Updated: Apr 28, 2022
Many musicians like to say things like; “I practice 8 hours a day.” or; “In my 20s I used to practice daily for 10 hours.” These statements are very frustrating to me. There are probably three options on how one can interpret these statements:
-1 The musician making the statement is insanely good.
-2 The musician is lying to you and to him/herself.
-3 The musician is not that great, which means that his/her practicing technique sucks big time.
Now, most musicians making these statements are not being honest to themselves. For some reason they think that shouting out these crazy high practice hours will earn them respect from other musicians. Well, nope, it doesn’t and actually, it shouldn’t.
When somebody says they’ve been practicing for 8 hours on Saturday, they most likely haven’t been practicing for 8 hours on Saturday. What they meant to say was that they’ve spent 8 hours at/in/around the rehearsal room. And that’s probably true, but much of the time spent there was not actually practicing.
A full day of practice
Let’s assume that somebody has really been practicing for 8 hours on any given day. What would their day have looked like? Let’s imagine a day with 45min practice sessions and 15min breaks, starting at 9am:
Now, that’s assuming lunch & dinner breaks were only 15min long. Toilet breaks, phone calls, updating social media, checking e-mail, socializing, snacking, coffee refills etc. were all packed into those 15min breaks. To me, this day looks unreal.
The “I practice 8 hours daily” statements frustrate me partially because these people are probably lying. But they also get to me because I always considered myself as somebody who practices a lot, but I always knew I’d never get close to those numbers. Maybe a couple of times a year I could turn off all my distractions and get through a day like the one described above. But that’s it. A day like that takes an insane amount of commitment, planning and discipline.
Over the last 219 days (which is since I started keeping this practice log) my average per day practice time has been 1h20min.
Keeping a practice log
In February this year I decided to track how much I practiced and how much of what I practiced. My father helped me create an excel file where I could put in my daily numbers. Here’s a blank version of that file for you to download and use.
What benefits does keeping such a practice log bring?
-You can now be honest to yourself and to the world, helping young musicians create more realistic views on what being a musician actually looks like.
-You’ll see tendencies like winter vs summer or vacation vs during a semester.
-We all have strengths and weaknesses. If you’re keeping track of what you’re practicing and how much time goes into any particular subject, you can easily detect whether a weak point of yours has become a weak point because you haven’t been putting in the hours. You can finally stop blaming talent and take full credit for your failures & achievements.
What do you count as practice time?
In my practice log I only notate the time that I’m by myself practicing concentrated in a rehearsal room. It’s become a habit for me to turn my timer on as soon as I sit down to practice and to stop it again as soon as I get up. Every time I look at my phone, go to the toilet or do anything other than concentrated practice, I stop the timer. I’m not timing rehearsals, composing time, transcribing drum parts, drum tuning & maintenance etc.
For many musicians that I’ve talked to about the way that I keep my practice log is too extreme. And that’s fine. I think the crucial point is to only notate the hours during which you’ve been concentrated on your craft and nothing else. For you this could mean that you’re also including time that you’ve spent transcribing music, playing a concert or learning about music theory. That’s where keeping track of what you’re actually doing becomes very important. Otherwise you’ll only have numbers with no real meaning to them.
I hope you found this post interesting and helpful.