most impressive things I’ve ever witnessed was cellist Natalia Gutman playing scales and arpeggios. Phenomenal control, precision, and ease.

  79. well not to hog thread here but when I was 19 i was a “hackoso” young mediocre conservatory student. then i went home and played scales and arpeggios 8 hours a day 7 days a week. (750 hours) less than 3 months later i was playing every gig in boston. We referred to it as “the priesthood of fundamentals.” a year later i did another 750 hours on the (44×44) intervals on a bass. no more guesswork after that.

    I suppose i could have achieved the same result in 4 hours a day, but i didn’t know that, so i just went at it. slow, hyper-accurate fundamentals, bears endless repeating. talent is optional.

    again, for those wishing to get out of the bubble, there is an extreme parallel in toyota lean processes, which good practicing sort of mirrors. note this only applies to string playing, not sure how other instruments work.

  80. I would like to add something to this post that many have not considered. As a matter of fact, it is a skill vital to practice that many of us slack off. That skill is the skill of good nutrition. How can you practice optimally if you’re not nourished. How can your brain work optimally if it isn’t nourished. I am 55 and not only is it a must for me to nourish my body, I am also fighting diabetes and per-menopause. Our health plays a vital role in our learning . I eat plenty of meat, fish, eggs, poultry, sea food, green leafy vegetables,bell peppers, whole milk, cream, cheese, butter, coconut oil, milk, coconut flour, sea vegetables, avocado, nuts, berries, cantalope, pumpkin, asparagus, cauliflower, brocolli and even that nasty cod liver oil is part of my dietary regimen. I also supplement with vitamin D3,magnesium, alpha lipoic acid, zinc, vitamins K1 & K2, B12. If you don’t eat well and/or correctly, you are restricting the your musical progress. Musicians are indeed athletes, believe it or not. I have yet to read where any one athlete begins his workout with processed junk food. WAZZUP with that!?!?!?

  81. This guide was very helpful! I don’t know if this question was brought up before, but you give a model for smart practice where you think of potential solutions to a problem and then test them, and pick the best one. What if you cannot decide between two solutions?

    In my case, after the opening of Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto there is a series of arpeggio like notes in the left hand that require a lot of jumps. I can either move my whole arm to close the gap or I can lift my elbow and turn my hand so the next note is within reaching/stretching distance. When doing the latter I discovered the notes are more connected and probably easier to play accurately. However, if I were to play much faster I think the lifting elbows and turning hands may take too much unnecessary energy and time. I cannot decide between the two. What would you suggest (overall, not necessarily my personal issue)?

    1. Hi Kevin,

      Excellent question. It depends on the situation, but for me it depends on two things. One, technical considerations always go back to what you’ve already decided in advance that the phrase ought to sound like. As Leon Fleisher said, you only need as much technique as is needed to say what you’re trying to say.

      Two, I’d prioritize simplicity, efficiency, ease, and essentially, whatever it takes to make playing easier. Which increases the likelihood of being able to repeat the motion as effortlessly and consistently as possible. Of course, sometimes the more complex solution maximizes efficiency and ease.

      In this example, when playing faster, which serves the music best? But also consider that even if option #2 is slightly more complex, if you can prepare in advance, and minimize the amount of movement required when the notes in question arrive, this might actually be the more effective of the two choices.

      Hope this helps!

  82. Practice is very important! It doesn’t mater if it takes 5 minutes or less several times an a day or at least once at day…., sometimes – not profesional – as me, are very bussy to practice one houre or so every single day.
    At least to play some notes for one minute, then to come back to my daily work for 30, 60 or perhaps more minutes and to retake my violin again and play the same notes again. I notice my ability is not gone but the oposit!…. So I’m able to continue my piece with more notes.

  83. Hi Noa,

    Thanks for the link to our article on “Active Practicing”! Glad you found it helpful. Hope you are doing well and excited for summer to kick off.

    Stay in touch.


  84. Now I realize that when I messed on a part of a piece, I shouldn’t have gone back to the beginning and play it all over again! No wonder, I get stage fright every time I try to play a piece in front of people I don’t know! It’s because I’m lacking confidence! This article helped me so much and also helped me plan what I should do and correct later in my life! This article changed my life! You answered all the questions I was dying to ask in the article!

  85. I have decided to apply this technique to my social lifeWhen I was a child, I was lonely and wished for friends, but I didn’t know how to make friends. I thought all the other kids liked each other, but they didn’t like me. (Perhaps it was true.) Instead of trying, I pretended… I was friendly and smiled a lot, but I never allowed myself to be vulnerable. I didn’t let anyone know I would like to be friends with them, because they might not want me for a friend, and then everyone would know. So I was friendly to everyone, but friends with no one. I don’t allow others to get too close.
    I am 65 years old now and still wish I had friends. I am married for 43 years), only because my husband approached me first, and I sometimes feel ,”if he only knew me better, he would be sorry he married me”.
    We live in a very close neighborhood that abuts the campus of a prestigious private school. I have noticed that many of my neighbors stop and spend long periods in conversation at the foot of one another’s driveways, or on the sidewalk. When I come along, they smile, wave, and say hi, and I do the same, but no one ever invites me to stay and talk, so I make it appear that I don’t have time…
    I have been practicing this friendly anonymity for all the years we have lived in the neighborhood, and I find it very difficult to say anymore than hi, nice day, hope the snow holds up, etc.
    So now I am going to practice that which i find difficult. I will plan to spend at least 1 full minute stopped at the foot of my neighbor’s driveway when I approach her/him and s/he is already out and engage in conversation. I will make a point of joining whatever conversation is ongoing (they are usually about the weather or the neighborhood) or I will have a conversation topic ready in case I must initiate one.
    I will practice this until it’s not difficult, and then move forward in either time units or familiarity of topic.

  86. What an interesting twist on a music subject. Clara keep in mind that you can add lots to a conversation just by listening. You may not have to say anything to be a part of a conversation. Have you ruled out asperger’s. Einstein is thought to have had it yet he has left humanity with some of the most thoughtful expressions and quotes. I wish you well on your courageous endeavor. CHeck back to let us know how you did. You might even want to keep a diary on the subject.

  87. I think people should practice for as long as they are enjoying practising, whether that be for 30 minutes or for hours on end. Mindless practice for hours is clearly not enjoyable or productive as we have seen, where as if you are enthusiastic, energetic and are concentrating effectively all the time you practice for however long that may be, I think you will not only continue to enjoy the craft you are developing, but also experience higher levels of improvement than the prescriptive method of “x hours a day or you’re not taking it seriously”. Put it back in the case when it’s no longer fun, and take it out again when you feel like playing. I don’t think many or any of the great players we see on stage having a blast performing at astonishing levels of expertise got to where they were by not enjoying their playing/practice, which we should remember are the same thing.

  88. Deliberate practice is helpful for visual arts, too. It may (or may not) need to be slow, but the intention and focus and the systematic mastery of techniques is essential to giving creativity a full voice.

