V.com weekend vote: Is quantity or quality more important in music practice?

April 10, 2021, 4:30 PM · You've heard of those amazing violinists, pianists and other instrumentalists who practiced six hours a day to achieve dazzling technique and prowess on the instrument.

Whoa, six hours a day!?

It seems a bit much, a bit unsustainable. And many who practice this much as a young person report that they do not go on to continue this amount of practice for a lifetime.

I've also heard a good number of respected teachers advise that three hours is a bit more reasonable for the very-serious musician. After that, you need a mental and physical break. It's still a lot of time and devotion.

I've also heard people say, forget the amount of time anyone practices, it's the quality of the time spent. If you spend hours just spinning your wheels and not really concentrating on problem-solving, then what is the use?

practice

I mostly agree that quality is the most important thing in practicing. I have seen music students spend a great deal of time practicing but not actually moving forward, because they avoid the difficult work of repeating difficult passages, solving problems, working on technique, etc.

But, it's all-too-easy to de-prioritize quantity. That commitment to devote time to the instrument on a very consistent basis is extremely important, and I'd put that commitment in the category of "quantity," because it's simply about carving out a set amount of time, whatever happens during that time. For example, Hilary Hahn's 100 Days of Practice project was a commitment to time. And if you don't put in the time, you don't get to the quality and you don't progress, period.

So this vote aims to foster a conversation about quality and quantity, and even though I recognize both are important, I'm not listing "both" as an option. For the vote, please pick the one that feels most important to you at this stage in your playing (or in your teaching). For example, if you have not been able to devote enough time to practice, "quantity" might be the current priority. Or if you have found yourself spacily running through old, familiar things and not challenging yourself, maybe "quality" is something you feel you need to focus on more. Or, maybe you are seeing trends in students that make you lean toward one or the other at the moment. Please participate in the vote, and then tell us your thoughts and experiences about quantity vs. quality.

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Replies

April 10, 2021 at 09:48 PM · Quality is most important but there are some people like me who require tons of quality time practice to improve even a little.

April 10, 2021 at 10:49 PM · I think when I was younger both options were more readily available. Learning to make the best of more limited time as I got older helped evolve my approach to practicing. There's a certain amount of "wood shedding" that comes with learning difficult pieces for the first time, all the intellectualizing in the world won't change that. Thoughtful practice is paramount but muscle memory is a key factor in performance as well. Achieving a good balance between quality and quantity can be a challenge. Who do I make my 2 cents check out to? CASHAPP?

April 10, 2021 at 11:43 PM · Greetings,

you make a very important point about quantity. My way of looking at it is to see quantity as an integral part of quality. That is to say, you can do smart and effective practice, but if that is not done enough times to be come an automatic reflex then it is no more useful than sheer quantity. It’s a kind of yin and yang relationship in which one flows from the other and vice vera.

Cheers,

Buri

April 11, 2021 at 12:08 AM · Greetings,

"Studies of chess masters have shown that at least 10,000 hours of dedicated practice (about 6 years of playing chess 5 hours a day) are required to attain the highest levels of performance." (from "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman)

Excellent book!

Kahneman talks about something called ‘intuitive expertize’ in which a firefighter or chess master can react at a glance. In the same way I think musicians recognize patterns in music of various kinds apparently without thinking. However, this is not actually intuition but recognition. This idea is once of the key breakthoughs in the study of intuition. According to Kahneman there are two criteria for gaining this recognition capability or skill:

1) A well regulated environment with immediate feed back

2). A large number of hours acquiring the components of what you are recognizing.

For a musician , the regulated environment correlates I think, with quality of practice. We get lessons from a teacher , learn to use our ears (the basis of quality feedback for musicians) and use tape recorders or videos.

The number of hours needs no comment. Nobody has become capable of making split second decions in a complex field such as chess, firefighting or music without spending thousands of hours learning to recognize the underlying patterns through a variety of different inputs. (IN the case of music I think this also includes listening with great attention to the great players on a daily basis too)

Cheers,

Buri

April 11, 2021 at 10:23 AM · I missed a button for "Both"!

April 11, 2021 at 01:13 PM · Having had 2 shoulder replacement surgeries (on the same shoulder!) since November, quantity is most important to me as I work to regain my former proficiency. But normally I would vote for quality.

April 11, 2021 at 04:04 PM · One point that is being missed so far: Quality comes at degrees. Theoretically one may practice with 100% quality (or efficacy which is maybe a more precise word for what we are meaning). We normal mortals reach maybe 60%*. The rest we must make up with quantity (i.e. time spent). Quality and quantity are interrelated in this way.

We ought to acknowledge also that not everybody learns best the same way. Different routines are probably optimal for different people.

April 11, 2021 at 04:56 PM · I voted for quality because I feel like I've made the most progress since finding my current teacher, who tells me how to practice each problematic section. Of course, I have to practice in the prescribed way many many times, but having good strategies to use makes a real difference.

April 11, 2021 at 07:40 PM · When I was a tertiary student four hours daily practice was the norm. This was on top at least another four hours of string class, lessons, chamber music and orchestral playing. When I worked as a professional orchestral musician I could achieve better results in two hours. Now, I can achieve more still in an hour. One learns how to practise over time. Working efficiently and effectively in truly mindful way, is a learned still. Maybe you need the 10,000 hours to get there?

Cheers Carlo

April 11, 2021 at 08:02 PM · We all need practice, practicing! Carlo I think you are right!

April 11, 2021 at 11:55 PM · Kreisler only practised about an hour a day. Maybe if he'd practised two hours, he might not have had to say “I wish Jascha was in town" (https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/27535/) - but I'm sure quality IS more important!

April 12, 2021 at 04:47 AM · I know what happens to me: 3 hours is best, 3-5 hours diminishing returns, more that 5 hours counterproductive. Also more than 5 hours other things go wrong, piles of unwashed dishes unswept floors and so on. It is important to practice most days to get into a habit. It is easier to get into habitual music practice than doing academic work. I have had a routine one hour guitar one hour academic work one hour viola one hour academic work one hour violin one hour academic work, then pub, but have not managed to do that for years.

My last teacher used to say that it was a matter of concentration, better pupils concentrate better.

April 12, 2021 at 10:06 AM · You write "I've also heard people say, forget the amount of time anyone practices, it's the quantity of the time spent."

Don't you mean "quality" instead of "quantity" in that sentence?

I voted quality BTW, because I've had to work so hard with some students to teach them how to practise more effectively within the time that they already spend.

For myself, in my youth I never practised more than 1 hour a day - with short pinkie and thumb, plus poor posture from a problematic shoulder rest, I was physically very tired after 1 hour. Somehow I still managed to pass the exam we have here after grade 8 (A.MusA.).

April 12, 2021 at 03:45 PM · Robyn, that is what I meant.

April 13, 2021 at 03:03 AM · Nel Cor on the Viola does not happen without serious quality.

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