How much time you spend practicing and how often you practice is determined by your musical goals. “Why am I practicing?” is the question that you should ask yourself. If you are planning to be a music educator, a performer, or you simply practice because you perform as a hobby, putting in regular quality time on your instrument(s) is vital to your musical growth.
It is said that you can become an expert on an instrument if you spend 10,000 hours of quality practice time on that instrument. Imagine the following scenario: three hours of daily practice (every day of the week) would allow you to reach the goal of 10,000 hours in just over nine years. Are you seeking a career in music? If so, how far along are you in your 10,000 hours?
Developing a consistent practice schedule is vital to establishing good practice habits. I strongly suggest you schedule your practice time into your day and be steadfast about following your daily plan of activities. Additionally, I recommend breaking up your practice into smaller sessions so that you can maximize your daily practice sessions. The next step is coming up with a daily practice plan; this will ensure that the time you spend practicing is focused and goal-oriented. Below is a sample day practice plan for an aspiring saxophone performer.
Session One – One Hour
Tone Builders (with drone) – 30 minutes
- Long tone scale – two octaves whole notes
- Mouthpiece alone/pitch bending flexibility exercises
- Chromatic descending exercise for entire range of the horn
Articulation Exercise (with metronome and tuner) – 20 minutes
New Technique – 10 minutes
Altissimo, slap-tonguing, circular breathing, multiple tonguing, multi-phonics, etc. Take ten minutes in this session and devote it toward learning a new technique.
Session Two – One Hour
Technique (with metronome and tuner)
Play all major, natural, melodic, and harmonic minor scales as well as mixolydian, dorian, octatonic, and whole-tone scales extended throughout the horn.
Devote the rest of the hour to practicing one key: scale, thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths, and octaves using varied articulations and pushing tempos to new highs.
Session Three – One Hour
Technique (with metronome and tuner) -
- Bozza Caprice No. 1 - 20 Minutes
- Grege Fishman Archer Ave. Etude – 20 Minutes
- Continue to transcribe Hank Mobley “Dig Dis” solo – 20 minutes
Session Four – One Hour
Cockroft – Beat Me! – 30 minutes
- Isolate multi-phonics section, SLOW PRACTICE
Larsson Concerto – 30 minutes
- 2nd movement - Isolate loud altissimo section, work intonation
For this session, I chose a four-hour daily plan. Earlier, I mentioned three hours of daily practice. How much should you practice daily? That is a question for you and your teacher ultimately to answer, but I offer the following practice time goals for you to consider.
Daily Practice Time Specific Path
4-5 Hours Performer/Aspiring Performer
3 Hours Aspiring Music Educator
3 Hours on Primary Woodwind Doublers
2 Hours total on Secondary
1-2 Hours Hobbyists
I teach many music education and performance-track university students. In my opinion, being able to perform at a high level is just as important to the music education student as it is to the student choosing performance as a career. When studying music, a student's primary instrument becomes the chief vehicle for synthesizing all aspects of his/her musical curriculum: theory, aural skills, technique, history, pedagogy, etc.
All of our music educators need to be able to turn an elegant musical phrase and communicate great performances to audiences - whether from the podium or with an instrument in hand.