As a kid, I was taught to practice a minimum of thirty minutes a day. Putting in more time was encouraged and considered to be even better but in our house, there was a thirty-minute-a-day minimum mandate that had to be fulfilled and that was that! No questions allowed, end of story!
However, over the years, through my associations with other teachers, contemporaries and colleagues, my opinion on this question has been significantly modified almost to the point of being redefined.
While I still believe that putting in more time is better than putting in less time, I also believe that your main concern should not be the amount of time you’re putting in at all! That’s right! Your concern should be: “Did you get anything concretely accomplished during your practice session?” I’ll call it an “Objective Accomplished” approach.
With this kind of practice philosophy, you might think of your practice routines as going on a kind of journey. Every time you enter your practice room you should have an itinerary of destinations that represent very specific tasks or objectives that you are going to accomplish. Your list may contain a single item, such as learning to play a single major scale or learning to play two measures of a song. Or it may contain several items, all of which should be short and reachable goals that you can achieve in any given practice session. Start by setting a single small goal, then do it! Don’t let yourself off the hook by making excuses. Just get it done! Period! If it takes only 10 minutes to achieve the objective, then you’re out of there in 10 minutes! If it takes 30 minutes, then you’re done in a half-hour. If it takes 60 minutes or more to achieve success, so be it! Stay in there until you get your objective accomplished!
It may be enjoyable to spend 60-minutes in your practice room aimlessly wandering about and that’s OK if that’s all you want to do. However, if you really want your musicianship to progress and grow, spending as little as 5 or 10 minutes in a session and really nailing something specific nailed-down so that it is solidly under your fingers will serve you much better than a whole hour of aimless doodling. After getting something done, then it’s ok to go back to wandering around doing things just for the fun of it.
If you find yourself watching the clock and counting the minutes, you’re in a mindset that is working against you. Your attention is being divided which causes your focus to be dispersed. If your attention is divided, you are not making the most efficient use of your practice time. You need to make yourself stop that clock-watching! Force yourself to concentrate 100% of your attention on successfully accomplishing the task or tasks on your list for any given session.
This “Objective Accomplished” approach should remove the clock-watching distraction that often occurs when practicing with a “Time Put In” approach. There have been countless times where I’ve become so completely focused on getting a particular list item done, that I became completely unaware of the clock and was pleasantly surprised at the large amount of time that had flown by while I was working!
To help insure that you don’t miss appointments and other things that require your attention, response, or action at a precise time, just set an alarm clock then get back to practicing!
The key here is to make the goals small and reachable according to your level of musicianship. This is where someone like me or your teacher comes in. If you’re like most people, you will benefit from having a coach or a teacher to guide you through the incredible process of developing your musicianship. Start your next practice session by placing one single item on your “to-do” list and don’t stop until that task is achieved! This approach will start to grow on you as you notice yourself improving. As for clock-watching, just