, , , , ,

English: Time study stopwatch with 100 HM scal...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Credit for this quote enthusiastically goes to Diane Nichols, a psychotherapist in New York who spoke at a performers’ seminar I attended.

Diane had practiced psychotherapy for several years, but had begun specializing in work with performers only recently.

In talking about her work at the beginning of her presentation, she said that hearing the same thing over and over from various musicians had made an impression: 

“I only had an hour, so I didn’t practice at all.” 

Immediately after setting the scene, her memorable line was delivered while peering over her glasses.

Things get in the way and derail our plans: the maintenance crew shows up unannounced, an important phone call comes at an inconvenient time, we are needed at the last minute to play for a rehearsal.

And there goes our practice time.

At other times, we just don’t want to practice.

That is the way I felt on Thursday.  Contributing factors included:

  • Not sleeping well the night before.

  • Having an early departure time for an appointment, making a longer  practice session impossible.

  • Knowing that I would arrive home after 9 or 10 p.m., so there would not be any more practice time available that day.

  • Thinking that watching tennis would be more fun.

  • Looking out the window to see a gorgeous, sunny day.  It would have been fun to be outside right then.

But I did it. Going back to sleep would have been so nice. I even considered postponing the appointment.

What can we accomplish in only an hour?

I’ll start by talking about what my hour looked like:

  • Good, focused, effective warmup.
  • Practiced 2 piano parts for Sunday’s flute solos.
    • A Brahms Waltz required right hand work on harmonic 6ths with an inconvenient leap mid-phrase.
    • Another piece is not difficult, but moves quickly. It needed a few fingerings to be added and practiced.
  • Mendelssohn Songs Without Words, which I last performed 7 months ago. 3 of these are also planned for Sunday’s service.
    • I needed to play through all 3 pieces.
    • Most of the music was fine. So I focused on a few phrases with difficult fingerings.
  • Solo piano music for my July 22nd recital:
    • 3 Messiaen Preludes, difficult passages only.
      • To reinforce fingerings.
      • To double-check a few accidentals.
      • To smooth out a transition between 2 sections.
      • To practice the end a few more times.
    • Debussy’s Children’s Corner.
      • Omitted slow movements today.
      • Focused on evenness and transitions.
      • Did not practice complete movements.

How can we decide what to practice for a one-hour session?

I am including this question because I used to feel rushed. When we  are convinced that an hour will never be enough time to do anything, the game is over.

  • Eliminate panic at having too little time. (Take long, slow breaths, for one thing.)
  • Look at the music you need to do.
  • Eliminate the music that can wait a day, whether that be complete pieces or sections of pieces.  You’re not going to make it through an entire program.
  • Focus on the passages that need the most work.
  • If playing at tempo isn’t working, or if the music isn’t ready for that, slow down! Playing faster is not a time-saver. You’ll only miss more notes, play worse, feel frustrated, and have a lousy day.
  • Watching the time can be helpful if you are able to leave a phrase before it’s perfect and move on.

By paying attention to your goal, getting some good practice done in one hour, you will find that it can be done.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Summer Concerts

See complete details about Rocky Hill Concerts. 4 Sunday afternoons in July in air-conditioned comfort!


“Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer” gives every musician a fresh perspective!

My book frees up time to learn more music, memorize, or do something else entirely!

“Goal-oriented Practice” is also available in print!

Goal-oriented Practice

sold in 8 countries!

Review by pianist Robert W. Oliver

Back to top