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?)

Or simpler yet, check out this model from Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code.
  1. Pick a target
  2. Reach for it
  3. Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach
  4. Return to step one

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.

The 7-Day Deliberate Practice Challenge!

If the idea of deliberate practice makes sense intellectually, but it’s been a little trickier to figure out how to actually put it into action, you might find the 1-week Deliberate Practice Challenge to be a helpful way to get started with this.

It’s a 17-page PDF, with specific daily exercises and clear, step-by-step instructions to help you incorporate deliberate practice into your daily practice, and get more of your practice to “stick” from one day to the next.

Pricing is “pay-what-you-want.” Meaning, if $11 feels like a fair price, then $11 it is. Or if you feel like the challenge is worth $4.96, then it’s yours for $4.96. Either way, I hope it makes for a funner and more engaging week of practice!

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice,
Why Are Performances Still so Hit or Miss?

It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.

Performing at the upper ranges of your ability under pressure is a unique skill – one that requires specific mental skills, and perhaps a few other tweaks in your approach to practicing too. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades; if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d like to help you do the same.

Click below to learn more about Beyond Practicing – a home-study course where you’ll explore the 6 skills that are characteristic of top performers. And learn how you can develop these into strengths of your own. And begin to see tangible improvements in your playing that transfer to the stage.

Comments

458 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!
        //Greger

      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.

    Thanks

    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.

      Thanks!

      Noa

  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…

      Noa

      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 christianhowes.com 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.

    liz

  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:
      http://www.sevenstring.org/forum/music-theory-lessons-techniques/108876-steve-vais-martian-love-secrets.html

      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)
      http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f140/practice-233652/#post2889719
      (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.

      Recall

      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 (http://billplakemusic.org/) 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DhkbSBxPYcU 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.