top of page

Practice Makes Perfect: Wait, how many hours do I need to practice?

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

Table of contents:


Nightime mountain with the title: Practice makes perfect...wait, how many hours do I actually need to practice?

I was always mystified by this question growing up, and I’ve still got mixed feelings as a pro in the field. It’s a hot topic and you will always get a range of answers-if you ask a violinist, don’t be surprised if the answer goes all the up to 8 hours a day! The good news is that regardless of where you are and what your personal goals are as a musician, there is a sweet spot where you are maximizing your practice without having to break your back trying to get better at your instrument. If you are trying to find ways to practice more, we will also dive into some tips and tricks to up your practice game so that you get the maximum improvement.



So how many hours? Long story short, that will depend on where you are on your musical journey and how far you are aiming to go. When I was doing my undergrad, I fell into the trap of thinking “I’m still young, I have time to get good enough”. What I’ve learned is that time is on our side only if we take full advantage of using that time to improve ourselves. It’s like the retirement paradox. For some people, it’s hard to invest in retirement in their 20’s because it’s so far away, there is plenty of time to start contributing. The truth is that it is best to start contributing that young because then there is so much time for the account to build up to a nice pot of gold. Practicing is exactly the same. The younger you are the more time you have to improve, so take advantage of that time by building your musicianship. There is that famous saying that it takes 10,000 hours to master any skill, imagine how well off you would be if you got to the 10,000 hour mark before even finishing school!

 

Let’s do some math-how long does it reasonably take to get to the 10,000 mark? Let’s run a few scenarios to find the answer.


Sarah Practices 5 hours a day 5 days a week, Billy practices 3 hours a day 6 days a week, and Misha practices 2 hours a day 7 days a week. Sarah is practicing 25 hours a week for 52 weeks, totaling 1,300 hours for each year. It will take Sarah 7.69 years to hit the 10,000 hour mark. Billy is practicing 18 hours a week for 52 weeks, totaling 936 hours per year. It will take Billy 10.68 years to hit the 10,000 hour mark. Misha is practicing 14 hours a week for 52 weeks, totaling 728 hours per year. It will take 13.73 years for Misha to hit the 10,000 hour mark.

3 different ways to get to 10,000 hours of practice
3 different ways to get to 10,000 hours of practice

If you start getting serious in high school and want to take the plunge into music performance, you can hit the 10,000 hour mark before you graduate from college if you practice about 25 hours per week. This stat is a little questionable for this question though, because maybe we could include all of the hours we play the instrument into it-not just practicing but rehearsals and performances too. What we are talking about here is hours of focused practice, which does not include rehearsals and performances. So how many hours of focused practice do we need on a daily basis? And even more importantly-how do we find the time to get there?


The answer is going to be different for everybody, depending on where you are at and what your goals are. If you are a music major in college, the answer is basically that you should be practicing as much as it is physically possible to practice. If you are in high school and considering pursuing a career in music the answer is also to practice as much as it is physically possible to practice. If you are considering going into music education, I personally think the answer is still to practice as much as it is physically possible to practice. We’ll talk about the why of it first, and then dive into how to optimize our time to get those hours in.



Why is it so important to practice now? If you are planning on going into music, it is really important that you get as much practice time in as you can while time is still on your side. At first, it may seem overwhelming to balance all of your classes, homework, side jobs, social life, and practicing. Think of school as a boot camp for time management. This is where you figure out how valuable time is: your classes aren’t all blocked together like high school, you have obligations at night, you might be working to pay the bills for the first time in your life, and you’re living with roommates who are in the same boat as you. This all means that you have to sit down and figure out where all of your valuable minutes (and even more valuable hours!) are and how you can use them to get ahead in the future. It is so easy to lose focus on what happens after you graduate and it’s all over, but I would encourage any student to stay laser focused on the goal post. The more hours you put in now the faster you’ll get to that 10,000 hour mark, and the younger you are when you start to master the technique, the easier it will be to succeed in the field.

I definitely fell into the trap of thinking I had plenty of time, but I was still a diligent practicer when I was in school. What helped was my competitive nature-I always wanted to be the best and whenever I was impressed with how well my peers were doing in school, I felt extra inspired to get in the practice room. Looking back, I’m very grateful for that boost of motivation because the “I have plenty of time!” trap is a very dangerous one. Time is on your side, but only if you take advantage of it for growth. You have to put everything you’ve got into the equation, and the younger you are when you learn the fingerboard, the younger you are when you learn consistent vibrato, the younger you are when you have good rhythm, the better your shot will be at success in the field.


This might be a hot take, but I do believe that if you are going into music education you should still aim to be the best musician you can be. I do a lot of work in schools, and it makes a huge difference when a teacher is able to demonstrate good musical technique, even if it is not on a related instrument. The ability to demonstrate not just competently, but confidently can make a huge impact on the confidence of the class because the kids know that you are the real deal and they can trust your advice. It is also a great motivator for practice-how can you expect a group of kids to practice if you never practiced yourself? Teachers have the opportunity to lead by example, so be a good example of excellence for your students by spending those hours in the practice room!

