What’s a normal amount of practicing?

Yesterday afternoon I spent an hour with a voice student working solely on rhythm: writing beats in the score, tapping subdivisions, speaking in rhythm, and count-singing. Perhaps concerned by the little amount of time we spent actually singing, at the end of the coaching, the student asked me, “What’s a normal amount of time to spend on this?”

I think she was hoping I’d respond with a prescription like “for ages 18 to 21: 30 minutes, four times a week,” but I had none. This student needed to dedicate a lot of practice time to counting, but her French was already excellent. On the other hand, I’ve known students with strong rhythmic aptitude who spent an entire semester improving their French from unrecognizable to somewhat passable.

Every musician has certain skills that require more practice. As a pianist with tiny hands, I spend a lot of time practicing awkward stretches and leaps that an average pianist would play without a second thought. It’s as frustrating and tedious for me as it is for my student to practice her 1 & 2 & 3 &s. A “normal” amount of practice is the amount it takes to make our difficult skills feel as easy as the skills that come naturally.

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4 thoughts on “What’s a normal amount of practicing?

  1. Janice says:

    I often spend a lot of time on technique/notes/pitches, but my biggest problem is rhythm, so I often need to spend most of my time working on that with new (to me) pieces.

  2. Nicole says:

    Just stumbled upon your blog today–really enjoying it! Anyway, as another tiny-handed pianist who also does some accompanying on the side (mainly for singers), I might suggest actually re-writing some of those really awkward passages to save yourself practice time–and I’ll actually do this immediately upon receiving a new score, even before I try it for the first time at the piano. Since I’m also a composer who writes mainly tonal music, this comes really naturally to me, and 99% of the time nobody can hear the difference (and, frankly, it’s the composer’s responsibility to know how to write for the instrument he’s using–I have enough respect for other instrumentalists that I study how to write for their instruments without assuming that every player of that instrument is a huge Russian man!). If I had to make drastic/noticeable alterations to a piece–for example, almost any song by Faure (sigh) and quite a bit of Brahms–I’ll make a little note on my repertoire list that it’s my “own reduction,” so if for some reason someone’s in a situation where an altered accompaniment is absolutely unacceptable, they’ll at least have a heads up. (This hasn’t happened yet, though)

    • Eileen Huang says:

      Thanks for writing, Nicole! It’s nice to hear from another small-handed pianist. I often rewrite passages in orchestral reductions, but the idea of revising composers’ original works hadn’t occurred to me. Anything that saves me practice time is worth considering though. Which piece have you doctored up most?

      • Nicole says:

        Oh, goodness–probably Faure’s “Nell”–I received the music a few days before the singer’s lesson on it (the singer is also a pianist and learns ridiculously quickly himself), and since the left-hand arpeggios are absolutely impossible for my hand size, I cut them out completely and played quarter notes on the beats, then slightly revoiced a few spots in the right hand so no chord tones would be missing. Probably a close second in terms of alterations would be the 3 Brahms Zigeunerlieder I’m currently playing for one of our choirs. “Braune Bursche” in particular is completely impossible when you need to be looking at a conductor and not down at your hands, so I refigured the entire left hand so that each arpeggio would only span an 8ve at most (to make matters worse, I was on a slightly narrower-than-standard keyboard for my first 3 years of childhood lessons, so I have to look down at my hands in order to negotiate any leaps or gestures covering more than an 8ve; I have no spatial memory at all for standard-size pianos unless it’s a piece I’ve studied for 5 years or something). I also have my own version of “Die Forelle” (Schubert) in which all the initial/lowest notes of the little right-hand flourishes are taken up an octave and all the left hand chords are revoiced so they’re not more than an octave away from the downbeat bass notes. If you’re at all interested in seeing/using any of my alterations I’d be happy to scan and share them! I also have an altered score to Mozart’s K467 piano concerto, since I accompanied a student of Menachem Pressler on it (and much to my relief, he praised my performance of it at the recital!) I’d love it if my reductions ended up being useful to other collaborative pianists! 🙂

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