My practice set-up when I visit my parents at their house
Blog 115: Practice Tips
Back when I was studying at Muhlenberg College I had no real trumpet teacher for the 4 years I was there, instead I bought pretty much every book on trumpet that existed; Clarke, Arban's, Walter Smith, Colin, Schlossberg, Claude Gordon, Farkus etc(!) I would play through book after book, getting stuck on certain exercises, rarely advancing and generally just toiled in mediocrity. Without any guidance, I could only practice for about 2-3 hours a day before my chops would shut down…and those 2-3 hours were spread out over the course of an entire day; maybe 45 min in the morning, 45 in the afternoon and 45 at night or so. Since I had such limited ability and limited endurance spreading out my practice time gave me the chance to recover between sessions. It was an easy lesson to learn since it was pretty much all I could do to get as many hours as I wanted on the horn.
Senior year I remember I lived with a guitar player who was definitely a heavy practicer at the time. He would be up in his room playing for 3 hours straight and then he'd come out, with his eyes dead and slow and barely able to speak. This was my first exposure with 'mental fatigue' from practicing…something I'd never felt first hand because I physically got tired well before I would ever reach that point.
Fast forward to my time in NYC, after I began studying with Laurie Frink. After 2 years of studying with Laurie the work load of drills she'd given me had reached about 4 hours…that's 4 hours without playing a single note of music..just technical studies. Eventually I got my practicing up to 5-6 hours a day, which is what I still do. Through Laurie's method I finally learned first-hand about mental fatigue since my endurance improved so much. I still spread out my practicing into three sessions: Morning, Afternoon and Night, but within those sessions I've learned to pace my practicing differently so that I can maintain my mental focus and keep my physical ability together to play longer and get more done.
During the morning warm-up and technical studies, I play for 2 hours, giving myself many short rests between exercises. During the afternoon and evening practice sessions I structure them differently though. I play for 30 minutes, then I take a 10 minute break. Then I play for 20 minutes, then I take a 10 minute break. Depending on my mental focus that day I can keep up that pattern for 3 hours or so. During the 10 min breaks I go to the Kitchen and drink some water, I check my email or maybe just lay on the floor. But practicing in those short focused bursts is good for the mind and the body. If you practice for more than 40 minutes straight, I'd venture to say your mind will probably drift at some point and you won't be getting as much as you want out of your practice session. It's best to get the most out of the time you're spending practicing.