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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Apologies to My Neighbors and My Brain

I started the new year with a new gig to learn a challenging contemporary sonata. The score is a flurry of accidentals and 32nd notes.

After 10 days of practice, the first movement sounds recognizable, but the second movement is still in the painful “hunt and peck” stage. It’s like hour after hour of cats walking on a keyboard. Maybe next year I should try a new diet instead of new music.

How To Learn An Orchestral Reduction

  1. Declare valiantly that you will learn the orchestral reduction exactly as written because of the small fortune spent on fancy conservatory training.
  2. Develop insecurities about your technical ability, practice habits, and value of aforementioned training.
  3. Curse the editor, who forgot that humans have only ten fingers and probably couldn’t play the stupid reduction either.
  4. Listen to recordings and/or study the full score. Recognize the ingenuity of the composer while continuing to curse the editor who tried to cram every note into the reduction.
  5. Swallow pride and reduce the orchestral reduction. Does this make it an orchestral concentrate? (Tee hee. My husband will be proud of that one.)
  6. Practice, practice, practice.