How do you know when you’ve practiced enough? This is a tricky question. Some people will answer with the amount of time they’ve put in, and some may answer with a feeling.
If I’ve put in 1 hour every day on my warm-up and have my technique down then I feel like I’ve done enough.
When I can play it 10 times without a mistake then I’ve done enough.
I’ve tried putting time limits and external measurements, such as playing things 10x perfectly, on my playing in hopes that it would give me confidence in my performance. I hoped it would be enough. This didn’t get me very far. Here’s why: when we put external and quantifiable measurements on what will make us “prepared,” it’s still possible to not feel prepared at the end of it. AND vice versa. What if you don’t have the time to put in that you usually do? Does that automatically mean you won’t be able to do it?
This is the thing I missed for so long: It isn’t about achieving perfection 100 times in a row, it’s about how you feel when you play it. Not every passage is going to take 100 repetitions, and some may take even more. And don’t worry about comparing how many times it takes you to how many times it takes other people. They aren’t you, that information is irrelevant to what you’re doing. If you’re always looking outside of yourself for answers, it is hard to build self-trust you can take into a performance.
There are thousands of method books, approaches to practicing, and practice logs you can fill out. There are an endless amount of downloadable worksheets with boxes you can check off. What these things tend to do is distract from what’s really important: checking in with yourself. If you did something 10 times and it still feels uncomfortable, don’t just stop because you did it 10 times. This is 100% what happened to me. I couldn’t understand why I felt so uncomfortable with passages in my performances. It was because I was practicing to check boxes and not to make sure I was comfortable on stage.
This is what I call outsourcing your practice. When you follow a method and don’t take into account how you’re feeling, you’re outsourcing your practice. It is tempting to think that there’s a method or formula that you can follow that will get you the result you want every single time. Spoilers: there isn’t. However, the reason it’s tempting is because if it doesn’t work, you can blame the method. But let’s be honest, that doesn’t feel great either.
So how do you know if you’ve practiced enough? Ask yourself:
How comfortable do you feel with the passage?
Think of pieces you’ve known in the past that you feel comfortable with, how does it feel compared to that?
Can you play it with the metronome at your performance tempo and does it feel easy?
Do you still feel hesitation?
Ask yourself questions like this. Honestly, your practicing will get way more efficient because you aren’t practicing to fit someone else’s mold, you’re practicing for YOU.
I think the best teachers teach to each individual students. Be your own best teacher, teach to you, don’t just give yourself a checklist and a practice log and assume those things will be the answer. Only you know what feels comfortable enough to reproduce on stage. Only you can know what works for you. So ask yourself questions and try new things.
There’s no “one” answer that will solve everything. However, coming back to your instrument day after day with an open mind, curiosity, and NO judgment might be part of it. When you’re willing and curious, you can get a lot more done. Using these emotions in your practice room will serve you in ways a checklist can’t.