How many hours a day do the world’s greatest classical musicians practise?

21 June 2021, 17:56

How much do Nicola Benedetti, Lang Lang and Yo-Yo Ma practise?
How much do Nicola Benedetti, Lang Lang and Yo-Yo Ma practise? Picture: Getty/PA

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Here’s how many hours it takes to be one of the world’s greatest classical virtuosos…

Even when we don’t feel like doing it, we know deep down that (major musician life hack coming up, here…) getting better at playing our musical instruments requires more than a few hours of practice.

And over the years, classical music journos haven’t been able to resist asking star performers just how many hours they put in, in order to master their own instrument.

From violin icons to superstar pianists, here’s how many hours a day these great musicians say they practise their musical instruments.

Read more: 10 tips to help you practise more effectively

  1. Nicola Benedetti: 3-7 hours a day

    The star Scottish violinist has said she practises for between three and seven hours every day.

    Benedetti told the Daily Record that as a child, she would often happily miss friends’ parties in order to dedicate more time to her instrument. “I was never made to practice instead of going to a friend’s birthday party, but I remember crying once or twice because I was given the choice and chose orchestra instead of the party.”

    She adds that during summer holidays, “We would practise for two to three hours every morning on holiday and do some theory and spend some time concentrating”.

    Tchaikovsky's violin concerto – the second movement

  2. Itzhak Perlman: 3 hours a day

    Speaking to Classic FM, Itzhak Perlman said three hours a day was “personally fine” for him.

    “A lot of my students feel that if you practise more, it’s going to be better,” Perlman told us (watch below). “But the answer to this is, that’s wrong. Don’t practise for more than four to five hours. Afterwards, it’s not useful anymore. The body doesn’t absorb any more stuff... and you can cause yourself physical problems.”

    How much should you practise?

  3. Yo-Yo Ma: 3-6 hours a day

    Yes, after a lifetime on the concert stage, even Yo-Yo Ma still needs to practise.

    Ma lives by Malcolm Gladwell’s theory that in order to become a pro at anything, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice. He now estimates that after practising for 10,000 hours every five years, he has spent at least 50,000 hours playing only his signature work, the Bach Cello Suites.

    Read more: Yo-Yo Ma: ‘We live in a time that feels fractured, and Bach is a unifying factor’

    Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach's Cello Suite No. 1

  4. Lang Lang: 2-8 hours a day

    Lang Lang told the Irish Times that his practice time has varied from eight to more reasonable two hours, over the course of his piano career.

    “I work really hard every day. Two hours,” he said. “I kind of enjoy doing it. It’s very inspiring to practise, once it’s not too long. Eight hours is probably not inspiring. I did that, of course, when I was a kid. Now I really enjoy the two hours. Open my heart, open my passion. And also it calms me down. Sometimes you really need to clear your mind in order to play the slow pieces, and to be quiet.”

    Lang Lang 'Für Elise' (live at The Global Awards 2019)

  5. Sarah Chang: up to 8 hours a day

    American violin virtuoso Sarah Chang told The Strad that while she often practises for a long time, she advocates taking breaks to break it up.

    “If I have a lot of repertoire to learn, I’ll practise for up to eight hours in a day,” Chang said. “But I never practise for more than an hour at a time: I’ll do an hour then eat something, do another hour and watch some TV, do another hour and so on.”

    Sarah Chang | Por Una Cabeza

    Sarah Chang is a goddess 🔥🔥 This is 'Por Una Cabeza' by Carlos Gardel, played with pianist Ashley Wass at London's Cadogan Hall.

    Posted by Classic FM on Thursday, February 21, 2019
  6. Evgeny Kissin: 4 hours a day

    Aged six, now-concert pianist Evgeny Kissin practised no more than 20 minutes a day. Aged seven after a year of music school, he practised for an hour, and after three years, for four hours a day.

    “I think that I didn’t need too much discipline in the beginning,” Kissin tells the Guardian. “As a musician, I was developing very fast, and when one has a real gift, one can make strides by using only natural talent, without applying too much effort. Later there comes a moment when one can't grow without working hard.”

    Evgeny Kissin plays Rachmaninov's Prelude in C-sharp minor

  7. Frédéric Chopin: 2 hours a day

    The great Polish Romantic swore by no more than two hours of practice a day. Writing to one of his pupils, Delfina, he wrote: “Once again I repeat – don’t play more than two hours a day; that is quite enough during the summer.”

    Chopin did not believe practising for six or eight hours led to the best music-making, and deemed over-practising mechanical and useless.

    Ingolf Wunder - Chopin Nocturne Op.9 No.2

Of course, however many hours a day you want to practise your musical instrument is up to you. And if you do begin to feel discomfort during a practice session, make sure you stop immediately and consult your music teacher or GP.