How Many Hours Should You Practice Everyday?

How Many Hours Should You Practice Everyday?

It might sound counter-intuitive, but I encourage people to practice less and then stop practicing— because it helps.

Maybe you’ve tried and gradually faded off practicing your music. Family, friends, things get in the way.

I spent 8 hours practicing the way to park a car perfectly (yes, you read that right– I don’t have a license yet), and fully realized something that many people, including myself, often miss when trying to master a skill.

When would focussing on quantity (not quality), help us improve more?

Why should we focus on quantity (not quality)?

Simply because quantity leads to quality. The more you do, the more you refine mistakes, the more you learn.

Let’s get this straight: we’re not ignoring quality, we’re aiming for higher quality, quickly. By doing more.

In his book Art & Fear, David Bayles describes a case study where a ceramics teacher divided his class into two groups: the group on the left side of the studio would be graded solely on their quantity of work, and those on the right solely on their quality.

On the last day, the teacher brought in a bathroom scale to grade the “quantity” group; 50 pounds of pots gives an “A”, 40 pounds gives a “B”, and so on.

The other group, being graded on “quality”, only needed to produce one pot– the perfect one– to get an “A”.

Interestingly, the group that produced the best work was the “quantity” group, that had made the most pots.

Bayles concludes:

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

What this means for musicians

Let’s take one of my favourite composers, Chopin. If I’m learning how to play rubato and I practice one piece until I’m dead (tired), then I might have a 1 piece in my “repertoire,” and not a lot of quality.

No fancy graphics today– quantity over quality. ;)

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If I focus on learning as many of Chopin’s pieces as possible, I might not start with great results, but I’ll fix my mistakes for the next piece, and the next, and the next. I’ll learn rubato more quickly, than if I were obsessing over one piece.

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The raw talent comes after you get past the common mistakes that trip everyone up. You can’t get past that if you’re obsessing over the first piece.

In his song Spaceship, Kanye West (a college drop-out who’s now worth $20 million) claims to have “done 5 beats everyday for 3 summers.” He learned most of his skill for music production by doing it.

This goes for anything we’re learning: teaching music, writing, designing, or even composing music. Just start– there isn’t a perfect time.

How many hours a day should I practice?

If we’re robots in a twisted world, we’d practice as many hours as possible.

In our world, it’s as simple as telling ourselves to practice 34 minutes a day. Composing one piece of music a week. Setting a small goal. Then motivating ourselves to do it.

There is no magic number for practicing– it depends on the goal you’re working towards.

If your goal is to master a skill, then begin by going through as much as possible. Don’t yo-yo practice a 5 hours every few months– just do a little, but consistently. It takes an average of 21 days to form a habit, so it should be easier to get up and practice after the first hurdle.

A girl named Karen Cheng taught herself to dance by doing it for 100 days. She didn’t wait around for the perfect role model or music (and neither should you!)– she filmed her progress in her video that went viral.

When Karen Cheng was a project manager at Microsoft, she realized that she wanted to become a designer. She rushed home after work everyday to master the design skills on her own. It took 6 months for her to get hired as a designer at Exec, beating out the 4-year design school grads.

I’ve spent a few months learning how to drive. After rear-ending two things in the parking lot, my reflexes aren’t so spidery on the brake anymore– those small bumps didn’t even hurt– driving is no longer terrifying.

Quality and quantity matter, but at different points in time– focus on quantity when you need to learn.

What’s one skill you’re trying to improve? I’d love to hear about it– join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

5 Comments

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5 Comments

  • Reply Jonathan Coon May 28, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    I really don’t think you should practice several pieces in short periods of time. I been playing piano for eight years. Classical only. I am self taught and had a severe brain injury when I was little. I have short term memory loss. I have to practice eight hours a day just to remember the pieces I know. I think my own method works for me only. Everyone learns different. I don’t tell people how they should practice because everyone is different. I didn’t learn hot cross buns. I learned Bach. On my time

    • Reply Grace Miles May 29, 2014 at 9:46 am

      Hey Jonathan, thanks for the comment. As we were discussing before, everyone is absolutely different.

      Of course, there are ways to make learning process easier and quicker as well, simply because we’ve tried it so many other ways already.

      For example, if someone asks, “What’s the best way to trip and land on your face without it hurting?” You might find ways to do a flip or something. But then, why don’t you not trip in the first place?

      In the example you mentioned, Bach vs Hot Cross Buns: there are reasons that we teach Hot Cross Buns before Bach. They serve different purposes; Hot Cross Buns is for learning intonation and learning basic notes. Bach is for learning rhythm, coordination, steadiness. If you don’t know the basic notes, it’s hard to get the rhythm and coordination down.

      Also, you might know that when a kid learns read, she goes through hundreds and hundreds of books. She doesn’t stay stuck on one book for a year, because she will learn best by going through different stories. It’s the same thing here– it won’t do to get stuck.

      Have a great day!

  • Reply BlogStarter June 1, 2014 at 11:00 am

    How about the idea of a 80% rule?

    Going from measure to measure and once you get it right, not trying to get it perfect but going on to the next measure.

    I am just working on a piece and just in the moment I am thinking about, moving on to the next, or working with the current measure for another day. But there wouldn’t be a lot of potential to grow with that. It just would be something for the part of me who aims perfection.

    I also know from experience that one meassure could kill the whole piece, thinking about quitting it, because my mind has an expectation how it should sound and it seems like I am soo far way from it, that this could be a reason to quit.

    Strange mind! Don’t follow and trust it! It’s a trap =)!

  • Reply fay November 9, 2016 at 9:33 am

    I have just started learning the piano at age 53, and was doing I think fairly well, regular practise session of anywhere between 10-20 minutes around 3-4 days a week as well as my 1/2 weekly lessons. I went to visit family in England for 2 weeks no practise at all and now feel as though I have gone right back to the beginning. I am determined to learn the piano and to be able to play well, as its been a lifelong goal- it just feels frustrating- but practice, practice, practice I will get there

  • Reply Catryna January 6, 2017 at 1:35 am

    I have been playing the piano for 9 yrs now and am currently preparing for my Grade 8 Royal Conservatory exam (The Royal Conservatory is what Canadians go through for anyone who doesn’t know) I practice roughly 3 hrs a day and then do 1 hr or either theory or ear training along side that. I don’t believe someone will achieve anything by not practicing as the saying goes “practice makes perfect”. I also play quite a bit of Chopin pieces as he is my favourite composer which take a lot of practice to perfect. I wouldn’t be able to manage doing several pieces in short amounts of time. I find it a lot easier to be given a longer period and a couple songs. I’m just sharing my thoughts, everyone is different and practices differently.

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