Is there such a thing as too much practice? Fiddle as a metaphor 4 life

Is there such a thing as practicing too much? Why not ask a painter if there is too much paint on the canvas?

Of course, I’m speaking about practicing a particular tune or piece of music, not practicing in general. But just as a painter needs to know when to stop painting, so does a musician need to know when to quit practicing a tune and start playing it.

My definition of practice is an activity designed to take weaker elements (techniques, tunes, parts of tunes), isolate them, understand them, and then work on them in a focused fashion until they are no longer weak. Therefore, if you have practiced a tune to the point that there are no weak spots, you have done enough.

Then it is time to let go of that focused attention and begin playing the music.

If you continue past a certain point in your practicing, you will become fixated on the mechanics of the section or tune you’re working on and miss out on the music inherent in the tune. In fact, you could even anticipate making a mistake there, and that momentary distraction can wreak havoc on your performance. (See my previous blog on “stage fright”.)

We never reach perfection in our pursuit of it, but we do attain higher levels of skill and musical taste. So, before you suck all the life out of the music and make it a mechanical monstrosity, stop practicing and PLAY!

Sometimes in life we work too hard at something, over and over again, and forget to balance that hard work with actually living our lives. Take the man who has devoted his entire life to earning as much money as he can so he and his family can enjoy a nice retirement. 40 or 50 years go by, and although his bank account is plush and his retirement fund healthy, he has lost the best years of his life to work.

What I am trying to convey in this blog is that a balance needs to be struck between practice and play. Once the work has been done, then enjoy the fruits of your labors! Don’t wait for the perfect time or place or performance …. Music is designed to bring joy into your life, but if you always keep a leash on it because you haven’t “practiced enough”, you will find yourself postponing that enjoyment and denying yourself the thoroughly enjoyable experience of sharing that music with the world.

The other aspect of this topic is that there is more to life than just practicing. You can only pay attention to something for a finite amount of time before your mind is saturated, you lose focus, and end up spinning your wheels. What a waste of time! Get out of the practice room, hang with your peeps, go surfing or skiing, take a walk … your practicing will be much improved because of the break.

I’d like to recommend Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for a more complete, in depth explanation of this idea.

Don’t stop practicing altogether, but know when enough is enough …. and then PLAY!

For this and other blogs like it, please visit www.fiddlin4you.com. Enjoy!


1 comment

  • Theresa N.

    Theresa N.

    Thank you Michael.....this is what Evan Marshall and Tardu Yegin tell me....if you get stuck on a section....isolate it, understand it, work on it until you get it. I practice my tin whistle for an hour....get up and do something else....then I practice my mandolin for an hour...get up and do something else. It is very rewarding when you sit back down and play the tune and think to yourself....ohhhh....ok....I got it and move on to another section.

    Thank you Michael.....this is what Evan Marshall and Tardu Yegin tell me....if you get stuck on a section....isolate it, understand it, work on it until you get it.
    I practice my tin whistle for an hour....get up and do something else....then I practice my mandolin for an hour...get up and do something else.
    It is very rewarding when you sit back down and play the tune and think to yourself....ohhhh....ok....I got it and move on to another section.

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