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Minimize Practice Time and Maximize Learning

By Edited Aug 12, 2016 2 2

Musicians all know that practice is a task that needs to be done in order to improve, as much as it is a chore it is also a privilege. But how do we manage our practice times if we are so occupied with other activities as well? As a violinist I know there are three main parts of a daily practice schedule, they are scales, studies, pieces. Usually, an advanced player would go through all three within 3-4 hours per day. But with the travelling and busy workload time to on the violin just seems to diminish. How do you find the time if you’re so busy with other tasks you may ask? I don’t. I simply practice less but still managing the three main parts of my practice.

With the lack of time available to me, I am forced to find an alternative method to get through that routine. The method is a skill that requires a high level of focus and to a degree quite difficult to get used to. It is known as deliberate practice.

What is deliberate practice?

Deliberate practice is a thoughtful process of practicing and requires you to be aware of everything you’re doing. If you’re physically tired or mentally exhausted this method of practice will not work and it is highly recommended that you take a break. A lot of analytical skills will be in place and every movement and sound should be monitored carefully.

Why do deliberate practice?

It not only saves time but also will improve your playing greatly. Deliberate practice cannot be sustained for a long duration due to the high level of mental focus it requires. Also if you practice without concentration it will only make you practice poorly and in the long term you’ll ingrain bad playing habits.

A list of ways to incorporate deliberate practice will be presented below:

Define a goal

Before every practice session, make sure you define what you want to achieve at the by the end of the session. Goals can be replicating an interpretation of a phrase, mastering a difficult section, a good consistency on intonation and the list goes on. Every segment you want to work on is likely to be short so take your time to identify all the issues you wish to fix.

When you loose focus, stop playing

Focusing is a muscle and when you start deliberate practice, it will be mentally exhausting and the duration will be short. When you find your mind wandering to a different thought, immediately stop playing and refresh your brain with a short nap or a quick break. Otherwise, you will end up playing mindlessly and practice undesired habits.

Record yourself

This is not to be underestimated, often as a player we are not always listening to ourselves because we are too busy with all the other technical aspects of playing. But I am listening and I’m not wearing earplugs you say? Yes you are correct, you’re listening but listening isn’t just enough to pick up your mistakes, what is required is listening with awareness. A recording device will reveal the places where you slack off in your hearing and expose various aspects of your playing. Think of it as a self-mentor and you become your own critic.

Don’t waste time on things that are not improving

If you find yourself repeating a passage and improvements have been made, stop playing and jump to the next section. Either come back to it the next day or if there is still no progress, ask for advice from your tutor at your next lesson. 

Think before you play

A crucial aspect and the secret to making deliberate practice work: think before you play! This action determines what you do and how you do it. It is important to monitor everything you do, but also just as crucial to plan what you want to do before you play so you can get first hand feedback to yourself as to what works or doesn’t work.

Don’t repeat mistakes

Played a wrong note? Don’t just start again and play through it. As mentioned before in the ‘think before you play’ section, monitor everything you do and plan out what you do before you play. If you play a wrong note, stop and analyze what might have caused the wrong note, was it the shift? Or was it the pressure of the left hand? Or too much elbow movement? These are all hypothetical questions and they should all be tested until you find a solution.

Deliberate practice is an art in itself; it’s a skill, which needs constant refinement and training to prolong the use of this sill. It is highly valuable not only for music practice but also other activities such as cooking, sports and painting! 


A few fantastic book from top-selling authors are linked below which elaborates more on deliberate practice and demonstrates ways to keep your mind focused for everything you do!


The Road To Excellence: The Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games
Amazon Price: $63.95 $50.27 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 12, 2016)
Probably the most sophisticated book with several case studies and examples on how deliberate practice works. An excellent book which will guide you too mastery in all areas.
Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better
Amazon Price: $26.95 $11.82 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 12, 2016)


Jan 22, 2014 5:12pm
Great article!
Mar 17, 2015 10:44pm
This is a great article, brief and to the point. Very useful! :D
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