Tuesday, 8 July 2008

No. 2 - Practising

Practicing is something that you've got to do in order to learn an instrument. Some people seem to think that they'll just be able to pick up a guitar and start jamming with their mates straight away - but it's not gonna happen! Learning an instrument to a good standard requires lots of practice and patience - there's no shortcut!

So, how often should you practice? And for how long each time?

Well, for a start, practice makes perfect. You need to practice regularly - not necessarily everyday - anything between 2-7 times a week will allow you to make sufficient progress - it depends how keen you are! I personally practice no more than 4 times per week, for anything between 10 minutes and 2 hours per practice session. I feel that I make good progress with my playing, so it works. As long as you feel you've advanced at the end of each practice session, then it's been worthwhile! It may take you 10 minutes or several hours to achieve that, but who cares? Provided your happy with your progress, whatever anybody else does really doesn't matter. It all depends on what you want to get out learning an instrument.

However, practicing every single day for several hours won't necessarily return better results than practicing a few times a week for an hour or so. Here's why.

Learning an instrument is quite similar to trying to get fit - it takes a lot of time, effort and patience...... but the end result is always worth it. It makes all that hard work you did seem worthwhile. In fact, sometimes you want that end result so much that you start to work even harder to try and get to it faster.
But the question is..... will going out running everyday for 3 hours actually get you fitter faster than running for half an hour 3-5 times a week? The answer is, of course, no - the latter will let you make steady, reasonably paced progress. The former will simply tear your muscles into submission, making you weaker and cause injury, not to mention how in would make you dread doing your exercise everyday. You'd start to resent the entire programme, and probably eventually give up.

This is why I practice roughly every other day. In a good exercise programme, you'd do one type of exercise on day, and another type the next day (to give each muscle group time to heal) so the next time you attempt the exercise, your muscles have had time to rest and you can give it your all. Learning an instrument works roughly in the same way, but instead of a strenuous physical activity, you're learning music! Practicing for hours everyday isn't good - whilst in won't have adverse effects on your playing, it won't let you make any better progress than practicing for say, an hour 4 days a week. In my experience, I've often found that having a good practice one day, then leaving a day out, and then working on it again has better effects than just practicing everyday - it allows your mind to focus on other things in your life, and then, when you come back to playing music the next day, your mind is refreshed, and you can learn faster.

Of course, if you're only practicing for 10 to 30 minutes a day, I'd recommend practicing 5, 6 or 7 times a week.

But if you prefer to practice for hours at a time, like I sometimes do, then I wouldn't recommend practicing anything more than 4-5 times a week.

"Progress is the activity of today and the assurance of tommorow" - Ralph Waldo Emerson


In my next article, I'll be looking at Piano's specifically - a must have for pianists, and a hopefully interesting read for everyone else!

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