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I am not a professional musician. Three years ago I began to play electric guitar. I have tried to practice systematically and seriously for approximately 1 hour to 1.5 hours a day which is divided up into three areas of focus:

1) Sightreading
2) Technical excercises
3) Improvisation and playing for fun

I mention this as an example situation. I am happy with the progress made given the time and effort I was able to invest.

It is very hard to muster the energy at the end of a busy day and practice seriously, but at the end of each session there is a sense of achievement and satisfaction.

Given this, I was recently presented with an opinion that a 'measly' 1 - 1.5 hours a day would be nowhere near enough to achieve serious results.

I know this topic might be very broad and undefined but I am hoping to sample the range of opinions on this topic from anyone willing to share their view and experience.

So to be clear, this is not about the kind of practice time a motivated youngster or aspiring professional musician ( without other conflicting commitments ) could or should afford to dedicate.

Rather I am after the experiences of non-professional BUT serious musicians who aspire nevertheless to improve their performance and musicianship on their chosen instrument and in their chosen genre.

My own view is that when faced with time constraints one should hunker down, take a longer term view BUT make sure that

i) practice happens regularly for whatever length of time one is able to afford..(...given one's priorities..children, family, careers...e.t.c. )

ii) practice time is structured in a way to make the best use of the time available

In summary when time is scarce, one might be able to make up for it by dedicated, focused and efficient practice habits

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I like this and upvoted. But when reading this again I'm wondering what is your exact question? –  Ulf Åkerstedt Oct 9 '13 at 21:15
    
I've been playing guitar for 45 years or so, and only recently decided to actually LEARN the instrument (I want to play jazz as a part-time vocation in retirement). I found a good teacher, and we are doing EXACTLY what you describe above. I've made great progress over 5 years practicing the 1 to 1.5 hours a day, focusing on exactly the areas you mention. I've achieved serious results. The key is the quality of your practice, more than the quantity. I think you're on the right track, and should ignore the nay-sayers. –  PSU Oct 14 '13 at 21:45
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4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

These are all good points, and the question of appropriateness of practice here is valid. I'm going to share some views here that hopefully yourself and other amateur (that is, non-professional, not lacking in skill) musicians can adopt in their attitude and approach to their instrument.

  • Be Patient. Any musician worth their weight in salt will agree that part of the zen of practicing is to rejoice in the small goals achieved over time. No one will be a virtuoso in one practice session, and for some, not being a virtuoso may not be a desired goal, which is perfectly acceptable. So if you miss a practice session because your children had a soccer game or shopping or etc etc, don't beat yourself up - there is always time to make your way back to the instrument.
  • Be Realistic. Think about what you're trying to achieve, and tailor your practice sessions to meet that goal. A very good pianist friend of mine told me he used to practice 7+ hours a day when he was young, but now, he hardly has to warm up because his needs have changed and the technique is developed. Similarly, if you're goal in playing guitar is to have fun and play with your friends, there is no reason to pressure yourself to practice several hours a day. Think about it like exercising: people training for the Olympics have a different exercise schedule than people who go for a walk or ride a bike just to maintain their well-being. Olympics workouts aren't best for everyone, and neither is practicing a million hours a day.
  • Break Up Your Session. If you're crunched for time and have a lot of commitments, it doesn't make sense to try and block out a solid hour-and-a-half. Instead, a suggestion would be to practicing your most cognitively demanding exercises in the morning while you are fresh and can focus, that way you can save the fun stuff for the afternoon / evening. Having three, fifteen-minute sessions throughout the day will be more beneficial than a single long session.
  • Make Clear Goals. Have clearly defined weaknesses you want to address every day and have a clear plan of how to address them. By knowing what you want out of your practice session and how to achieve it before hand you'll save time and won't need to spend as much time practicing.
  • Have Fun. Above all else, remember why you're playing. In some ways I actually have more respect and admiration for amateur musicians because they carve out time during their day to pursue something that they love, instead of career musicians looking for gigs. You're time for music is so limited, it would be a shame to spend all of it worrying about technical exercises and whether or not you're getting "good enough."

As an aside to the person who mentioned your "measly" practice time wouldn't be enough - it all depends on what you're trying to do. If you're trying to get into a top orchestra, then I'd be inclined to agree. If your goal is trying to learn a song so you can play for friends, family, or yourself, then they are being foolish. I have friends that practice for 5+ hours a day and complained about it - I practiced an hour a day and achieved the same skill level. There is no substitute for effective time management, clearly defined goals, and a passionate, enthusiastic disposition for hard work.

