Music Practice Tip #5: Don’t Overpractice

by Calebovich 5 Nov, 2013 has no comments yet!

There is a fine line between where hard work hard leads to achieving great success and hard work becoming counter-productive. Many people equate number of practice hours to success. However we have to be aware of the fact that we are constantly training both our mind and body to be able to recall information under pressure.


I had the great fortune of studying with the cellist David Cole who spent a lot of time teaching me about the psychology of performing. What I remember most is that so many of the mistakes we make during performance can be traced back to problems in the practice room. I think when I was a teenager my biggest problem was overpractice. Too often we begin practicing without any goals in mind which more than likely leads to a lot of time wasted and then we pat ourself on the back because we spent 6 hours “practicing”. Over the past decade I have had to learn not to overpractice because there are times when I have so much music to practice and so little time to prepare which made me realize that I have to learn how to make my practice time more efficient. The obvious reason for not practicing too long is injury to your body. As musicians, we have to always think of ourselves as athletes and even the greatest sports stars have to put a limit on the amount of time the spend training due to the simple fact that the body needs rest. Most musicians are also aware of the fact the we need to warm-up, but too few of us know when to stop and call the practice session quits.

Here are a few things you can apply to avoid wasting time:

  • Practice in intervals of 40 minutes with a small break of 5-7 minutes in between.
  • Learn first, then practice what you learn. Make sure you have the basics figured out before you begin practicing such as the melody, rhythm, and fingerings
  • Be patient. Practice slow


An excerpt from The Mastery of Music by Barry Green

“Learning takes place before practice.
Learning implies study. In order to practice what you have first learned, you need to get the music in your head before you put it to work. There are may ways to do this. You can study a recording, a teacher can play the piece for you, or you can play the piece very slowly yourself with the sole purpose of learning the sound, line, rhythm, or harmony–not to master the piece or play it perfectly. If you are careful to play it this way–being very clear in your own mind that you’re not trying to “play” it, just to acquaint yourself with it–you are not practicing the piece, just checking it out.
You should spend a good percentage of your time listening to or studying music before you ever attempt to play the piece. Once you have really internalized what the melody sounds like, even if you do make a small mistake, you ear will immediately tell you and you will tune the error out. But if you haven’t learned what the melody should sound like, and don’t recognize incorrect notes when you play them, you are likely to practice the wrong notes until you are corrected–and then you will need to unlearn whole passages before you can learn them again and practice them correctly.”

The Key

I have said before that we should do our best to avoid practicing mistakes, but sometimes it seems inevitable. I have found that I am more prone to practicing mistakes when I have been practicing too long and my mind is no longer focused. I found that I am most nervous when I begin working on a new piece of music because I realize that the success of my performance begins in the practice room.

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