  89. I have an Alexander Technique student who seems to have reduced himself to rote playing his own compositions to train himself to play them consistently. He too easily improvises almost irresistibly, so that the forms, arrangements and styles of his songs are eternally changing each time he plays them. At this point, he’s established a set order for his songs, as if he’s playing to an audience, but he’s also got performance anxiety issues. He practices daily, but the number of songs he’s written are quite a bit of material. He’s lacking the education to write down his songs in any sort of notation. For him, this notation issue will be taken care of once he can play these songs consistently from using recorded music notation software. However, he’s not getting there anytime soon, because he continues to find another level of practice necessary. He seems to never be arriving at a final form to the songs, because his abilities grow through practice.
    What would you recommend to do about this sort of practice issue?

    1. Hi Fran,

      I must confess that I’m not sure if I understand the situation exactly, but my first impression was that it seems to be a fear issue. Meaning, something is keeping him from doing what’s new and uncomfortable (committing the music to a final form, learning musical notation), and usually that something is fear. Fear of it not being good enough, perhaps? Often fear masquerades as perfectionism or procrastination.

  90. Personally, I would praise him for developing an intelligence for improvising. THis takes much skill that many want, but are afraid of the endeavor. For him to become skilled and accomplished at improvising and composing, he must complete eatch layer of practice. Let him know it WON”T take care of itself. That’s like saying a tree will grow without water… Let him know that he needs to complete his notation to prevent his music from being stolen. He needs to complete his writings so that he can appreciate his music now…not later. In order for him to become and accomplished musician in both his composition and improvisational skills he must focus on completing each piece of music. I would require that one piece of music must be completed before moving on to the next. He just wants to do the easy parts without putting any effort into the more difficult aspects of his music.

  91. Now I don’t feel such a bad teacher after reading this article! I’ve been telling and showing my students the benefits of mindful practicing. However, is there a way to make sure they listen to me when they go home? I feel unsuccessful trying to instill a good practice routine and they end up ignoring what I’ve said. It’s frustrating and disappointing at the same time.

    1. Hi Kunal,

      I have to confess that I don’t have a great answer to your question. I think there has to be enough frustration, discouragement, aggravation (i.e. pain) associated with mindless practicing before they become interested in trying something new. I suspect that if you engage in the kind of problem solving and questioning approach involved in deliberate practice during lessons, this will become more familiar and increase the likelihood of happening when they are guiding their own practice at home. But again, assuming they are invested in actually getting better vs. just putting in the time.

  92. Hello, I found this article very intresting! It made me think of the ways that sometimes short practices that are focused are better off than long ones that are up to 4 or so hours. But how do you know for sure how long you should be practicing? If you set a goal to practice for lets say 2 hours straight, but you find yourself slacking at the last hour, or you don’t have the motivation to continue, should you continue? I find myself practicing, but thinking;” is it enough practicing for this much time?” Or thinking that I’ll get nowhere if I practice for a short time

    1. The idea is to observe yourself and make sure you’re actually practicing, and not just noodling around aimlessly or playing through without any goals. It’s a little like studying for an exam. If you find yourself just reading a paragraph over and over and spacing out each time, you know you’re not really studying effectively anymore and probably ought to take a break, get refreshed, and come back to it when you’re more focused.

  93. Dr. Kageyama

    When we are given a piece by our teacher(mentor), what is the best approach in ratio invested(time, energy, focus) and given (to understand the piece and its full meaning)?
    I am now in my 4th year in high school and have been studying piano for ten years…I have always had problems reading the new piece ”prima vista” and when I do actually read it, I understand it took too much of my time and effort, and also when I’m in the reading stage, I tend to play too fast too soon and end up ruining the piece then correcting it…I always feel like I’ve lost soo much time to end up with an irretrievable situation. What do you suggest??

    Best regards!

    1. Hi Vedran,

      This is a good question, and probably requires a much longer response to fully address. I think there’s probably more than one “right” way to approach new pieces – for some it will mean score study and for others it will mean really getting the music into their head by listening to a variety of recordings, and then there are those who will probably do a bit of both in addition to playing with their fingers. The one thing I’d say though is to avoid the tendency to work on notes first, then add “musicality” afterwards. Start by knowing exactly what you want it to sound like, and work towards that from day 1. Otherwise, you essentially end up having to learn the same piece twice.

  94. I deal with this on a daily basis with my students. THe part that you need to question is your sight reading. You say you begin a piece to fast then ruin it. SO what should you do? I am assuming that you have your drivers license? Did you spend your first day behind the wheel, on the freeway? So why would sight reading be any different? THere really is no such thing as sightreading. You must look at your music first. Figure out the keys AND watch for key changes. Use your yellow highlighter and highlight key changes. Write in the key change in big letters ( (FM, dm, ). Watch for accidentals and see if they aren’t actually changing the key. Check out the tempo markings even if you aren’t ready for that particular tempo. Congratulations, you’ve just practiced the equivelant of 2 hours. Now play it and do not worry about mistakes…afterall you ARE sightreading but practice slowly enough that mistakes are minimalized. As you study your work THEN begin to study the content and the meaning behind it all.

  95. Thank you for taking the time to write this and post it!

    It was very interesting to read, and you covered a lot of points I (and obviously many others) find very interesting.

    I’m a beggining violinist although I’ve had a piano since I was about 10. I’m 14, and it’s really discouraging when you read comments saying things like ‘You’ll never be a good instrumentalist if you don’t start at 4 or 5 years old.’

    Of course, I’m not deluded, and I’m not being to be Itzhak Perlman or Jascha Heifetz with lots of practicing alone, but ‘making up for lost time’, so to speak, requires a good, concentrated practice.

    Early on you mentioned that when people practice ‘unconsciously’, then flip into conscious mode, they freak out. I’m kind of the opposite; I’m very concentrated when I practice, but when I think about the piece I’m playing technically, I lose track. Is there any way to maintain a mindframe that’s somewhere in the middle?

    Anyway, thanks again! This was very informative and concise.

  96. hello, Dr. Noa, excuse the translation.
    I was wondering if is possible to study 8hrs a day, with sessions based studies: first get what I want, try to repeat it, and then rest in between, no, 2 to 5 minutes, of course, with maximum concentration, and breaks to relax , clear, and meditate again on the following, rest well, I concentrate well, whenever I have that makes clear

    1. Hi Rafael,

      Remember not to get too caught up in the number of hours. Sure, it’s possible to play 10-12 hours a day, but there’s a difference between playing 12 hours a day and practicing 12 hours a day. If you are getting specific things accomplished, and continuing to learn, then great! But if you’re just going through the motions, aren’t learning anything, and aren’t really even thinking, then you’re not getting much out of the time and energy you’re putting in.

  97. I play drums, bass, guitar, piano, harmonica and some accordion and a little tin whistle and I’d play for several hours a day. you shouldn’t worry about how many hours. some people need too practice for 1 hour and some needs to practice for 5 hours you really shouldn’t time it. that’s kinda dumb. some people can pick it up easier than others. some songs i can listen to it and i only need 3 mins. to practice it and some other songs i need longer it depends on the song and stuff.

