How Long Should I Practice Every Day?
That depends on what your goals are! To answer this question, I will be referring to certain milestones in Suzuki Violin Book 1.
Generally, for my beginning students, those who are not yet through the Twinkle Variations, (the first tune in Book 1) I require that they spend 20 minutes per day, 6 days per week.
Once they can play Twinkle Variation ‘A’ very well, then the requirement goes up to about 25 minutes every day through the entire Twinkle Variations.
After the Twinkle Variations, you need about 30 minutes per day until you get to the Minuets. (Song number 13 and beyond) At that point, between 30 and 40 minutes per day is sufficient.
As you get more advanced, you have more mental tasks to practice, more pieces to review, and more techniques to practice, so your practice requirement will go up.
These are only rough guidelines. Depending on your goals and your natural ability, you might need much more practice time.
For instance, if you intend to make music a career, not just a hobby, then you will want to put in much more time. Just be cautious that your input is being matched by the OUTPUT, or by PROGRESS. If you are practicing your fingers off and you aren’t progressing rapidly, then you are either practicing wrong, or possibly you learn slowly. Either way, you need to know what is going on so that you can make realistic decisions concerning your musical goals.
I will give you myself as an example. I told you my musical story in “About Your Guide”. But in a nutshell, I was bound and determined to become a professional violinist. I loved music and never envisioned myself doing anything else. I practiced an INSANE amount, and got very little return for all my time and effort.
I have now decided (painfully) that this is a combination of misguided, unfocused practice habits, and an average natural ability. I was not endowed with a ton of inherent musical ability. Everything I learned to do, I worked for it. But, even with those strikes against me, I was still able to make it in the professional world, making my living playing the instrument I love! I probably paid a higher price for this than most, but here I am, just the same.
The general rule of thumb to make sure you are practicing correctly is: What did you get for the time you just spent? If you can answer that question with a real accomplishment, then you probably practiced properly. Ask yourself if the time spent was worth the accomplishment. If it was, then you are on the right track!
Some other tips for smart practicing
Learn to FIND THE PROBLEM. ISOLATE the problem from everything else. This takes work, but these questions will help you to find the problem:
- Where EXACTLY does the problem occur in the music? If you can answer this question, you are halfway there. Determine whether it’s just a difficult spot, or if you need to dig further to correct a problem with your technique.
- Is it your left hand? If it is, you need to determine if it’s just a wrong note, or if it’s just out of tune.
- Is it your right hand? Sometimes students miss notes just because the bow isn’t crossing strings in time. Check your string crossings, and where your bow is at on the string. Make sure your bow is straight! Make sure your bow weight, bow speed, and bow placement are all correct. (see article on Tone Production Simplified)
- Is it bad tone? This is mostly a BOW problem, but if your left hand isn’t pressing the string down firmly enough, that can create bad, squeaky tone. If it’s not your left hand, then see the tip above. If it IS your left hand, practice slowly and re-teach your left hand to properly nail the string down.
- Is it just a wrong note? This is a left hand problem.
- Is it out of tune? Left hand problem. Check your tapes if you use tapes. Play SLOWLY and figure out where the right spot is. FEEL that spot, and teach your hand to recognize that spot. Try to nail the right spot COLD TURKEY.
Retain what you practice
If you work hard on fixing a problem, you want it to STAY fixed. You don’t want to have to re-learn that spot every day, and forget it the next time. Here is how you can RETAIN what you practice.
Once you fix a problem, you need to leave it alone for 5 minutes, then RETURN to the problem and see if you can still do it right. If you can’t, re-work it. It will come more quickly this time. Then, leave it alone for another 5 minutes, play something else to “erase the muscle memory”. When 5 minutes is up, try it again, until you can nail the problem FIRST TRY. The next practice day, try the problem spot again, and so on, until you can consistently play the problem spot correctly on the first try.
The real test comes when you put the problem spot IN CONTEXT, like when you are playing through the WHOLE PIECE. Too many people are in the habit of nailing the problem spots on the second try. They are playing along, they hit the wrong note, they immediately fix it and they move on.
NO! You think this isn’t going to happen in performance? It will! That’s how you practiced it! You have to be able to play it correctly, IN CONTEXT, the first try, COLD TURKEY. If you can’t, then work on it the way I described until you can. This is TIME WELL SPENT, and a good investment.