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I am not a musician but instead draw a lot of inspiration from music and musicians for my pursuits (writing, mathematics, running). This week after seeing/hearing Itzhak Perlman play and conduct at the Philadelphia Orchestra, I viewed some of his pedagogical videos on YouTube. One one of the videos, he proclaimed, "There is absolutely such a thing as over-practicing." He continued by saying something to the effect of, "Five hours is about the maximum for daily practice time." He further insisted that, within each hour, ten minutes should be allocated for break time.

Are there prominent musicians who are known to disagree with Mr. Perlman's over-practicing philosophy?

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I have never come close to reach dangerous levels that are close to the limit of over-practicing. I think I might be at times close to the limit of "under-practicing" though... –  awe Nov 25 '13 at 12:21

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Off the top of my head, I would be very concerned with the potential for repetitive stress injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome. Over time, mental fatigue will start to set in, and technique will suffer. As in any discipline, there is significant potential for burn-out, where motivation starts to decline.

The sole advantage is that the musician will be able to complete more work on the music in a shorter period of time. As in any other field, like writing, weight training, or medicine, the threshold for when practice turns more harmful than beneficial is highly personal. To declare a single time that applies to all musicians, or even a single musician in all situations, is nonsensical. It always depends on what needs to be done and how much time there is to do it.

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I think the question of the maximum number of allowed practicing hours each day can be different for everyone. But I don't think it is possible to say that "over"-practicing may be a good thing. Any practice implies some stress on the body, or on the mind, and it is absolutely necessary to allow them some time "to heal", so they will be available the next day, and won't break at any time.

Then, I think it is possible to work on your instrument for 8 hours a day if you can have a few breaks included in your daily planning. But you need some time also to let new information, or new habits make their way on your mind too. And more than anything, what is important is that it is better to work a little each day, with specific goals and a great focus, than to work 2 days a week for 8 hours consecutively... It's even more important when you are a beginner.

And there is not such a thing than "good over-practicing" by its very definition. But you can have "good practices" at a professional level implying to spend a lot of hours each day practicing.

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I heard a piece about Stéphane Grappelli on the radio the other day that mentioned how astounded he was at the amount of practise fellow musicians did, and that he'd sheepishly admit to never practising! I cannot see this as a good idea but it is another data point. It's backed up by Nigel Kennedy writing about him in the Guardian: "The strangest thing about Stéphane was that I never, ever saw him practise". Perhaps for him the sheer amount of performing he did stood in place of practise.

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Is it even possible to practice more than five hours a day? After doing all that practice you should be pretty tired and needing of some rest. If by you do by some miracle have the power to continue the quality of the practice is not going to be high. It should then be better to go and do something else.

Also the amount of time is of secondary importance to the quality of the practice. Three hours of high quality practice is definitely better than five hours of doodling.

(2) For the musicians out there: how does Mr. Perlman's advice align with your experience?

This musician can tell you he is correct. Five hours with then minutes breaks in between the hours is absolutely the maximum you can do in a day. If you do that for two or three years your progress will be immense.

I also think that for the long term motivation of the student it should be better to not have a extreme practice schedule. It is also worth noting that these five hours a day philosophy is and should be directed at students at a Collegiate level of musicianship.

For young children it is often more important that there be a emphasis quality over quantity. For them a half hour a day under a parents supervision is better. When the hit there teenage years and they can start to motivate themselves then the practice becomes longer.

You should also take note that Julliard is solely motivated to produce performers. It is entirely possible to study for four years there and not know how to explain to a person how you get the flats in Ab minor.

In a music academy where you may want to learn to become a teacher there may be less practicing to focus on certain other parts of being a teacher like methodology, psychology and theory.

It all depends on who you teach, what level they are and what there ambitions are.

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I practice about 3 to 4 hours per day on the clarinet and saxophone. I ALWAYS take breaks after playing a few pieces. Although I enjoy playing immensely, I am surprised at how tired I can get. For one clarinet player I know well, his practicing has been at a heavy price. He has as a result carpel tunnel. To minimize the risk, you MUST take breaks. These breaks are just as important as playing. –  Harry Brill Nov 26 '13 at 16:24
    
I know a few very good guitarists, with high technical skills, playing between 5 and 8 hours a day each day. I think this is necessary to be at their level and with their engagement. Anyway, it would be difficult to say that their training and playing is very focused for all this time. Maybe they are following a strict plan for 3-4 hours only. And obviously, they take several breaks. –  Wolfen666 Nov 29 '13 at 8:56

I would be more specific and break down the types of practice activities you're talking about.

  1. For all things, repetitive stress injuries are non-negotiable. Even with the best posture and technique and equipment, you do have to always supplement other activities and stretching and exercise into your daily routine or else you will have problems in the long term. Of course, genetics are weird and there are exceptions, but don't wait to find this out.

  2. For practice that involves technique (the classic notion of practice, i.e. learning the mechanics of an instrument that involve physically playing), I would say there is definitely a limit on what you could hope to achieve in a single day. The complexity of training your entire nervous system to perfect a very finely tuned task is taxing on your body and brain and you will eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. While some people like to put exact numbers on this, and while research can probably hone in on a general number for the average person, everyone is different and you will just have to really be keen and introspective and find out for yourself what that number of hours is. It really is different for everyone.

  3. For practice that involves mostly theoretical concepts or memorization, there are limits on this too. Concepts like The Pomodoro Technique put a specific number (30 minutes) on a type of "work-unit". But to me it can vary. Sometimes I reach a state of flow that can last for hours (unknowingly too) if I'm working on extending a concept that I already know, and other times 15/20 minutes is all I can do if what I'm working on memorizing is truly foreign and difficult to me. Again, introspection and experimentation is the key to the universe because you learn to pace yourself given what you're working on.

  4. Then there's a type of practice that I think is truly limited by your waking hours in a day: just living in a concept. Sometimes when people I went to school with said they "practiced" for 8 hours, what they meant was that they would actually do things from items #2 and #3 for half-hour spurts and then spend large chunks of time day dreaming about what they just did, or watching youtube videos or listening to music or chatting with their peers. While it is not strict practice, it IS relevant however and productive if you have the time for it. In fact, I would say that this type of practice is also incredibly important for digesting material and plotting your next move. It allows your subconscious to take over and churn all the things you just put in your brain around and assimilate it. I can't tell you how many times I would work and work at something just to get up for only a couple minutes and have a new concept or a solution to my problem pop up in my head after only being away from the #2 or #3 type practice for mere minutes. The subconscious is more powerful then people realize and you need to learn how to effectively use it to set your brain up for success.

And add one more thing, sometimes, just simply playing is fun too. So lets say you finally reached that point of diminishing returns when working on something new (#2), you take a break by actually playing something "fun" (#4) with a friend. Is this over-practice? I say your only risk would possibly be repetitive strain injuries, but other then that, play away. Remember too, that as you get closer and closer to reaching a competent and "professional" status at any given task, your threshold for doing it increases as well. So it becomes more and more of a "natural" activity for you. So playing a song that you know well after practicing new and difficult material for hours on end might not be difficult or straining at all and you could play all day long.

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