  98. Having goals is so important. It is much easier to practice, when you have something definite to work for, whether it’s a concert in 4 weeks or making 15 beautiful bow holds every day for a week. I find that a really worthwhile goal is to do SOME practice every day for 100 days. Once my students have done the 100 Day Practice Challenge, daily practice becomes a happy habit.

  99. Dear dr. Kageyama, thank you for this article. I would like to ask you if you think one can increase the ability to stay that focused for more than 4 hours a day?
    I am thinking about taking a course in meditation, and in the long term make this a daily habit. Do you have any idea if this, if done correctly, could keep my concentration for a total of, say 6 hours a day?

    1. Hi Lynn,

      You know, I would imagine that one’s ability to maintain a high level of focus can be developed like anything else. Some of it of course will also depend on sleep, diet, exercise, hydration, etc. but I’m sure this would be a worthwhile endeavor for a multitude of reasons. Let me know how it goes!

  100. Loved the article. I’ve always followed a method proposed by my past instructor: “Don’t practice until you can get it right, practice until you can never get it wrong.” I made sure that I was playing something right, and then I made myself play it right twenty times in a row, and if I didn’t achieve that I’d start all over again. It would make a habit of it–and, as your article said, permanent.

    That was the best way to keep my mind at work, constantly edging myself to play it right for the twentieth time. It kept me alert, because I wasn’t about to restart my practice and delay the rest of my practice by 5-10 minutes.

    This method is most effective on scales or things you have to memorize, though.

  101. I think it should be pointed out that the technical phenom Valentina Lisitsa practices for 12-14 hours per day. However, I wager that she is far more efficient in organization of her practice than a beginner could ever aspire to be and may progress much farther than a standard pupil could in that period of time.

  102. Great article I really enjoyed it. I tell all of my students to pick one thing to practice until they get it mastered, then move on. I also tell them to visualize the practice before they begin. I tell them to close their eyes, breathe deeply, relax, get to the place of feeling good, and then visualize themselves practicing. I have been doing this for years and it really works. Hope this helps, thanks again.

  103. I also think it’s important that some of that time be spent in mental practice, or what some call visualization, completely away from the instrument. The time spent in conceptualizing and visualizing every single gesture, from the first breath to the onset to the completion of a phrase in exactly the way you want it to go, concentrating on the feelings in the body and mind that go along with it, profoundly affect how it all goes when next you use the instrument. Mental pathways are built in ways that simply don’t seem to happen when one is actually wrestling with the instrument in hand.

    You can’t possibly practice a phrase/onset/tone quality/musical arc into the shape you want if you haven’t spent some time conceptualizing what that shape is to be in the first place. I don’t think deep conceptualization is something that the youngest musicians among us are capable of doing for any length of time, but having an idea of where you’re trying to get to is essential, long before your hands ever touch the instrument.

    Conceptualization must also have its own form of discipline. You can’t sit down and visualize a Van Gogh painting, and then sit down and paint the painting like Van Gogh. It starts with conceptualizing exactly what brush technique is, all the way down to how the fingers feel against the brush. Layers and layers of skill are built from there, one layer at a time, and there’s no shortcut to building layers.

    The perfect onset begins with the perfect breath, which begins with the perfect posture and frame of mind, and that can be visualized again and again away from the instrument, until the muscles begin to respond in a way that creates what’s already perfect in your mind (and without dangers of any physical overuse syndromes coming into play.) Does this make sense? Michelangelo saw the sculpture in the stone before the first chunk was chipped off. All the mindful chipping in the world would be pointless without having first seen what was under the stone he was chipping at in the first place.

    Am I making sense? Am I just repeating what you’ve already said? 🙂

    1. Hi Twyla,

      Yes! Leon Fleisher has said that his teacher Artur Schnabel often urged students to “hear before you play” so as to emphasize the importance of having a clear intention of what we want. Indeed, it’s easier to hit a clear, specific target than a vague undefined one.

  104. The other factor is endurance. As a trombonist, periodically needing to being able to finish a 2-hour evening concert after a 3-hour afternoon dress rehearsal is certainly a consideration in how much practice is necessary. I find that dividing my practice sessions up and taking appropriate breaks helps.

    1. Hi Jim,

      The way in which we divide up our practice sessions and our ability to recover mentally/physically before each practice session or performance are important considerations indeed.

      Along those lines, I’ve asked a colleague who is more familiar with the literature on motor learning to write a guest post this summer on how to structure blocks of practice time for maximal gains. Stay tuned!

  105. I’m wondering if the number of hours practiced per day should be adjusted based on the physical demands of the instrument. For instance, I would think that playing a woodwind could cause damage to the reed or the the instrument itself if it were played 3 or 4 hours a day on a consistent basis.

    1. Hi Rob,

      You’re absolutely right – the physical demands of the instrument certainly can be a factor, and at the end of the day I believe it comes down to finding a consistent routine that is sustainable, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Like that old parable with the turtle and the hare…

  106. It can be dangerous to advocate a certain amount of practice time for all musicians, because some of the greatest artists have had comparable results achieved by widely differing means. Arthur Rubinstein advocated practicing no more than three hours a day, as did Chopin and the greatest piano teacher of the 19th century, Theodor Leschetizky. Josef Hofmann and Walter Gieseking needed to practice very little. On the other hand, pianists such as Claudio Arrau, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Rudolph Serkin, Vladimir Horowitz and Ruth Slenczynska achieved their artistry through sheer hard work and long hours of practice. Arrau was known to practice for up to 17 hours a day. Rachmaninoff, in his effort to achieve the same level of virtuosity as Josef Hofmann, practiced 15 hours a day. Horowitz once said that he has to repeat passages endlessly because he gets so nervous onstage that his fingers have to be able to play without his head. He said he has to be able to play even if the house is burning down! Rudolph Serkin used to tell his students they should practice to the point of exhaustion, and then practice one more hour in order to build up endurance. Ruth Slencynska says students will experience physical pain and will learn to endure it. So it is not possible to recommend any one way to practice. It is abundantly evident that many great artists arrive at the peak of their profession by many different means.

    1. Hi Thomas,

      Indeed, you’re right that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for determining the right number of practice hours for each person. The literature only suggests that there is a certain type of practice that results in greater gains per unit of time, and that there are limits to the amount of time one can spend engaged in such a highly focused state on a day to day basis. Many musicians must spend 8, 10, 12+ hours a day playing, what with double rehearsals, warmup/practice time, concerts, gigs, etc., but only a fraction of that might be considered deliberate practice as it’s been defined by the researchers.

  107. Man, this is something I learned 15 years after I struggled to understand why music was fun. I hated practicing as a kid. Finally had a college professor give me some more informative ways of practicing. Not only did I ENJOY practicing, I also got much better and wasn’t wasting my time. Still use that experience now even though I am playing just for fun for church.

