Too Much Practice!?

Wed November 11th, 2009 by Dr. Certain

I read recently where it takes some 10,000 hours to become the master of a skill. Of course it’s a given we’re not talking about bussing tables here; and I ought to know. You see back when Nixon was yet a president in good standing I learned and practiced that little ’skill’ on a very high level.

No, we’re talking about such exceptionally rich and complex skills as playing the violin, performing brain surgery, and, say composing symphonies.

So let’s see now. If you practiced 5 hours a day, six days a week, 50 weeks a year, then we’re talking somewhere in the neighborhood of seven years to become Maxim Vengerov.

Sounds like a bargain to me.

What about you, is the violin worth that to you?

Even if it is, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to ‘take it on.’ After all, life is full of choices, and we may have several passions we want to indulge at one time. This is, after all, where art meets amateurism. And I mean amateurism in the best sense of the word.

One does not have to be Maxim Vengerov to derive great joy and pleasure from the instrument. But let’s take a look at what kind of time investment is typically required to reach some recognized levels of achievement.

In as little as an hour a day you can, in 3 years, equip yourself to the point of playing in community orchestras and enjoying a diversity of chamber music with like minded friends.

Push that up to 2 hours a day for 4 years and you’ll be qualified to teach beginning students, do paying ‘gigs’ and land a chair up in the front of the 1st violin section of your community orchestra. You’ll be playing early Beethoven string quartets quite credibly, I might add.

Let’s talk about becoming a professional.

Just add an hour a day to make it three. Do that for 5 years and you should be well qualified for any regional symphony orchestra. You will have the pick of the best paying gigs in your smaller city. You’ll even have the tools to develop one heck of a teaching studio.

But what about a major symphony orchestra, you ask.

Now we’re talking serious commitment. But add another hour and a couple of more years and you’ll have it. Yes, at 8,000 hours you’re there, would be the conventional wisdom.

By the way, competition for positions today is fierce. You really must be very close to the concert-artist level to win a major audition.

Now, would you be shocked if I told you 30%-40% could be cut from the figures I gave you by adopting a certain mindset and specialized practice tools?

Milstein told me that at the time he studied with Leopold Auer he only practiced 1 1/2 hours a day. He even brought this fact up with Auer, asking if he really should be practicing more.

Auer said to him, ‘Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.’

OK, I think Milstein was exaggerating a tad about the 1 1/2 hours. Maybe his watch ran a little slow.

But in any case, I agree with the premise wholeheartedly, which is why I maintain a violinist with a fully conscious mind can do so much more in a given amount of time than the average Joe.

But you must not take anything you do for granted. You must be ALIVE and fully AWAKE when you practice. And you must take good advice seriously.

If you have one of my courses or have been to one of my masterclass/seminars you’ve benefited from some quality advice. After all, much of it comes from Milstein himself.

All you must provide is your full attention to the process. And there is nothing more nourishing and rewarding than doing that.

All my best & remember- “Keep Fiddlin’ around safely!!”


Dr. Certain

About Dr. Certain

Dr. Certain

Maestro Certain began studying the Violin & Piano at age 2 - he was privileged to begin his Violin studies after his 'initial' Study Session with Dr. Suzuki himself at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Suzuki happened to be in Dallas as a guest Professor of Violin in December of 1964. After the Study Session with Dr. Suzuki, he 'highly suggested' to Mrs. Certain," that young Rand begin Private Violin Instruction immediately!!". Thus began Maestro Certain's 19 year Violin & Piano training under the instruction of Mr. & Mrs. Franklin Washburn of Dallas, Texas (University Park).