How long does it take to learn something?

A question most students have when starting out is “how long does it take to learn something?” or “how long should it take me to get to a certain level?”

Here’s the simple answer. It depends. It’s probably not what you want to hear but everyone is different. People process things differently and respond differently to certain practice methods. A lot depends also on your current level of technique and the difficulty of the piece that you are attempting to learn.

Having said this, I think there are two main things to be aware of when attempting to master a piece.

Consistency: Try to practice every day. 5 hours practice spread over 5 days is more effective than one 5 hour practice session. Quite often, you don’t experience the results of your practice until a day or more later. This is where a lot of people fall down. They over analyse their progress without allowing enough time for development and as a result, get disheartened and lose focus. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Think of it like going to the gym. You don’t notice the muscles that you build immediately. Sometimes you only notice the development after a few weeks and ONLY if you have been consistent through those weeks. Information that we learn is tied together when we are asleep. It is important to allow time for what has been practiced to sink in.

Focus: When you practice, it is important to focus. I think one of the main differences between people who progress quickly and people who don’t is what they are focusing on when they practice. The old adage; it’s not about quantity but quality, is somewhat true here. A lot of people practice without intense focus. Learning a song or technique while watching TV and thinking about that girl that you met last night is fine, but you probably are not going to progress as quickly as someone who is in total isolation and is intensely focused on what they are practicing. The exact thing to focus on can be hard to pin point exactly, but there are many possible focus points. Try singing the part that you are trying to play, or imagining it in your head exactly how it should sound. Or focus on one finger. Is it moving exactly how it should, with minimal tension and movement? These might seem like abstract ideas, but it’s amazing the difference it makes to results.


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