The amount of practice on an instrument is the most significant contributor to musical performance success. However, an obsessive orientation toward practice can burn you out and make you stiff.
Rather than carving out more time in the day for practice, celebrated musicians (not unlike specialist athletes and chess masters) tend to excel by making modest levels of practice more productive.
Like all great teachers, virtuoso violinist Itzhak Perlman preaches not too much practice:
When kids ask me for an autograph, I always sign my name and then write, ‘Practise slowly!’ That’s my message to them. If you practise slowly, you forget slowly. If you practise very quickly, maybe it will work for a day or two and then it will go away, because it has not been absorbed by your brain. It’s like putting a sponge in the water. If you let it stay there it retains a lot of water.
There are a lot of people who believe that the more you practise the greater the improvement, but I don’t believe that. Again I cite the sponge example. When you put a sponge in the water, after a while it reaches saturation point. Keeping it in there for any longer won’t help, as it’s absorbed as much as it can.
Choosing to focus on quality over quantity of practice helps musicians free up time for score study, concentrated listening, and other learning activities away from their instruments. All these ultimately make practice more effective.
Idea for Impact: Mindless repetition is ineffective. To reach the highest levels of expertise, focus on the quality of practice. Skill formation relies on consistency and deliberate practice. Under a mentor’s guidance, a consistent and intentional practice can bring about clarity and make you observe yourself and open for feedback.