How Much Do I Have to Practice Piano?

How Much Do I Have To Practice Piano?

 

Practice is the thing that turns a potential musician into a successful musician.  But while most teachers show students how to play, very few teach them how to practice.  Let’s take a look at what practicing is, and how to do it in a way that makes us better rather than just tired.

 

Table of Contents

What is Practicing?

How Often Should You Practice?

How Long Can You Go Without Practicing

 

 

#1 What Is Practicing?

 

Practicing is organized self-learning.

 

That’s got two parts to it:  Organized - This means that in some sense the time you are spending at the piano is meaningful to you.  You have organized your time to do something specific.

 

Self-learning:  That means you’re directing the learning yourself.  During a lesson, I’m directing the learning.  When you get home, you have to be your own teacher and know what you want to learn for the day.

 

So if all you’re doing is running through a piece while you think about lunch, I’d be hard-pressed to call that practicing.  It’s just pretending to practice…killing time…

 

Ideally, you should be paying attention to what happens when you run the piece, or doing parts of the piece instead of the whole piece.  We’ll get to specifics later on.  The important thing is you’re attempting to learn something, and you’re the one deciding what, and if, you’re learning.

 

#2 How Often Should You Practice?

Welcome to the hornet’s nest!

picture of hornet

If I’m going to be taken to task for any part of this blog, it will be this one.  Teachers have very different opinions about how much practice is necessary.  I won’t pretend to have the definitive answer.

 

What I will have is one answer, and I’ll make the case for it the best I can.

 

If you are taking weekly lessons, you should practice as much as it takes to achieve your learning goal for the week.  If you achieve your goal, that was the right amount of practicing.  If you fail to achieve your goal, it may be that you practiced too little, or the goal may have been too difficult.

 

There are some teachers who subscribe to the belief that students should practice a fixed amount of time every day, no matter what.  The rationale behind this idea is that students who practice a lot are able to move more quickly into the realm of “I can play.”  They also develop a good work-ethic right from the start.

 

I believe asking students to practice a fixed amount of time no matter the goal or circumstances is not only asking for trouble, but is counterproductive. Few professionals practice a set amount of time.  We practice according to how much time we have available to us, and what we have to get accomplished in the near term.

 

Learning how much you need to practice is actually part of the process of learning the piano.  A good pianist knows how much to practice, when to keep going, when to stop. If you want to get better, you’ll have to learn that too.

 

Sadly, not all teachers offer information on how to practice, only that you “should.”

 

I do believe that it’s worthwhile to have a general guideline for practice:  20-30 minutes a day, six days a week is a great goal for most students over 7 years old.  As a student, you should be keeping track in a journal of how much practicing you are doing, how many days a week, compared to that guideline.  There may be lots of reasons you fall short.

 

If you are an adult student and you only have two or three days a week to practice, or if you are the parent of a 5-year old child who is not a piano prodigy, then you may prefer to adhere to shorter and fewer practice days for the time being.  You can make meaningful progress accomplishing easier goals.  It will just be slower progress.  That is only a problem if you are impatient for results, in which case you should set harder goals and practice more!

 

But then the decision to practice more is your decision, and it comes out of a healthy desire to excel.

 

I will add that if you have more work than you enjoy, if you have a goal that takes 30 minutes and you would prefer a goal that takes 5 minutes, that you have a conversation with your teacher.  Not all teachers can or will accommodate this request.  You’ll have to find a teacher that cares more about the learning process than the attainment of learning milestones.

 

#3 How Long Can You Go Without Practicing?

 

Violinist Jascha Heifetz is crediting with saying about practice:  “When I skip a day, I notice a difference in my playing.  After two days, the critics notice, and after three days, so does the audience.”

Picture of Jasha Heifetz

It sounds like any day off for a musician is dangerous.

 

This is true if you are working to polish something to perfection.  Perfecting a piece is like climbing a high mountain.  Staying on top requires effort and focus.  If you’re preparing for a performance, an audition or an exam, it’s best to do some kind of practicing every day, based on your goals.

 

In terms of developing your skills, the question is more nuanced.

 

When you’re first learning something, it’s somewhat fragile.  Like memorizing vocabulary for a new language, it may be hard to keep everything in your head without lots of reinforcement.

 

After a while the thing you learn becomes a part of who you are.  Most of us can count on still being able to walk after a week of lying in bed.  Similarly, you can walk away from the piano for a week, or even several months, without losing your essential skills.  Coming back after a long absence, you may find you’re a little rusty, but you’ll be able to get back to your original ability in less time than it took to attain it.

 

As a matter of fact, not practicing is an important part of practicing.

 

Rest should be a part of your practice routine: Small rests during practice sessions; Taking a day off every week; taking a couple of months in the summer to think about other things or play different music.  These things not only feel good, they ultimately assist your brain to make you a better learner.

 

Watch this video to see what happens when you rest for just 10 seconds!  

 

We needn’t be afraid of our skill rising and falling.  Like the stock-market, we’re better off accepting the short-term rises and falls in favor of a slow, gradual increase in our ability.  If we want huge short-term gains, there’s a time and a way to work for that, but it shouldn’t be our only way of thinking about learning.

 

 

I hope this blog has made you want to practice.  Even more, I hope it’s made you want to study with me!  Visit https://abetterpianoteacher.com to find out more about my approach to learning the piano!

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