When I was in college (a long long time ago), I practiced 3 hours a day. That did not include my performance classes and lessons and rehearsals. During the course of a day, I would play my instrument for about 8 hours total. And that was nothing compared to my friends who played violin, viola, or cello (brass instruments require more rest than strings).
I absolutely do not expect your student to practice that much. Many beginning musicians believe that spending a lot of time practicing will make you better, but that is a common misconception. What matters is not how long you practice, but how focused you are during that time. Virtuosic violinist, composer, and conductor Leopold Auer said of practice: “Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.” Famous violinist Jascha Heifetz also indicated that he never believed in practicing too much, and that excessive practice is “just as bad as practicing too little!”
In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell cites research that states spending 10 years or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice on anything will make you an expert. Some people say that it takes musicians 25 years, instead of 10. But the important thing to note is not the time it takes, but rather the type of practice it requires: focused, deliberate practice. The following is taken from a blog post about mindful practice:
So what does deliberate, or mindful, practice look like? Deliberate practice is highly structured, or for lack of a better word, scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of experimentation with clear goals and hypotheses. Thinking of your glows and grows and improving each time you work on something. The practice room should be your laboratory where you experiment and try new things, to make your music even better. Deliberate practice is often slow and quiet, involving repetition of small and very specific sections of your music instead of just playing through (e.g. working on just the opening note of your solo to make sure that it “speaks” exactly the way you want, instead of playing the entire opening phrase).
Deliberate practice involves monitoring one’s performance (in real-time, but also via recordings), continually looking for new ways to improve. This means really listening to what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong. For instance, was the first note note sharp? Flat? Too loud? Too soft? Too harsh? Too short? Too long?
Let’s say that the note was too sharp and too long with not enough of an attack to begin the note. Well, how sharp was it? A little? A lot? How much longer was the note than you wanted it to be? How much more of an attack did you want?
Ok, the note was a little sharp, just a hair too long, and required a much clearer attack in order to be consistent with the marked articulation and dynamics. So, why was the note sharp? What did you do? What do you need to do to make sure the note is perfectly in tune every time? How do you ensure that the length is just as you want it to be, and how do you get a consistently clean and clear attack to begin the note so it begins in the right character?
Now, let’s imagine you recorded all of this and could listen to how this last attempt sounded. Does that combination of ingredients give you the desired result? In other words, does that combination of ingredients convey the mood or character you want to communicate to the listener as effectively as you thought it would?
Few musicians take the time to stop, analyze what went wrong, why it happened, and how they can correct the error permanently.
Think about practicing as a 6 step process:
By spending your time implementing focused, deliberate practice, you will start seeing immense progress in your playing in less time. After all, who wants to spend all day practicing your instrument? Get in, get stuff done, and get out!