Common misconceptions can be the bane of a society! They can also be the bane of beginning piano players who get trapped in the wrong mode of thinking. Here we address another popular myth that many new players take for granted. Today we will look at the issue of long practice sessions. Most new players starting out believe that it is better to spend many hours of practice at a time to improve, but this has it’s drawbacks too as we will see.
The problem with marathon practice sessions is mental fatigue. After about 15 minutes of practice, the average person becomes mentally tired. Thus, regular short bursts, with breaks in between is actually more effective than extending a session over many hours non-stop. For this reason, we believe that you should practice on days even when you only have a short amount of time available to you. You may think it would be wasted time, but this is not necessarily the case. So long as you keep doing a lot of short practice sessions, by the end of the week they’ll have added up to something significant.
Say you only have 10 minutes per day. If you can squeeze in 16 of these 10-minute bursts over a few days, then that makes 16 micro practice session, totaling 160 minutes which is just under three hours. You might think stopping and starting like this would not give you enough time to “ramp up” to something important, but it can actually be a highly efficient way of practicing.
It can also be much easier to squeeze in 10 minute bursts than committing yourself to an hour a day. If your initial goal is to practice an hour, three days of the week, yet you get tied up and keep postponing your practice, days go by without practicing and by the end of the week you have done exactly ZERO practice. The result is you delay practicing the piano ALTOGETHER. Compare this to sneaking in a 10-15 minute interval twice a day when you can. Even if you can only do it once a day for three days and twice for two that’s an hour or two of practice a week compared to ZERO practice!
Even if you do have as much time on your hand as you need and can dedicate it all to piano practice, small chunks of practice is still preferable to six hours of practice straight. It is also preferable not to practice when you are tired, frustrated, distracted, angry or in a hurry as these will be “learned” into your piano playing which is not a good thing.
On the other hand if you do find yourself stuck seated at the piano for a long time then it will help to rotate your activities so you practice a variety of activities in turn. Select a piece from our easy songs to learn on piano and spend 20 minutes learning it, then switch to practicing chords, then switch to some fingering techniques. You can then switch back to the song you were learning at the beginning and you’ll feel mentally much fresher and your practice session will be much more effective. You are balancing your learning of new skills and your mind will be fresher.
Takeaway lesson: practice sessions need not be long, short bursts of 10-15 minutes are in fact an effective way of learning if you are on a tight schedule.