How much piano practice is enough?

This is an almost impossible questions to answer isn’t it?  And it’s a topic that affects all pianists whether they are beginners or advanced players, young or old, professionals or amateurs. The crux of the matter is this; all pianists need to practice. But how much is enough? What is considered a reasonable amount of work per day or does it matter how many hours? Shouldn’t it be quality over quantity?

I followed concert pianist Stephen Hough’s (@houghhough) Twitter feed yesterday and was fascinated to find him answering questions regarding his practice regime. I thought it most interesting that he generally managed about four hours practice per day. No doubt, he has a very busy schedule and must have to squeeze practising in around many other professional demands. However, he performs at the highest level and pianists are frequently advised that in order to achieve this, they must practice most of the day. Indeed lots do. I was a little like this when I was much younger. Hiding away at the piano working furiously. Many successful concert pianists don’t spend hours and hours practising though; four hours per day is often deemed all that is necessary.

Does it all depend on your level of playing or maybe on your brainpower? Or, dare I say, aptitude and talent? How quickly can you assimiliate and process information enabling you to learn a work and swiftly get your fingers around all the notes accurately? Does being a good sight-reader help? How much practice time do we waste too? We all sit down and aimlessly play through pieces from time to time, a habit which often achieves little.

In order to cut the amount of time you spend at the piano perhaps it is a good idea to know a piece in your mind before you start; many feel this inhibits an original reading but I find it really helps. Listening to recordings and studying away from the instrument is a good way to begin. Once you are aware of the sound as well as musical and emotional content, you will already feel as though you know the work before you even touch the keyboard. Once there, sectionalizing your piece structurally and working through it methodically can also cut down on fruitless practice time. It’s a fact that memorising can take up a great deal more study time; probably about 50% more practice is required to learn a piece securely from memory. However, if you study your piece from many different angles away from the piano as well as performing it in your mind, then you will be well on your way to learning it that much more quickly.

Developing a practice schedule can help, too; once you know you have to achieve or learn several elements or features in particular works at one sitting, then you train your mind to make sure everything is completed.


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Dear Mel,

    I think knowing the tune of a particular piece of music and the “tradition” in which it should be played will certainly help when practising it, although developing our own individual style and expression is also important.

    Actually liking the piece and wanting to learn it in the first instance is a powerful incentive to practise because it usually means that one have something to “say” about it and would want to express it in one’s own individual way.

    1. Hi, That’s all great advice – you’re quite right, liking your piece is vital to making progress I think.

  2. isdigby says:

    Working full time leaves less time and energy for practice. I find I can improve as an amateur with a consistent 1.5 hours every day. It is like fitness though: without consistency the entropy soon takes over so you have to keep everything spinning. Interestingly if for a day or two one can’t practice, the performance aspect seems to improve!

    1. Interesting comments thank you. I find a few days off actually improves my playing too!

  3. Mikaela says:

    Dear Melanie,
    I begin to memorize my pieces from day 1. I break the phrase up, analyse it, look out for patterns or connections and only do small sections at a time. The more difficult the piece, the more this helps; we don’t need look up and down furiously as we try to read the music and play at the same time, we can focus on our technique and body movements and we can also actually listen to the sound we are producing! I recommend this way of learning a piece to anyone, whether an amateur or professional. As Mr Hough says in his article memorization itself is important, but I also feel there are many benefits to starting out from the beginning (because of this his point about fingering and analysis is also key).

    1. Great points Mikaela. I totally agree. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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