 

So what if I’m not going into the field but I’m practicing for the enjoyment of it? This is where the equation changes. Ultimately, this is up to you and your goals. If you want to be at a level where you are able to play with the local youth orchestra (if you’re in school) or the local community orchestra (I played in 2-3 community orchestras in high school, it was a blast!), you’ll still need to put in a solid amount of practicing every week but you won’t need to practice 5 hours a day unless you really enjoy your practice time. 1-3 hours a day 3-5 days a week should do it for that level, which is between 3-15 hours per week, however you spread it out. It’s enough so that you maintain the level required to read pretty difficult music and feel good about your contribution to the groups you play with, but it doesn’t become a chore.

Musicians young and old at the New York Public library

For younger students definitely talk to your teacher to see where you are at. If you are getting really into it and want to do local auditions for All County or All State you will have to start practicing more than you practiced before. There are scale requirements, and etudes/excerpts. The music is far more difficult than the repertoire that most middle/high schools work on, so you may need to spend time working on raising your level so you can play that repertoire. The All State is one of the hardest competitions that most young students raised in public school orchestras participate in. If you are auditioning for All State make sure you talk to your teacher early and make a plan, and if you have never taken private lessons before it is time to seek out a private music teacher who can guide you into the next level of musicianship. If you can’t afford private lessons, talk to your music teacher at school and see if there are any resources available to help or if you can play for them outside of classroom hours once a week to help guide you through. For All State preparation, I would recommend practicing 2-3 hours a day all summer before the audition.


If you are going for All County, you can breathe a sigh of relief because although it is still harder than what most middle/high schools work on at school, the level is much more reasonable for students! In Pinellas County there are 7 scales you have to learn and an etude or excerpt. 🎶Need fingerings for the All State/All County scales? check out the free resources page! 🎶


If you are going to try out for All County, or if you just want to get better at playing your instrument for fun, I would encourage students to aim for an hour of practice a day. If you have never practiced that much before, that’s OK, we will go over how to build that time up. If you are starting at 20 minutes a day, that is great. Next week aim for 30 minutes, and then 40, so that by the time you get to when you have to audition you are practicing a full hour almost every day.

 

How to practice more If you’ve never practiced a full hour in your life, don’t worry, we can get there! You don’t have to work your way up all of a sudden, in fact I would not encourage that at all. Start with where you’re at and add 10 minutes to your daily practice every week (or even two weeks) until you hit that hour mark. Hitting that first hour of practice is an incredible milestone, so once you get there find a nice way to reward yourself!


The first thing you have to do is find the time, and then make the time. Look at your schedule. If you’re in school all day, you’ll either have to practice before or after school (or during lunch if your teacher allows it). If you go to activities, that is another element you need to add to your planning. Figure out where you either have 30 minute slots of time or hour long slots of time. Good news is that practice adds up-two 30 minute sessions equals an hour, or three 20 minute sessions equals an hour. Just remember that playing in orchestra class doesn’t count because you need to be able to play in a space where you can hear yourself and where you can stop and fix your mistakes, meaning you should ideally be practicing in a space by yourself.

Once you find time slots where you are able to practice, write them down. Write them in a planner or write them in your calendar, just make sure it’s a place you check on the regular. If you have it on your phone, set an alarm or a reminder at the times you gave yourself to practice in case you forget.


Part of finding time and making time is sometimes by determining when you are wasting time. Time that you are scrolling on a device, watching TV, or playing video games is what I’m talking about. When you are in college it’s also the excessive socializing and butting into our friends’ practice room when you are both supposed to be practicing, I remember those days! Take a note of how much time you spend doing these types of activities. If you find that you are spending hours a day scrolling or playing video games, then you need to start setting timers for when to put the devices down. Spending some time to unwind is fine, but technology has become so intensely addictive that we need to be extremely careful with how we use these devices. If you are used to spending hours scrolling-next time you scroll set a 15 minute timer and as soon as the timer goes off get to the practice room and practice for 30 minutes. When that 30 minutes is up, set another timer to scroll for 15 minutes. When that timer goes off practice for another 30 minutes. Now you just got an hour of practicing in where you usually would have been scrolling for an hour and a half.

A plate full of chocolate
Chocolate is the ultimate reward for hard work!

Another thing that could help is to reward yourself for good work. That could be having a piece of chocolate for every 30 minutes you practice, or a fresh cup of coffee/tea/bubbly water. When you hit the milestone of that first hour of successful practice, do something fun to celebrate. Same for two hours, three hours, and four. It’s perfectly alright if you haven’t been practicing 8 hours a day-it takes a long time to build up the stamina and physical balance to be able to practice as if it’s a full-time job! Do the best you can to get the hours in, and work towards goals to practice more. If your goal is to practice 4 hours a day for 6 days a week and you miss that goal the first week you try it, try it again 2 more times. While you are trying again, take note of how much time you actually are getting in and ask yourself what you can do to get more hours in. After 3 weeks if you can’t make that goal, you definitely overshot and you have to start from a more reasonable spot, maybe 3 hours a day is more attainable. Build an extra 20 minutes a day week by week from there. What is important is being flexible when a goal isn’t working. Don’t get frustrated and give up altogether, set a more manageable goal so that you start learning where your threshold is. You can do it, it just takes time to build the skill of getting those hours in. When you hit those goals and improve upon them, have a well-deserved celebration for the milestone…and then aim for the next one! It really is a never-ending journey, that is why it’s so much fun!

 

I hope that you found this blog helpful-thank you so much for reading it! For more, look below and make sure you subscribe so that you’re notified when the next ones come out!


-KS ☺️🎶🎵🎶


97 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page