From the time I was in high school until I finished my studies, my habit became to practice between 3 and 4 hours daily. This is a relatively average time students spend practicing during their formative years. However, for what reasons do we feel practicing so many hours is necessary? Everything was waiting to be done: There was a lot of NEW material to learn (solo pieces, excerpts, etudes, etc.), and MANY technical aspects to develop (such as sound, articulation, flexibility). In my case, there was also nothing I would rather have been doing anyway: music was the only thing that interested me and I was happy to spend 3 or 4 hours a day in the practice room.
Once I began to perform more as a professional I noticed two things: primarily, I had covered all the standard material (Of course, there will always be new material in development: a recently published etude book, an obscure operatic or orchestral excerpt, etc.) secondly, I was playing the same materials over and over. Additionally, the circumstances surrounding my personal life had changed: I started a family who I wanted to spend time with and developed other interests and hobbies that I found as fulfilling as my music.
Thus in rethinking the time I spent practicing, I observed that my progression with the instrument was not as noticeable as it was before, the chop and mental freshness prior to practice was not the same after rehearsing a heavy piece with the Orchestra during the morning, nor was the feeling fresh the following day. At some point the game had changed, but I was still playing by the old rules…
The benefits from practicing will always exist. However, the key may actually lie in appreciating quantity vs. quality: more time in the practice room does not necessarily lead to greater results. Here is when the two E’s enter into play. Check my next post to discover how I developed a more efficient practice routine.