    Kinda interesting this site was posted after I got off work. Not only is it useful in the music world, I think I may be able to take some of the tips and bring it with me to work. I work as a call center rep and the voice is used extensively to interact with the consumer and I noticed somethings in my recording that I didn’t like and didn’t know how to “fix” them to become better. Some is intonations which with reading this page I think I may have an idea on how to fix it as well as how i phrase things. Then again, I do believe my music background will help me in the long run with this job with proper expression of the mood.

  108. Hi!
    I think I have always been applying this type of study even before reading this interesting article: after practicing like 4 hours in a day I notice I can’t play some passages as well as in the morning, so I stop studying them, because it means I can already can play them but I am not focused anymore.
    However there is something I’d like to ask: it happened to me, that I had to study a very big amount of pieces for one exam (2 concertos, 6 caprices, 2 bach sonatas and 2 ancient sonatas) and it was really difficult for me to prepare for it, because I had to study them all every day and in 4 hours it was pretty impossible to go through every one of them staying focused.
    So i would like to know what is your suggestion in this cases, because I think that the amount of pieces one has to prepare is linked to the amount of hours one should study. How can you study all these pieces in 4 hours?

    1. That’s a toughie. Sometimes when we are slammed with repertoire we simply need more time to get through it all. At that point it’s not even so much about increasing our skill level, but simply learning rep. One thing I would suggest is to set goals and priorities and make sure you’re spending your most alert moments of the day working on the sections of your repertoire that need the most work. Save the less intense/less demanding work for times when you don’t have the energy to concentrate as intently.

      1. Thank you for the fast answer. The only solution seems to be the one you suggested, because surely the amount of study is also linked to the practical duration of the pieces.
        Thank you very much again

  109. Hello. I’m 45, married, have two kids and have a full time job. I’m a drummer of 30 years. I played in an original band for 15 of those, but stopped 7 years ago. Since then, I haven’t played in a serious band, only on occasion. I’ve noticed a stark decline in my talent level over these last years so I’ve finally mustard up the motivation and decided to get back into a strict practice routine in the hopes of getting back some of what I’ve lost. I’ve spent the last 4 months practicing 1 1/2 to 2 hours a day, every day, trying to work on things I felt I neglected to learn over the years. Well, after 4 months, I’m still waiting for any signs of improvement. In fact, I feel like I’m getting worst. And as the days pass, I seem to lose more creativity which now has my confidence level at an all time low. I really want to get back into a band again and to get back playing live but I feel like I’m going backwards. I’m at the point where I think maybe that my time is done and I should just throw in the towel. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Frank,

      Sounds like a tough situation. I feel like a mentor or teacher would be in a better position of providing the best advice and guidance in your case, but I do have one thought.

      There is certainly something to be said for practicing and waiting until one gets one’s chops back to a certain level, but there is also something to be said for just jumping back in and immersing yourself in a band again. A little like how you can spend forever learning a language in the classroom, but there’s nothing quite like being stuck in a country where you have no choice but to learn the language quickly that helps you a) get your skills to develop more rapidly, and b) start having some fun again.

  110. Thanks for your honesty anyways and providing an insight nonetheless. Yea, I think maybe “jumping back in” to a band may be a part of what I need. However, I just hope that if it means auditioning, that I may fair well and find a band asap!! I’m not sure how well my self esteem and talent at this point could handle going thru auditions, one after the other, to only be rejected, one after the other ya know??…….eh, we’ll see….thanks again and wish me luck!

  111. Something else that I think is worth mentioning is “context shifting”. We do this in this generation more than ever. (Text, e-mail, phone, web, food, car, music, conversation, gaming). It damages our lives and our minds. If we are studying anything with the intention of becoming a extra-ordinary then we need to learn to simplify and avoid context-shifting at all costs. The author said it well when he wrote “Get in … get out”. We want to make sure that we don’t try to spread our practice across our day, taking lots of short or long breaks. This will rob us of something very special that happens when we consume ourselves …. creativity, understanding, discovery. Buddhism teaches this as “mindfulness”, focusing on the matter at hand, whether it be washing the dishes, sitting with our children, or practicing our instrument.

    1. Indeed – I think there’s an increasing movement towards minimalism (even in web design), reducing the stuff in our lives, and single-tasking. Will be interesting to see how it all plays out…

  112. Thank you to the both of you, for your responses…… that being said, I don’t think I’d be able to “minimize” my schedule so much since I’m a father, a husband, an employee, and foremost, a drummer, all at the same time. I know, too much to do, too little time!! haha…But what seems to be helping my situation since my original post, is I have been trying to re-focus on not worrying about “getting better” so much as I have been “just playing” recently for “fun” instead, and only playing when I’m in the mood and when I have the energy. I think because I have subconsiously taken away some of the uneeded pressure I’ve been putting on myself, that now, I’m starting to find that having that mind set has helped calm me down a little. As a result, my playing has been a bit more consistent then it has been which has been my frustration. So I’ve decided to not pressure myself anymore and just let happen, whatever happens. Maybe this is the direction I need to head into?? More patience, little by little, step by step indulgence…..well, we’ll see… right now, I guess this is the best approach for myself…..

  113. I recently did a Magic Flute (Opera Omaha) which was designed by Jun Kaneko. He said he paints ten hours a day, seven days a week. This is down from his 16 hour painting days in his younger years. Guess there are many ways to skin a cat. Thanks for this great article.

  114. I totally agree with this article that you only really get things done in the practice room when you have that elusive high level of focus, concentration, and an effective organized strategy for learning.

    As a guitarist who writes his own stuff (your typical long haired rock muso), but also someone who has a classical background and still plays/practices classical music, i have one huge suggestion that i think might be beneficial for pro or classical musicians (by the way, i’m no pro, but i do practice a lot!).

    Whenever you are losing that elusive level of focus, take a break from playing scales with a metronome and instead, just have a really fun 5-15min jam or improv session. If you’ve not done this a lot, then that’s great because it will develop your expression capabilities and possibly even train you for jazz improv. Just try to think up musical ideas in your head, and play them on your instrument. Or, pick a scale and just noodle around it coming up with riffs and musical ideas. After a while you get bored of this (ie. you run out of ideas), go back to playing scales with a metronome and notice how you have that renewed focus. That’s because the 2 things are actually polar opposites. the creative versus the logical mechanical. The playing versus the hardcore practicing. and Learning how to flawlessly unlock both is, in my opinion, what really opens up those gorgeous classical interpretations from the pros.

    Left brain versus right brain, and as we all know, both must be exercised to play good music!

    1. Thanks for the tip, Ian! Improvising can be scary, but be a very valuable skill and indeed enable us to be less self-critical and analytical in the moment of performing.

