For this month’s edition of our frequently asked flutey questions, we’re going to help you figure out how much time you should be practicing every week
“How much should I practice flute?”
This is a very popular question among music students. I probably get asked this question at least once a week! Most students hope for a simple, concrete answer like ‘30 minutes a day, three times a week.’
Here’s the bad news: there is no one-size fits all answer. How much you need to practice is an individual thing. It depends on your goals, your available time, your body and your attitude towards practicing.
Here’s the good news: there’s no one-size fits all answer! See this answer as permission to find a practice routine that is healthy and right for you.
But first, let’s chat about why this is such a complicated question
Let’s say there was a formula, that if you practice X number of hours for Y number of days a week, you’ll improve the fastest. That’s going to come with all sorts of its own complications. Enforcing rigid practice schedules can quickly make practicing feel like a chore, and that will kill the joy and passion we have for playing. That strictness also doesn’t account for our individuality – our learning styles and pace, our unique life schedules, our mental state, our personal goals and the other demands on our attention and time.
Trying to balance those idiosyncrasies with a concrete, inflexible amount of prescribed practice time is likely to stir up negative emotions. It will become very easy to feel anxious or guilty about what we should be doing but can’t always fit in our lives. And this runs the risk of causing us to abandon practice all together.
But on the other hand, we all want to get better at playing the flute and not devoting enough time to regular practice will delay our progress and growth. Slow improvement can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and demotivation, and that may also cause us to give up on practicing all together.
Each student’s musical journey is unique and is influenced by personal goals, available time, motivation, and the enjoyment derived from playing. Striking a balance between structure and flexibility is essential. It means developing a practice routine that supports progress but also takes your personal situation into consideration.
So, let’s discuss the factors that you can consider to help you determine how much practice will be right for you.
Figure out your goals
The first step is to figure out what is important to you and what your goals are. Are you a beginner looking to develop basic skills? Are you preparing for an important audition or performance? Do you want to become a professional flutist? Everyone’s goals are different and defining yours will help you set realistic expectations for your practice.
If you’re a beginner, you may start with shorter practice sessions and gradually increase the time as you progress. Aim for consistency and regularity, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day. As you advance, you may need to look at increasing that time to help you tackle more complex techniques and repertoire.
For those preparing for auditions or performances, it’s recommended to practice for longer durations to ensure you are well-prepared and confident. As you’ll have specific repertoire to be working on, that will help you focus your practice time.
If you aspire to become a professional flutist, you may need to dedicate several hours a day to practice. And that time might need to be spent on developing more general tone and technique rather than specific repertoire, which might alter the amount of time you’ll need each session.
However, whatever your goals, it’s important to remember that quality practice is always more valuable than sheer quantity. A focused, concentrated short practice session can be far more effective than a longer session with distractions and lack of focus. Be mindful of your practice habits and make sure you are working efficiently towards your goals.
Determine how much time you have to practice
With your goals now firmly in mind, you need to figure out how much time you have to practice. Just like everyone’s goals are different, everyone has different amounts of time to devote to playing.
Take a look at your weekly schedule and identify pockets of time that you can dedicate to flute practice. Remember that consistency is key, so try to establish a regular practice routine that fits into your schedule.
Consider your other commitments and responsibilities and find a balance that works for you. If you’re trying to learn how to play the flute while working a full-time job and raising children, you will likely find only a few precious moments of free time for practicing. On the other hand, if you are a full-time music student, your schedule might allow for hours of practice each day.
A good rule of thumb is practice as often as possible, for whatever time you can afford. The more consistent we can be in our practice, the easier it is to retain what we’ve learned and build upon our technique.
Remember practicing is as physical as it is mental
This can be a very easy one to forget, but playing the flute requires physical endurance and dexterity, as well as mental focus. Just like athletes, flutists need to build up their muscles and develop stamina.
Make sure every practice session starts gently with warm ups and that we allow time for our muscles to build up. If you’re a beginner, you might find that holding the flute up for more than 20 mins can really start to strain your arms. Or if you’re an advanced player, but you’re working on your tone, you’ll still be developing your embouchure muscles as well as your core and support. While practicing your tone for six hours might sound like good idea on paper, those muscles will tire and the work we do will lose its effectiveness.
Assess your mental attitude towards practicing
Another factor that can be easy to forget about is your mindset. Your attitude and mental state can have huge repercussions on our practice sessions. Be honest with yourself and evaluate how focused and engaged you are during your practice time. If you find yourself easily distracted or lacking motivation, consider packing up and returning later when you can be focused.
And it’s not just our focus and attention we need to be conscious of – if we enjoy playing and practicing, we are so much more likely to get more out of our practice sessions. Try to be mindful of when you’re practicing: Are you looking forward to it? Or does it feel like a chore? If you approach the practice session with a negative attitude, perhaps its best to skip this time and come back when you feel more motivated.
Allow for flexibility
As they say, change is the only constant, so just like anything else in our lives, we need to be OK with flexibility in our practice schedules. Some days you may have more energy and focus, while other days you may feel tired or overwhelmed. Listen to your body and mind and adjust your practice time accordingly.
Sometimes there are periods of time where we need to be kinder to ourselves. (Remember, we don’t want to lock ourselves in the mental prison of ‘shoulds’.) If your job is currently going through a very busy period that is leaving you feeling mentally drained, or you just welcomed your first child into your home, you’re not going to have as much time as you normally do. And that’s totally cool! Just try to find small, consistent moments that you can give to your flute playing.
Conversely, perhaps you have a concert or performance coming up. This might mean you need to expand your schedule to make sure you have enough time to get in the work to feel prepared.
And if you change your goals, the amount of time you practice should reflect those new goals. Regularly checking in with yourself is the best way to help manage and assess these changes.
Find what’s right for you
The most important take away from this FAFQ should be that it is up to you to decide how much practice time is right for you. Being honest and mindful of your goals and situation will help you figure out the perfect practice schedule.
I highly recommend using a practice notebook or tracker, which can help you be conscious of your practice time, attitude and focus, and if you need some more tips on how to create your individual practice schedule, check out my other blog here.
What are your flutey questions?
Have any other burning questions about the flute you’d like me to answer? Let me know what they are and I may feature in my next edition of #FAFQs.