How long should my practice sessions be? how often?
I have spent a fair amount of time talking about this with other musicians over the years, I've also read through plenty of discussions in online forums debating the matter. Everyone has their own way of working and organising their practice routines and everyone has different goals. Some hobbyists might only spend one or two hours a week where as some of the top session musicians in the world probably spent in their youth up to 6 hours a day practicing. Also it's worth noting that the accepted number of hours to achieve the top level in any skill (including sports) is 10,000 hours. To put that into perspective, there aren't even 10,000 hours in one year. If you spent 3 hours practicing every single day (including holidays, weekends) it would take you 9 years to achieve that mark.
Through trial and error I have also gathered my own anecdotal thoughts on the matter and these findings are very common.
1) It is more important to practise little and often
When I was recovering from a pepetative strain injury a few years back, a medical professional urged me to start practising again but slowly. 10 or 20 minutes a day, every day, gradually increasing it. I asked if it would be better to do longer periods with rest days inbetween but she was adamant I should not do that. I followed her advice and she was right. Many other musicians also advise to practice as many days as you can, even if you can only fit in a small amount. Because of the way your brain learns and absorbs information, and also the way muscle memory works, dividing up tricky parts over the course of many sessions is also beneficial. You will find you will nail that part if you played it for 10 minutes every day for 2 weeks, rather than for 2 hours split over 2 days. You're also less likely to injure yourself this way. If you have bass lessons or guitar lessons with me I will make sure to drill these points into you. As they are all important ingredients to good time management and organised practise routines which will ensure you progress on your instrument at a constant rate.
2) Dont go for more than 2 or 3 hours
This probably depends on your experience and level of stamina, but I find your ability to learn and concentrate will eventually start to fade after a certain period of time. Whats worse is your arms and hands start to ache and get tired and it probably isn't beneficial to go on any further. Even if you don't feel like you have achieved enough for that session, don't worry about it. Just put your guitar or bass down and come back to it tomorrow.
3) if you want to go more than 3 hours, have regular rest breaks
Everyone is different and may be able to go on for longer. it could be that actually you have a large work load to get through. Mabye you've joined a new band and you are expected to learn the catalogue very quicky. Or maybe you are preparing for a grade exam. If you need such long sessions, make sure you warm up slowly and take many breaks. Some can be short tea/coffee breaks, or you might want to stop and have dinner inbetween. Doing this will help lighten the burned on your body and mind and avoid any frustrating blocks
4) have occasional days off
I think it is very beneficial to have at least one day off a week from playing. It allows the tendons in your fingers/arms to rest, heal and become stronger and also gives your mind a rest. Burnout syndrome is a real thing and working too hard can lead to an obsession, bringing on mental health issues, substance abuse and even possibly a desire to quit.
When you take occasional time off where you spend little to no time thinking about your profession, you are free to rest and reflect which is almost as important as the work itself. When you come back to the work you will have a new batch of love and energy and it will keep the passion alive.
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