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21 June 2021, 17:56
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.
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
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?
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.
Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach's Cello Suite No. 1
“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)
“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.”
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
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.