This is something I struggled with a great deal, especially when I first started to learn classical guitar.
How many hours a day should I be practicing?
When I first started playing classical I had already been playing rock and blues for approximately 10 years but I was never really a “serious” guitarist and the whole concept of sitting down to practice was somewhat foreign to me. Before if I wanted to learn a tune, I picked up my Les Paul, threw on a recording and in half an hour or so I had it down and that was that…
Now all of a sudden I was in this weird structured world of “sheet music”, and “fingernails”, and “proper right-hand technique”, and “interpretations” and all I could think was how overwhelming it all was… honestly I felt a little lost.
My solution? Practice as much as possible. The first 3 years of my degree were literally filled with 10 hour days of just hammering out arpeggios and trying to “figure it all out”.
Of course this led to even more confusion, and stage-fright (something I had never really experienced before playing classical guitar), and a VERY sore back/shoulders.
As time went on I started to be able to relax a bit, but more importantly I started to understand what it means to “practice”. You see, practice isn’t simply a series of repetitive finger wiggling but it should be literally carried out as an experiment in a lab.
I have quite a few thoughts on the matter but they’re pretty much all summed up (and then some) in this great article I just read over at BulletProofMusician.com (a great site btw). This should be on the recommended reading list of every undergrad university music program regardless of the students instrument. Teachers – share this with your students young and old!
Here is an excerpt from the article:
So what is deliberate, or mindful practice? Deliberate practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, which is, for lack of a better word, scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of experimentation with clear goalsand hypotheses. Violinist Paul Kantor once said that the practice room should be like a laboratory, where one can freely tinker with different ideas, both musical and technical, to see what combination of ingredients produces the result you are looking for.
Deliberate practice is often slow, and involves repetition of small and very specific sections of your repertoire instead of just playing through (e.g. working on just the opening note of your solo to make sure that it “speaks” exactly the way you want, instead of playing the entire opening phrase).
Deliberate practice involves monitoring one’s performance (in real-time, but also via recordings), continually looking for new ways to improve. This means really listening to what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong. For instance, was the first note note sharp? Flat? Too loud? Too soft? Too harsh? Too short? Too long?
Let’s say that the note was too sharp and too long with not enough of an attack to begin the note. Well, how sharp was it? A little? A lot? How much longer was the note than you wanted it to be? How much more of an attack did you want?
Ok, the note was a little sharp, just a hair too long, and required a much clearer attack in order to be consistent with the marked articulation and dynamics. So, why was the note sharp? What did you do? What do you need to do to make sure the note is perfectly in tune every time? How do you ensure that the length is just as you want it to be, and how do you get a consistently clean and clear attack to begin the note so it begins in the right character?
This is the first time I’ve been to BulletProofMusician.com but this is simply an excellent article. It’s a bit of a read but really, take the time and go through it – you’ll thank me!