Every musician knows that regular and diligent practice is necessary for continued improvement, and many strive to practice a certain amount of time each day. While I have a general idea of how much practicing I need to do daily, for fifteen years or more I have planned my practice time primarily in terms of a weekly schedule rather than a daily one, and I encourage my students to do the same. In fact, my applied lessons syllabus expressly calls for students to practice a minimum number of hours per week rather than per day. Here are three reasons why this is helpful.
1. A weekly practice schedule allows you to anticipate days where other obligations will interfere with your regular practice routine, and to plan accordingly. My writing a brief post on this topic today was prompted by a very busy period in our music department. In the past two weeks the wind ensemble, the jazz band, and one of the basketball bands have left campus for two or more days for performing obligations, and next week the other basketball band will be gone. While the students in these groups are playing regularly, their ability to practice is limited while they are on these trips. I’m sure most of the musicians reading this can relate—performance and travel obligations can cause great disruptions in our practice schedules. However, such a disruption should force only an adjustment to the practice routine, not its complete destruction. During the week when a day or two’s practice will be mostly or entirely preempted, simply transfer those days’ planned practicing to the other days. As long as you are getting at least some time for “maintenance” fundamentals work every day there is no reason why you cannot meet your regular practice goals with five or six days of slightly heavier practice to compensate for the days when you will be out-of-pocket.
In other words, I still expect well-prepared lessons after these trips!
2. A weekly practice schedule allows you to compensate for unexpected interruptions in your regular practice routine. This concept operates in very much the same way as the one above, except more sloppily. Sometimes “life happens,” with illness, a family emergency, an unexpected car repair need, or some other sudden calamity disrupting the normal practice schedule. When this happens, the best approach is to simply move the materials from whatever practice time is missed to other days later in the week. This is obviously more challenging than working around an anticipated disruption and it isn’t always possible to completely make up for lost time in these cases, but the attempt should still be made. Again, always try to put in at least some limited fundamentals work on the days where regular practice is impossible. Except in the case of illness, that is—the body needs to recover, and it is best not to blow germs into a would-be incubator like a brass instrument!
3. A weekly practice schedule allows you to incorporate adequate rest periods into your practice routine. During the periods of greatest practice during my student days, my working goal was to practice twenty hours per week. I usually achieved that goal and often exceeded it. All the same, I usually arranged my practice so that I would put in a little over three hours per day Monday-Saturday, and then only an hour or so on Sunday. This allowed me not only to focus most of my time and energy on corporate worship and related activities on Sunday, but also provided a welcome physical and mental respite from the intense demands of the rest of the week. Additionally, placing that one hour strategically during the day allowed for a 24-hour break before or after the Sunday practice session, providing the benefits of taking a day off without the rebuilding that sometimes feels necessary after a day entirely away from the instrument. Although I am not normally able to practice that same amount these days given my teaching and performing schedule, I still find limiting practice time on Sundays to be a good habit.
I’m sure the reader will be able to think of even more reasons why thinking in terms of weekly rather than daily practice can be useful, but these are the ones that have been most important to me. Of course, there are limitations to this—it will not do to try and take five or six days off and then try to cram a week’s necessary practice hours into just a day or two. That would be physically and maybe even psychologically destructive. As a general rule, though, the weekly schedule has helped me to maintain regular practice patterns despite the myriad interruptions that life sometimes brings.