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Why Practice?

Updated: Dec 3, 2018

There are 10080 minutes a week. If you have a 30-minute instrumental lesson, that means there are 10050 minutes when you are not playing your instrument. Therefore a lesson is only 0.3% of your week. What happens to your learning during the rest of the week?

If you don’t practice in between lessons, there is a significant danger that you will have forgotten what you learnt in the lesson. Which means that the following lesson, you will just be going back over the things you learnt in the previous lesson. This makes progress slow, increasing frustration with both the student and the teacher. It also means that as improvement is gradual, the student is more likely to want to give up learning, in the belief that they are not good enough to play the instrument.

Practice is the repetition of action with the goal of improvement. Musicians, dancers, athletes all have to practice to make improvement in their chosen skill. It is the unglamorous side to being a musician as it involves long hours, often by yourself, repeating the same exercises and sections of music until it has improved.

By regularly practising it trains our brain what to do. It makes it easier for us when it comes to performing our instruments. The more we repeat an action, the easier it is for our nerves to send signals through the body as it forms a superhighway of neural pathways.

Many children of sports stars and musicians will often follow their parents into the same professions. Living in a musical environment, where someone is practising an instrument is considered part of everyday life, makes it easier for these children to establish a regular practice routine.

Tiger Woods father was a golfer, who brought Woods his first gold club for his first birthday and he then played his first game of crazy golf at eighteen months. Mozart’s was considered a child prodigy, but as his father, was a musician he was surrounded by music. Michael Howe estimates that Mozart had already done 3,500 hours of practice by the time he was 6 years old [1].

Malcolm Gladwell (2008) wrote that about the 10,000-hour rule, where it can take someone 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become elite in their chosen domain. Most renowned artist, musicians, sport stars started learning their skill at a young age, and dedicated many hours of lessons, coaching lessons and private practice to become an expert in their field. There has been some evidence that suggests that it can take on average 450 hours of practice to reach grade one and 3,300 hours to achieve grade 8 [2].

However, there have been other studies that have found that the number of hours had no effect on other musical tasks such as sight reading and playing by ear. In her research, Susan Hallam (2011) found that the was no link between the length of time preparing for an instrumental exam and the grade the student achieved [3].

This suggests that it not just the amount of hours that a student puts into their practice, but the quality of their practice that indicates student progress in their chosen instrument.


[1] Michael Howe (2001). Genius Explained

[2] John A. Sloboda, Jane W. Davidson, Michael J.A. Howe and Derek G. Moore. (2996) The role of price in the development of performing musicians. The British Journal of Psychology. Vol. 87, issue 2 pages 287- 309

[3] Hallam, S. (2011). What predicts level of expertise attained, quality of performance and future musical aspiration in young instrumental players? Psychology of Music, 40, 652-80

Malcolm Gladwell (2008). Outliers: The Story Of Success.

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