Hope that helps.

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Hey thanks a lot 'jjmusicnotes', great answer. In particular that part on 'breaking up' sessions and doing cognitively demanding parts earlier in the day. This view seems to re-enforce the heuristic that quality is better than quantity, i.e. efficient and focused practicing might be worth more minute by minute than brute force marathons –  darbehdar Oct 4 '13 at 5:02
    
@darbehdar: Indeed this is an excellent answer. Your conjecture that quality is better than quantity is supported by brain research. Many people learn skills best by changing focus every fifteen minutes to allow the brain time to encode the results of the practice into long term storage. In my youth when I would practice hard pieces for more than an hour I would find that my brain was learning to make mistakes. If you find you're making the same mistake over and over again then cut your losses, do something else, and come back to it when you're fresh later. –  Eric Lippert Oct 4 '13 at 15:44
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"A 'measly' 1 - 1.5 hours a day would be nowhere near enough to achieve serious results" presupposes a fixed timeline. You have a lifetime. Also, that person is a naysaying snob. Avoid. –  horatio Oct 4 '13 at 15:46
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Given this, I was recently presented with an opinion that a 'measly' 1 - 1.5 hours a day would be nowhere near enough to achieve serious results.

The guy that told you this is either misguided or thinks you want to become some form of a professional.

For someone in your scenario, that's essentially just playing for fun (but still taking it seriously) I'd say that length of practice time was more than enough, and if you push yourself to much longer than that you run the risk of becoming bored and frustrated with the instrument, which is never a good thing. To give you an idea, I play piano and violin, and reached a reasonable standard (grade 8 on both) practising both for, generally speaking, no longer than half an hour a day. Many friends in the same ballpark as me have practised for similar times, so I don't think you need to worry unless you're really planning to reach a very high level very quickly.

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Hi there, many thanks for your feedback and encouragement. I kind of had a feeling that efficiency might play a role as well as the level of mastery and timeframe in which to attain it –  darbehdar Oct 13 '13 at 17:17
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I would add a fourth area of focus which I think will help you greatly in the other three: theory. And the best part about studying music theory is, you don't have to do it in the same timeframe as the rest of your practice; what I mean by this is, a limitation to practice is not just the time, but also that you have to be with your instrument (or have your instrument with you) - if you go away for the weekend and you can't bring your guitar with you, or if you spend too much time at work, etc then really sometimes you can't practice because even if you have an hour to spare, you don't have your guitar with you. BUT you can study theory because that only means reading (and understanding obviously), and you can do that anywhere: on the way to/from work (unless you're driving), during lunchtime, late at night, etc.

I'm also very constrained with my time to practice (I play bass and Stick), and really what I often do when I can't play is review the theory I know, learn some more, and figure out how I can apply this knowledge into my playing; if you're already familiar with your instrument, you can visualize for example how to play a major scale in different keys, how many ways can you play a major/minor/7th/whatever chord in different positions, open strings/barred chords etc etc. Then you have something to look forward to when you can actually spend some time on the instrument.

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I'd agree, but only when the player has something to hang it all on.After the OP's 3 years playing, O.K. But for a beginner, the theory will probably not mean much, as the practical part still won't have taken off.Better to wait, and read about it later. Then the light bulb moments happen and progress made, 'cos physical and theoretical parts combine. –  Tim Oct 4 '13 at 15:19
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Hi there Chochos, in addition to practicing, I actually do 10 minutes a day ear training using the Functional freeware eartrainer. Also I've made a habit of writing the notes of the diatonic scale in three randomly chosen keys on staff paper and to figure out the key signature. I also practice writing down three guitar scale patterns from memory on a daily basis. I fit these activities into my day so that they never take up more than 5-10 minutes. –  darbehdar Oct 13 '13 at 17:18
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My approach to this is, compensate for virtuosity with creativity.

I am a pianist, and like you, I have lots of other commitments and find it difficult to even get that one hour daily. I know I can never play like the guy who practices for eight hours.

But when that guy, locked away in his room with the piano, ploughs away developing speed and technique, I am out in the world collecting unique experiences; I face problems at work, meet people with their own quirks, taste different cuisines, learn new words...

This gives me stories to tell, that my eight hour counterpart can never learn in his cave. And if I can tell these stories with my instrument, it will give my playing a flavour, the virtuoso can't simply match.

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