      1. Thank you Dr. Kageyama. I would like to quickly add one last point to my last comment.

        A great strategy, used a lot in the realm of guitar (rock, jazz, and metal, maybe not so much classical but still useful) is to practice with a “jam track”, to practice improvisation as I described above. You can attack this from multiple ways — you can just do straight improvisation by ear, or, as I like to recommend, you can study the music theory and pick the scale which fits the jam track (fits the chord progression). Then you can play improvised straight eighth notes, sixteenths, or triplets over the jam track. Pick random notes from the scale (or hopefully, by ear AND from the scale if you’ve reached that point) but make sure to use only straight eighth notes and do not fall out of tempo, just like any regular scale exercise.

        This effectively works out both the logical and creative side of the brain, and is a great way to memorize, internalize, and really be able to work with a scale. This is why I recommend my students not only study, practice, and memorize scales and their theoretical usage, but also to APPLY the scales.

        I really recommend that everyone, and classical players, to try this method, and see if it works for them. It only takes 10-15 minutes to really “dig in” to the jam track and get improvising both cool musical ideas, but also highly technically challenging riffs over the chord progression. In my humble opinion, this is a great way to memorize a scale and really internalize every single note option.

  115. Thank you SO much Dr. Kageyama! As a professional pianist since early childhood, I could never figure out why I wasn’t improving while practicing. Now I know why! 😀

  116. I really dont get these studies. The greats became great because they loved what they do. They dont see it as practice. Hendrix played guitar all day because he loved it. Coltrane was going over riffs all day because he loved it. Everybody always looking for an excuse. Either you love what you do or you dont. In most cases if you really love something youll do it all day without thinking about time. Some will call that practice others will call it enjoying life.

    1. David, I agree with you. When the music is within you, you do what you need to do to have it come through. When the music is within you, the technical studies are just means to the expression of the music within you. Both Parker and Coltrane spent many hours on many different scales, but not just for the technique, even though the technique was developed, it was for the expression of the music within them, so it could be expressed, just as they felt it, as soon as they felt it…

  117. Hey! this article really spoke to me, because i’m one of those kids who thinks I should be practicing ALL the time.

    I do find myself sub -consciously practicing a lot, and when I preformed with my band, I was SO scared because I kept having to stop in the middle of playing because for a split second, I FORGOT how to play ANYTHING. I especially do this with the repetitive licks I’m practicing on my guitar. I do the same thing on my wind instruments too.

    for the lick on my guitar, I always find myself stuck at a certain speed. It is al alternate picking pattern and my picking hand becomes tense around 132 bpm. If I practice slow, how long should I practice slow? with analyzing and doing some small tedious fixing? How long would you practice slow with deliberate practice?

    Thanks again for this AWESOME information!

  118. Thank you for this brilliant piece! I am a classical dancer and I’ve found great results by taping my rehearsals and watching them over and over again to work on tiny bits, but have also wondered if I’m doing the right thing when I hear of people who practise hours on end and do insane things like holding a posture for three hours. This vindicates my beliefs and gives me hope.

  119. 32 year musician here and just want to add one thing.

    There’s two types of musicians.
    First, there are those who play because they love it, they play by ear, and don’t care about achieving high set goals. These are the ones who will improve quickly in the beginning, and continue to improve constantly over a lifetime. However, they will never overanalyze and stress out about how, when, why, where and with what to practice. To them, “practice” is nothing more than playing to yourself. It’s what makes them happy.

    Second, there is the systematic musicians often created from the wishes of their parents who desired them to play an instrument and place them with a teacher at an early age. They have structure, discipline, and regiment. The degree of enjoyment they possess for their instrument is consistently far less than the first kind of musician. They pursue an unobtainable perfection. This type of musician has two very distinct destinations: they will quit and never play again, or will achieve a prestigious status. In between there is not much room for this type of musician, they were never taught that music can be played simply for pleasure and relaxation, only to be better and better.

    Which kind of musician are you?

  120. I am a musician who plays because I enjoy it sometimes and other times its because my mom like me to keep playing. My teacher likes me to practice how ever long it takes to get it right. I usually Practice everyday form 30 minutes. I will be playing through my high school year. Probably til I go to collage.

  121. This article makes a good point when it tells you about mindless paracice. For me sometimes I do what I’m supposed to do for the x amount of time mindlessly and then when I get to school I feel like I have to remind myself because I was practicing mindlessly. So, this article taught me that I need to be focused and do it over and over again.

  122. That was such a great article! I think that will really help me a lot. I’m a violinist who’s been playing only three years, and the way I practice is just plain ineffective. I can never nail the piece as quickly as I want or get the notes just right. The problem is, I have high expectations for myself and I can’t always meet them. I often find myself getting extremely frustrated with the piece and I’ll work on it for hours. These tips will help me so much! Thanks!

  123. I learned that you should have a 24 hour period of time that you never pick up you instrument. I found that very interesting. I wonder why that is? I learned something new today! 🙂 I love playing the violin and I usually practice about 30 minutes every day. It is such a fun thing to do!

    1. I realized after reading this article that I practice mindlessly. I have felt the affects of my self-esteem lowered due to the fact that I wasn’t ever able to play my piece right. I now know how to practice to get the most out of my time working to become better. Also, I believe it is important to have a desire to practice. If you don’t have the desire to play, when will your playing ever sound amazing? Just something for everyone to think about, including myself. :c)
      I enjoyed learning from this article and hope to start “…practicing with my mind”, not as much with my fingers.

  124. I think that this gives really good advice, and everyone should read it. My favorite part is when it talks about that you shouldn’t pick up an instrument for 24 hours. I think that is really smart. I also like how it says to practice when we have the most energy. Also the part where he talks about how to reach your goal you want to reach.

  125. I think this is a great article. I realized I usually do practice mindlessly and end up not enjoying practice, because I do practice only with my fingers sometimes. Different techniques of practice really can help instead of just playing through the piece over and over. I will for sure try these different things to help me want to practice, and not do it mindlessly. Hopefully it will increase my desire to really focus on the music

  126. I learned that practicing is not just about the hours you practice, but the way you practice. Sometimes you just have to love what you are doing when you practice, and not just because you have to do it or something. This article tells you when you have a problem with recognizing notes you should strategize. Work your problem out and don’t just move on. Try your best!

  127. I think this will help me in the future. I think it is a smart idea to practice when you have the most energy but, what if that time is during school hours and you don’t have orchestra during that time that you have the most energy? Also if you cant practice for 24 hours or one of the days a week and you have to play in church on Sunday? If you had a habit that you wanted to get ride of how would you get ride of it? It says to practice for forty minutes a day but if my teacher tells me to practice 30 minutes a day? What should I do practice 40 minutes a day or 30? I do like the article I just have a lot of questions.

  128. Great article! This will really help me practicing at home. Me and my sister will practice together, even though I know she won’t want to, ha ha! I’ll force her. 🙂 It makes it easier when I have someone to play with. 😀

    Up with violas and down with violins!~♥

  129. I think this is a very informitive article. I learned about the 5 steps to practicing: Duration, timing, Goals, Smarter not Stronger, Problem Solving Model

  130. I think that reading this article will help me practice better. I learned that you should have a day where you dont play at all. I also learned that practicing for hours and days at a time doesnt actually help you become better you actually could get just get stuck. Reading this will help me become a better violinist.

