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06 July 2017

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How much should I practise?

How much should I practice? Will someone who practices 8 hours a day necessarily be better than someone who does only 2 hours?

There are many theories about how much one should practice and how often. 

For example, on an ABRSM forum I recently read, someone advised 15 minutes a day for Grade 1, up to an hour and a half per day for Grade 8.

However, I think this question itself completely misses the point. Of course, 15 minutes a day would not be enough for a higher grade, but does that mean that someone who does 8 hours a day will be better than someone who does only two?

Not necessarily..........

Much more important than how much practice you do, is the quality of your practice. Just analyse for a moment now, your last practice session. What percentage of the time did you spend playing stuff that you already know quite well? Many students, for example will always start playing a piece from the beginning even though that is the section they have been learning the longest and know the best.

Here's an idea you could try. Imagine you have a long piece you have been working on and you could divide it into four sections A, B, C and D. No doubt you started with the A section and have been working your way through chronologically until now, where you are just learning the D section. Start your practice each day with the D section. Then do the C and D sections together. Then try from the B section to the end and finally play through from the beginning once only. This method will ensure that the least familiar section gets the most time.

Whatever method you use, make sure you spend the most time on the thing that needs the most work. Oh and don't forget sight reading!! This is often a student's lowest mark in the exam. Why? Because they spent the least time developing that skill.

I hear from a lot of my students, especially ones who are in the middle of final exams in school, during this summer term, that they have very little time. I have some sympathy, but I am a firm believer, that if you really want to do something, you will find the time to do it. Back in the day when they were called "O" levels instead of G.C.S.E.'s, I took grade 8 on two instruments, within a week of each other in the same term as I took nine "O" Levels. Yes it was in the days before internet, ipads, Xbox, mobile phones and social media, but still, it took self discipline and that motivation came from the desire to succeed. I would start by going through the complete scale list every day and regularly use a metronome on technically difficult passages to build up the speed. Each session had a goal, it wasn't just a play-through.

That said, it is advisable to break one's practice time up into smaller sections. Your mind will be fresher if you take a break and you could even cause yourself "injury" by practising too long in one go. If you are doing other exams at the same time, music could also be a break from such academic pursuits and vice versa.

So instead of me prescribing exactly how long you should practise, which you might have been expecting when you saw the title, I would prefer that you went away with more thought about how you practice.

Please let me know in the comments below your experience. How much do you do and how do you structure your practice? And finally, if you found this post useful, please share on your social media, without of course, getting too distracted by your iphone and forgetting the piano sitting quietly in the corner.

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