The year I had between high school and college I would practice an average of 6 hours a day, sometimes more sometimes less.
My first two years of college I kept up similar practice regiments. The longest practice session I ever had was 10 hours long, and I don’t say that in a bragging sort of way. The truth is not even half of those 10 hours were productive. I wouldn’t say I regret having practiced so much. It was a phase. I had the time to do it, and I was going to school for music. But would I say it was necessary? Certainly not.
Depending on where you’re at in your life and what your responsibilities are, the amount of time you can and should practice will vary.
That’s okay. You may have a day job and a family, and find yourself struggling to sneak in practice time. Perhaps you feel like you won’t ever get to where you want to be in your jazz playing because you just can’t invest the time necessary. Wrong. You can achieve your goals, and you can do it with less practice time than you think.
A common misconception about musical improvement:
“I have to practice for long hours to improve.”
Don’t get me wrong. You have to practice, and the more time you spend practicing, the more opportunities you will have to improve. “Opportunities” is the key word there.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you are learning a new language and have a few friends to practice it with. Great! You will improve over time according to the opportunities you have to practice speaking that language. But if you move to a country or location that speaks that language natively, you will have exponentially more opportunities to improve. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee you’ll take advantage of the opportunity.
So does practicing for long hours have its benefits? Sure. But does practicing for long hours ensure quick improvement. No. It all comes down to this simple rule:
Long practice sessions < Short quality practice sessions
Now, this doesn’t mean to say that all long practice sessions aren’t going to be quality. It’s just harder to keep them quality. It’s hard for most human beings to stay focused for an extended period and not wander off into practicing things that have no musical benefit.
To have a quality practice session, you must:
- Have a plan. Know what you are going to work on specifically and have set goals.
- Avoid information overload. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew. It’s better to get a few things done well than get a bunch of stuff done with mediocrity.
- Have balance. You should spend time reviewing things you already know, and spend time on things you need to work on or improve. Don’t be tempted to spend too much of your practice time on things you are already comfortable with.
If you can manage all of this while practicing for long hours, great! But for those who just simply don’t have the time, this should be great news for you.
But if long practice hours bring in more opportunity for improvement, is there another way to create that opportunity?
Here’s another rule:
Quality practice sessions + Consistency = Massive improvement
Consistency is the answer to the improvement opportunity long practice sessions bring. When you add consistent practice to quality practice sessions, the potential for improvement skyrockets.
If I practice for 5 hours one day, but then don’t practice for another week, the improvements made from those 5 hours are severely diminished. But if I practice for an hour one day, take a day’s break, and then go back at it again, I can start to see some real progress.
Now, you may be asking, “how consistent do I need to be?”
Don’t stress it. Look at your schedule and make a plan. On which days can you practice? How much time do you have? How much time do you need? A little bit of organization can go a long way.
So how long and how often should you practice?
Practice for as long as you can keep it quality practice. Practice for as long as you realistically have time for. Also, practice for as long as you are still enjoying yourself (don’t burn yourself out).
Practice as often as you realistically have time to. Practice consistently. You don’t have to practice every day but come up with a plan that works for you.
Don’t believe you can’t achieve your goals for your jazz playing because you can’t practice for super-human hours. Practice with quality, and practice with consistency.