Do you need to play every day?

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Before I get on topic, let me give a brief update on what is going on here and why I am not writing as much these days.

Truthfully, I am just incredibly busy right now. I have not announced this previously but I am recording a new album next month. It is a piano-only project again, and while not too taxing, is taking up some time. I have other projects going as well, including my orchestration class.

I have not announced this either yet but I am releasing my first ever published arrangement book (with Lorenz) next year and I owe them the arrangements in two months. I will talk more about that later.

And then, there is another thing going on that I have been involved in for a year and just can’t talk about at all right now. At some point, I will and at great length, but for now, I can’t. It has nothing to do with music; it is a personal thing.

All right… Moving on to the topic of the day. Do you have to practice every day?

The answer of course is no. Practicing every day is a good system for instilling discipline in children but there is nothing special about the idea itself. I can tell you that there are many days I never touch a piano and I don’t lose any sleep over it. There are times where I might go a week with barely playing at all.

That being said, if you want to really learn a skill like piano, while you might not practice every day, you are going to have to understand that you can’t cram like you did for a test in school. I see the “cramming” mindset constantly and it makes me wince. Skills like playing the piano require not only intellectual knowledge but also muscle memory and instinct which develop slowly over time. Even if you have the capacity to memorize a concept within a few hours, you are not going to be able to use it effectively in real world playing.

So which is better: practicing 30 minutes a day for a week or practicing 4 hours in one session on a Saturday? I will take the first option every time. Learning things that you can use in your music is a marathon. In many cases, it is just deciding to dedicate part of your day to learning for day after day and week after week.

Here is an example: many people comment on the voicing I use in my music. There is nothing magical about that voicing and it is not something I just was born with the ability to do. The fact that I can voice that way instinctively is very simply  the result of months of work I put in several years ago. Every day, I carried around 3×5 cards of voicing formulas. I learned the formulas and then started implementing them with lead sheets and drill charts. I did that for 30 minutes a day for month after month and eventually, I got to the point where I can use those voicings effortlessly without thinking.

There are simply no shortcuts to get to that point. You can’t go to a week-long class, work 80 hours and come out using voicings instinctively. You are only going to get there by repetitive day-after-day chipping away at it. Few people are willing to do that but that is what it takes.

We adults are very busy people. We probably can’t practice every day. But even if we can’t, we have to embrace the philosophy behind practicing every day if we really want to be skilled. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your skill will not be either. Forget the occasional full day cram sessions and just commit to practicing a bit day after day. That is where you will see improvement.