aaaaa Ah, the age-old practice hours question. First and foremost, how you practice is always more important than the number of hours spent. Trying to make up for poor practice with time won't work. Plus every situation and instrument will require different amounts of time. But let’s say you subscribe to this blog and you have got your practice dialed in to maximum efficiency, how many hours a day should you practice?
aaaaa Check out the responses from my unofficial survey of Oberlin wind and string faculty. Daily practice recommendations for a music career by age group:
aaaaa The big takeaway for me is that efficient practice is a real thing. It reduces the amount of time needed per day, no matter the number of hours you think one needs total - notice the shift towards the left from the 2nd chart to the 3rd chart. On top of that, many professors believe only 2-3 efficient hours/day is enough to have a career in music. Let that be the motivation to work on your practice! That’s not a lot. It doesn’t require immense sacrifice in other areas of ones life. The hard part is establishing those efficient and effective practice habits to make that 2-3 hours enough.
aaaaa I also find that it’s almost impossible to learn technical material reliably without efficient practice. Not just because of the inordinate amount of time needed, the music somehow never quite locks in unless I practice efficiently. The best technical players I know learn music very quickly and get away with relatively few hours of practice. People will attribute this to talent, but it’s not. The former principal bassoonist of the Chicago Symphony, David McGill, said if you need to practice much more than 3 hours a day, you probably aren’t doing it right. One of the most successful auditioners I know starts preparing for an audition only 3 weeks out. He might practice 3-5 hours a day at that late stage but that’s it. He just gets the music learned and he’s done.
aaaaa FFor many of us we just love practice. Perhaps it was/is a form of escape from the difficulties in our lives, or simply a gratifying space that rewards hard work. Often for me it is a much needed respite from mental, emotional, or social stress. It's a place where we can play, relax, or be ourselves. It can be meditative and healing. For me it boosted my self esteem and made me feel productive. If practice is all of these good things, it makes perfect sense to spend as much time practicing as possible.
aaaaa Be careful with this: The incentives are backwards, rewarding you for spending more time practicing, encouraging you to be inefficient. At a certain point in your life, inefficient practicing will lead to undue sacrifice and struggle, and ultimately put a cap on how well you can learn and perform technical material.
aaaaa The most successful weeks of practice in my music career have often been the busiest. One week I was playing two different concerts, only had about 1.5 hours a day to practice, including time on stage in the cacophony before rehearsal. And yet I played my best audition ever at the end of that week. Contrast that with the times I was on holiday break as a student and practiced many hours but somehow could barely play my music when I got back to school. If you are 15-22 years old and you master efficient practice now, you will unlock so many musical opportunities for yourself. Do your 2, 3, even 4 efficient hours/day and go enjoy life. This is the way.
How much do you practice per day? What have you noticed about your practice efficiency?
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TLDR You can become a professional musician with 2-3 hours of practice a day if you maximize the efficiency of your practice.