  131. I think that this article gives great advice. everybody should take some time to read this article. I like at the very end when he says nobody wants to spend all day in the practice room and that what you need to do is to get in and to get out. Then that you need to keep practice sessions limited.

  132. This will be really helpful for practicing later on. I am not the best at practicing. If I actually progress when I’m practicing, I might like to practice more often or longer. Thank you so much for this wonderful advice!

  133. I sometimes practice mindlessly up in my bedroom while reading a book, and then I notice that when I go back to the piece in my practice room while using the music, I’ve changed AT LEAST one thing in the music (rhythm, dynamics, notes, speed of the song, etc.) and then I feel like an idiot and have to waste time fixing that, because I was just using my fingers – my mind was focused on something like Pride & Prejudice or some other weird book. After reading this article, I’m going to quit doing that, even if it’s just a review piece or I have to get some reading done for English.

  134. I think that this is really good advice. I need to practice everyday, when I practice I need to fix my mistakes and make it so I don’t do the same mistake again.
    Elle Kloberdanz

  135. I learned a lot from this article. Now that I realize how to practice better I hope I can become a better player. I know now that I have been practicing mindlessly and I am going to try really hard to fix that.

  136. I (like many others who have commented) have just been mindlessly practicing, or going on autopilot as the article says. Often I pace in circles around my music room while playing by ear/memory- and during this I will efficiently transition from video game theme to a Suzuki concerto in a matter of measures because I am just trying to fill time. It’s a really bad habit, and I’m going to try to stop and think (and actually use music) and go over specific sections in my music for effective practice.

  137. I learned that practicing mindlessly is not efficient and we need to practice til it sounds better rather than the x amount of time

  138. This article points out lots of good things about practicing. From now on when I practice I will know how to make my practice worth practicing!
    Jaida Berman

  139. I practice mindlessly all the time. I’m just glad that this article says that I’m not the only one to do that. I just hate going back and playing it again after I realize that I went on and on playing the wrong part. The article has good points and good suggestions to help practice better.

  140. Great article! Know I fell like I can practice every day the right way. I learned mindless practicing is not good and the 5 steps to practicing! This is great advice! Thanks so much!

  141. This article is inspiring! I now know how to make my practice more meaningful and worthwhile. I hope to be able to apply these five principles to my practicing effectively. Thank you for this awesome article!

  142. I try not to practice mindlessly and I often want to learn more if I ever get bored with the things that we’re learning.

  143. I was surprised to learn that sometimes less is more practicing. I did like that “not picking up the instrument for 24 hours” bit… looking forward to using that one. Also I thought the 5 Steps to practicing should be helpful.

    Natasha Haslam

  144. I try not to practice when I’m either too tired or too hyper. I find that being either of those things makes it more difficult to practice and that I find that it was a waste of time and I would have been better off doing it later than doing it right then just to get it done. This article proved that I was doing the right thing of not practicing when I’m either of those things. It was kind of surprising that practicing is more effective when you practice less! It was really helpful.

  145. I like how it say to keep the time limited because sometimes, when I practice too long, I do find myself not concentrating as much as I need to. I like the part where it says “Keep track of times during the day when you tend to have the most energy” and I think this will definitely help me. I am always tired and worn out by the busy days with homework and family activities that I loose focus. And I think I will start keeping a practice notebook to like put what I want to practice or work on the next time I pick up my violin. I loved this article and found it very helpful. Thank you!

  146. Thanks for this article it was very helpful. I now know not to mindlessly hack away at the instrument during practice time! I hope that I can apply this article while practicing ,thank you!:)

  147. This a really good article! This has shown me what I should do when practicing rather than mindlessly practicing every day. I play the cello, and sometimes I don’t practice the fingering that we’ll. I will apply this to my daily practicing in order to make myself a better musician!

  148. It’s a great article and I especially liked the saying, “Practice the passage 10 times or practice it for 30 minutes.” It’s quite funny. 🙂

  149. So I don’t need to repeat the hard parts over and over again? Makes sense, actually, because after a while my hand gets cramped and my eyes are drying out from staring at the page.

    1. Hi Abigail,

      Well, you do have to repeat the hard parts over, but each time should be different, and slightly closer to what you’re going for based on the information you gain from each previous attempt. If you’re just repeating it over and over and it’s not changing from one repetition to the next, then there’s not much point…

  150. Thank you, Dr. Noa Kageyama, I’ve been having a hard time practicing these days, and your article really helped-especially how you said that just practicing harder isn’t always better, but doing it smarter. Really stopped me for a second there, but it makes sense. 🙂 Thinking of a different way to practice rather than just pushing your fingers harder and faster when they won’t…

  151. I liked how it said to nail it 10 out of 10 times because I always just practice tell I can get it most the time but not 100% on. This article helped explain to me that even though I’ve been doing better in my practicing that I’ve still got a lot of improvement to do if I want to get better.

  152. I do agree with this article. This article has made me realize that I do practice mindlessly. Sometimes, I do not even practice knowing that I won’t improve on the piece I’m working on. I am now ready to practice with a purpose and to improve on my music. I really like how it says that even in the hard parts of the piece, you can stop and fix it. You don’t have to mad at yourself and just move on. Just take a breather and try it again.

  153. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this article. I’ve been playing the cello for 11 years now, of which last year I spent abroad and really didn’t practice (not like I did it before either, I’ve been blessed with musical talent so my teenager brain has never liked the thought of doing it…), and now while I’m back and everything’s going fine, I feel like even though I practice “a lot” (up to 1h15min a day), I never nail the parts I should nail and it’s frustrating me and my teacher. I’m not planning a cellist career as I’m not that passionate about it, but probably in the music domain so that’s why I want to become better. This article helped me understand some of the weak points I haven’t realized I had before.

  154. I Thought it was interesting to know that it’s ok to only practice for ten minutes if you have a short attention span like I do

  155. Excellent article! Compliments & a Big Thank You!

    On the subject of right/left side of the brain and how it interferes (not only) with performance: there is an excellent, classic work out there that helps to train to consciously select (‘control’) which side of the brain one is using and when. It’s called ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ and doing the exercises in there helps GREATLY with this issue even though ‘drawing’ by itself doesn’t seem to have anything to do with making music 🙂

    Thanks again! Please keep sharing your insights 🙂

  156. I am an organist, and have been struggling with a Brahms fugue for 3 months – thought I’d never get it to performance standard. I recently have been applying this new ‘mindful’ way of practicing, and I can see how much progress I have made in just 2 days, using this new technique.

    Thank-you so much for this article.

    I think I can now see my way to finishing the fugue – Previously, I was almost at the point of giving

  157. As a church organist and harpsichordist, with new music literature, I always work through the music mentally many times before I play the music. This includes choral repertoire also. Then I practice slowly many times. When time permits, I usually put the music away for a period of time and mentally think about the music. When I return to the music, all goes better. Any part of the music giving me technical problems, I return to the slow practice and separate parts. This gives me an understanding of sections and parts and putting everything together makes more sense.

