Whoever learns to play a musical instrument knows how strenuous practicing is. But we have good news for all those suffering: practising alone does not necessarily lead to more skill. Instead, two experts explain how to practice properly and what backwards practice is all about.

Saxophone lesson at the music school Ottmar Gerster in Markkleeberg: On the music stand lies a sarabande by Bach. However, the saxophone student does not play it from front to back, as one would expect, but begins with the sequence at the end and then, piece by piece, puts further sequences at the front. The so-called retrosequential practice is particularly suitable for instruments with complex playing techniques. “With each note you play something you already know, something familiar,” explains saxophone teacher Frank Liebscher the method. The focus of attention is always in the right place, namely on the new.

Breaks instead of hours of practice

Due to tendinitis of the left arm, Star pianist Lang Lang is currently only allowed to practice for half an hour a day. When he was five, he practiced up to 6 hours a day. According to Eckart Altenmüller, music physiologist and professor at the Musikhochschule in Hanover, the extreme amount of practice is related to Lang’s illness today. 30 minutes a day, that’s all you should expect from a 5-year-old, says Altenmüller. Teenagers could practice up to 45 minutes at a time several times a day. More important than the duration, however, is the quality – regardless of age.

One also learns in the breaks, because here the so-called memory consolidation happens, the music physiologist knows. The information just learned is only synaptically linked and thus consolidated in the breaks. Altenmüller explains that the best time of day to practice is the morning, because shortly after getting up the mind is still fresh.

Finding the right motivation

Altenmüller also advises you to set yourself clear goals and always focus on just one matter – and motivate yourself. Easier said than done, but it helps if, for example, the student is allowed to choose the pieces to practice. Eckart Altenmüller has another tip in store: in one session you should practice very different pieces, for example a quarter of an hour an etude, a quarter of an hour a sonata and a quarter of an hour an improvisation. “Anyone who does this has an improved memory consolidation, because the brain then stores the small portions more deeply,” explains the music physiologist. So practice still makes perfect, but you don’t have to exaggerate.