I’ve often thought much about efficiency when practicing music. I used to park myself in a practice room from dawn until midnight back at NEC and even before then. I would break my practice routines down into 15 minute increments, and have it all laid out on a schedule. Practice would occur for anywhere from 4 to 12 hours per day, including breaks of course. I was nuts, and obsessed. What can I say?
Nowadays time is limited. I have a day job. I have a family. I have classes that I take at night. But I remain obsessed. After the homework is done and the kids are in bed, I might have anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours to practice on any given weekday. What do you practice when time is limited?
This is an excellent question–I have grappled with this problem for a long time. The older you get, the more booked up your time becomes. I remember fondly my years spent while in music school, locked away in a practice room for the entire day. My favorite kind of day consisted of practice from morning until night. I would head over to the music school with a lunch and a book.
- 9-12 a.m. – scales, etudes, Sevcik bowing studies
- 12-1 p.m. – lunch
- 1-3 p.m. – Bottesini, Bach, other solo repertoire
- 3-4 p.m. – take a walk outside and stretch out
- 4-6 p.m. – orchestral repertoire
- 6-7 p.m. – coffee and muffin from the student union
- 7-9 p.m. – more orchestral repertoire
I’d then go out with friends and blow off some steam, feeling totally satisfied from my long day of practice.
Fast forward a few years, and I suddenly found those nine hours of practice dwindling down to two or three. Orchestra rehearsals, teaching, and other commitments have a way of eating away at your available practice time, until you find that instead of four relaxed practice sessions, you only have one relatively rushed practice session.
This limited time calls for much more efficiency. Instead of spreading out skill development over an entire day, with three hours devoted to technique, another three or four to orchestral repertoire, and still more to solo music, it is now necessary to cram all that work into one session.
While there is likely a good deal of less-than-efficient practicing in the aforementioned nine hour practice day, there is something to be said for really taking the time to allow a skill to develop and not rushing it. I know that those long days helped me immensely, preparing me for the more limited practice time I would face later in life.
Here’s the sticky question: how do you cope with even more limited time? What if you only have 15 or 20 minutes a day to practice? Is there any hope of improvement, or even basic skill maintenance? I’ll chime in on this topic in a future post (I’ve definitely got some strategies), but I’d love to hear thoughts from readers on practice schedule strategies and lengths.
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