  158. I’m a bass player who plays in a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers tribute band. I also have ADHD which makes long practice sessions almost impossible for me. I find that the most effective thing for me is to practice a specific thing for about five minutes, then put down the bass and do something else, like play a solitaire game or wash the dishes. As a rule I spend almost all of my practice time working on songs, but I do take a moment to check my technique, and run a scale or two just to limber up. I have a personal motto that has served me well – I play music to practice music, and I practice music to play music. When i hit the stage with the band i better know the tunes we’re about to play, so focusing on the music itself has helped me tremendously.

  159. I think the term deliberate practice is just a fad.The whole concept of it came from 1 guy and frankly there is very little scientific data relating to the concept of deliberate practice which by the way is virtually undefineable since ALL practice tecnique incorporates some or all of those principals to a greater or lesser degree.There simply is no way to truly define deliberate practice as distinct from “ordinary” practice.ALL practicing is deliberate.

  160. i’d like to know if it’s possible to deliberate practice 4-6 hours straight if you put a 2 hour break in between. Is it doable? this is a great article though and it motivates me to practice. Could you make an article on memorization tips? it would be a great help 🙂

    1. You could certainly try and see how it works out, but keep in mind that a) you want to make sure this is a sustainable practice, day after day, and b) you want to try to see if this is something that is maximally productive. As in, is this the most efficient and effective way to practice for you? Are you getting a lot done, or might you be able to learn more effectively by splitting things up into smaller chunks of time?

      And regarding memory, try this. =)

  161. Although I work in computers I do sing. This is a great article and have found it to be true. If I think and focus how I want each note to sound like and do it in my mind sitting in my armchair I am there. It reminds me of the guy that is incapacitated for several years and focuses through each hole on his favorite golf course. When he gets there he is at a perfect game.

  162. Great article! read it a few times… but HOW DID YOU SOLVE THE LEFT HAND PIZZICATO ISSUE? I’m very curious to hear what you felt physically was the problem and how you approached it. Thank you, Helena.

    1. Ha. It’s a bit tricky and requires coordination/timing, but involves doing the opposite of the normal “grip it and rip it” strategy of using sheer force. Basically, the goal is to keep the finger over the note really light, get more underneath the strings with your plucking fingers, and then depress the “note finger” a split second after you pluck with the “plucking finger.” This will allow you to get good clear sound and still get the pitch to speak. Easier to show than to explain, but I think you’ll be able to figure it out. =)

  163. Hi

    about the duration, you say 45 to 60 for adults. I think it’d be better to use pomodoro technique to focus at a better and deeper level.


  164. Great article – a good practice for me is three hours – which i break up in to segments – 1hr/2hrs – 2hrs/1hr – 1.5hr/1.5hrs – the key for me is practicing my practicing – i don’t think i will ever really figure this out it is a constantly evolving process

  165. Hello Dr. Kageyama:

    Thanks for your article. I want to get better at Chinese literature and kungfu. Also, I want to know how to get better at things in general. Is there an abstract method that can be applied to fields as disparate as music, athletics, science, etc.? Time and effort, sure. But effort alone isn’t enough; it must be intelligent and deliberate as well, right? I will continue my quest to improve in my fields of interest as well as trying to figure out the secret to improvement itself.

    John Yu

  166. I’ve been in quandary trying to practice ALL of my instruments. Currently I play dulcimer, ukulele, bass ukulele and upright bass. It’s had to pick one as my major instrument since I love them all. I’d say the big bass is the most popular with the people I play with, but I love the uke and the dulcimer too.
    I’d like to practice a couple of hours on each but I do work from home too. I appreciate your suggestions for maximizing my time.

  167. Could this be applied to other arts? I am an artist and a teacher of drawing and painting, and I am always appalled at how often students think that they don’t have to practice drawing from observation in order to create realistic scenes and characters from their imagination. I maintain that drawing (and I like the term “deliberate practice”) daily from life for even 20-30 minutes is necessary to build up the visual library as well as the manual dexterity to draw well, whether from life or imagination. But just drawing from imagination without the knowledge is really just doodling, and rather mindless. Doesn’t improve drawing skills, it just reinforces poor technique and bad habits.

    Kind of like practicing scales and polishing techniques for a musician – and working out for an athlete. Can’t run a marathon unless you train first.

    I’d love to get some more solid scientific information to incorporate into my teaching.

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  169. As a private music teacher, I definitely agree with the “practice smarter, not harder” approach and have often seen qualitative evidence among my students that it works. I encourage them to practice a song two ways: one for accuracy and one for fluency. For accuracy, the students are told to focus on measures or small phrases where they have had repeated difficulties or pause frequently. These phrases are practiced over and over until the student could “do them [correctly] in his or her sleep”. For fluency, I tell the students that once they decide to sit and play the piece in its entirety, the must keep going and not replay a measure to “fix” a mistake. This encourages them to learn how to recover in a performance situation where oftentimes, due to nerves or fingers simply slipping or a frog in the throat for voice students, mistakes will happen. A good musician will learn how to disguise these moments and it will not derail the rest of the performance. Finally, I tell my students that above all, it is more important to practice frequently rather than for long stretches of time as this “programs” the brain and fingers into achieving a sense of muscle memory with the piece so that it can become more automated. Everyday for a week for 10-30 for beginner to intermediate students is really ideal. Trying to make this time up by practicing 2 hours the day before a lesson will not result in successful “programming” for the student on the instrument and will often result in frustration which inhibits learning. The brain reaches its quota for sustained focus after about 20 minutes, and then it needs a break, meaning that practicing for hours continuously will oftentimes harm the student’s learning experience, not help them, and indeed for vocal students, could cause permanent damage to the instrument.

  170. Thanks for the great article. This is like the mother of all questions for beginners 🙂 and answered very well. Thanks.

  171. Your fingers have no brains
    You either got or you have not

    Timing Is essential and dedication.
    The answer Is to all questions Is ” Learn to walk before you start running”!!
    It has taken me a lifetime and I am still not perfect

  172. First time in your blog, enojyed the post. Thanks !

    I would just like to add a bit of information that might not be passed on frequently, because it’s not really talked about outside the community, but i find worth thinking about. Chinese and South-Korean e-sports team play consistently over 10h a day and attribute to that their clearly superior performance compared to other countries in that scene in a lot of games. I’ve known this scene for years and it is always the same story. It is not genetics since many mediocre playeres have moved from the U.S. or Europe to Korea, gone into their very hard working regimen of about 12h/day of structured practicing, doing nothing but talk about the game all day long, falling asleep thinking about strategies, dreaming about them, and become much better than his peers that stayed behind doing more relaxed schedules. It might be true that productivity, or rather efficiency, decreases after about 2-4h, but it even if productivity is 1%, it’s a 1% improvement that someone that isn’t practicing won’t get. This is something that top athletes have to take into account into their training, and for average joes when trying to quickly improve something (for example, total immersion in language learning, where someone only reads/speaks/writes/listens in the target language). So all day long practicing, while exhausting, might be better if the focus is in improving regardless of efficiency.

    As for the rest of us who have occupied lives, and for minor tasks, the conclusion that after 4h/day efficiency drops significantly is of a significantly greater importance because we only have so much aloted time devoted for some activities, plus socialising, taking care of our homes and so on.

    Thanks again for the post. Cheers !

  173. What a wonderful resource. Thank you. I hope that your blog is reaching beyond the classical world because this is something that musicians of all styles struggle with. I grew up playing rock and the message continually being passed on via the various magazines was that you had to practice 8-12 hours a day to be in the game. I wish this blog had been around then!

  174. Yes, Some good points there. As a professional I have only ever practiced a maximum of 2 hours a day but like you say, it’s more about quality not quantity. Make a plan and make it count 🙂

  175. I couldn’t agree more. Mindless practicing is like banging your head against a wall. After a while, all you get is a sore head. My teacher in music school always said to treat the practice room like a laboratory. Experiment and find what works and get rid of what doesn’t.

  176. Practice for practice sake is a waste of time – it’s what you learn that’s important.
    I try to utilise 4 areas of learning to practice:
    1 Active experimentation – lets get a feel for it
    2 Concrete experience – doing and observing
    3 Reflective observation – what did I get out of it – what needs to improve etc
    4 Abstract conceptualisation – check out what others have to say, read up on the subject in hand

  177. Hi, I’m going into seventh grade and I really want to sound good, but for some reason I keep on getting a really hollow airy sound. I feel like I’ve checked everything, from mouth position to posture to well anything you can adjust on a flute. But nothing seems to work! I get really frustrated and embarassed when this happens and then I just want to quit! Please give me some advice! Thank you sooo much! I really appreciate it!

    -Hollow Girl

  178. Been practicing guitar 10-12 hours a day for 6 month now. And to be honest i never had this feeling of improvement before. So what’s up with me?

  179. Great advice! I am so sad I didn’t come across you or a teacher like you when I was practicing piano in elementary school. I would have been a lot better today, I guess 🙂
    Have you heard about our platform already? It’s a online place for musicians to practice and make music together (in real-time or within song projects). I’d really appreciate your opinion on this. And if you wish we can feature you on our blog. All the best, Natalia.

  180. Does this apply to the musical “giants”, such as people like Charlie Parker, or Krystian Zimerman?

    I read somewhere that Parker practiced for 12 hours a day for a period of 3 years. I think he used heroin, though…

    Are the musical “giants” so much better than Joe Schmoe because of what they do in that 4 hours of practice?

  181. Great to have some insight about what other artists and psychologists have to say about practicing.

    Six years ago I started producing music, and sometimes it became an obsession to work on my projects.

    Practising 8 hours a day, seven days a week helped me become professional as a music producer, but I lost my social life by choosing this lifestyle.

    I think every artist/performer should work hard to be one of the best, but also consider taking a few days off once in a while. Just to hang out with friends or do something fun. It definitely helped me clear my mind and be better once I was in the studio again.

  182. Good article, makes you think! The main idea that I got from her – everyone should experiment sooner or later, in order to find his best option; and it will be individual. What suits one does not fit the other ; as a jazz pianist, I can pre-play 1. 5 to two hours in a row Hannon exercises with a specific purpose: “to wake ” the brain. This seems to contradict what is written here; but this works well for me – improvisation flows with greater ease. But this is a personal experience.

  183. This is a really interesting topic because I’ve struggled with it myself. You tend to think that more practice is always better. It doesn’t matter what you are doing as long as you are practicing more. I like how you come right out and say it. This is a waste of time. If you aren’t practicing with quality time and effort, you aren’t actually practicing. What’s worse, you might be practicing bad habits. Great post. It really gives me something to think about for my practice sessions.

  184. Great article! Thanks for sharing. Very helpful information specially for beginners like me. I agree with you. In practice sessions we should make goals so that we don’t lose focus and concentration. But sometimes it is difficult to follow the schedule in daily routine and I skip the practice session. Consistency is the key.

  185. It took me years to understand and accept that ‘learning how to learn’ is probably the most important thing to do — in almost any endeavor… Basically, it’s the opposite of ‘hacking’ at something (i.e., just throwing time at it)…

    In the discussion of ‘how many hours a day?’, one thing I’ve found is that it’s not really just the amount of time that a person practices, but equally important is the frequency….
    Obviously, it’s better to practice an hour a day, and not for 7 hours one day a week….
    But this applies as well during a single day; it’s better to practice in multiple sessions daily, rather than one long session…
    Well, that should be a pretty straightforward concept, but there must be some sort of ‘limits’ to it…
    In other words, certainly one hour, four times a day is better than four hours once a day…
    But is 15 minutes, sixteen times a day even better?…
    If taken ridiculously further to limits, it’s seems likely that 5 minutes, 48-times-a-day, might NOT be productive…
    On the other hand, HOW is a ‘session’ defined; no one can focus on productive ‘practice’ for the entire so-called ‘session’… So, if for example the session is one hour, it is not continuous anyway — and as such may be regarded as a group of shorter sessions…
    That leads to the notion that it’s just as important to how long the BREAKS are between productive sessions., and THAT may be the bigger component — breaks that are too long, or too short are detrimental, but is there any way to precisely determine how long they should be?.

  186. This part describes something I’ve always felt but was never able to articulate:

    > if you have done most of your practicing unconsciously, you really don’t know how to play your piece perfectly on demand. When your brain suddenly goes into full-conscious mode, you end up freaking out

    I know this is about guitar/music practice, but I used to play tennis competitively and had excellent results and impressive skills when practicing, yet would fall apart when the stakes were higher at tourneys. It was exactly this phenomenon of “unconscious” practice vs “full-conscious” mode. Earlier in my life I became pretty good at playing the piano but I would make many mistakes during performance, I never mastered the art of practicing more consciously. I teach a couple folks piano snd guitar now, I’m definitely going to make it a point to talk about this going forward. Do as I say and not as I do, I suppose!

  187. This article matches perfectly with a book I’ve just finished reading, “Talent is overrated”.

    I’m a guitar player and I confirm 100% what this article says. Personally, I found more useful a few hours of deliberate practice than playing mindlessly.

    A thing that helped me tremendously was to record myself and relisten to my performance, analyzing carefully each note I played.

  188. I am a guitar player, and I have a maxim that I believe is mostly true: “If I am using a metronome, I am practicing. If I’m not using a metronome, I’m playing.” I have known for some time that the metronome is a tool that helps me develop better timing. What I now realize after reading Dr. Kageyama’s article is that the metronome helps me focus on the piece I am practicing and helps keep my mind from wandering. I hadn’t thought about that aspect before.
    I look forward to more deliberate and focused practice sessions.

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