Is There An Optimum Number Of Practice Hours A Day?


#1

I’ve often wondered if there is an optimum number of hours of practice a day. By “optimum” I mean in the sense of the amount of practice which gives one the best chance possible of becoming the best guitarist one can become. I’m also interested in finding out how many years of that type of practice it usually takes for a guitarist to reach, or at least come close to reaching, the peak of his playing ability.

If we take a look at how many hours a day some of the more iconic and virtuosic guitarists of the late 70s and 80s practiced until they reached the peak of their abilities (or reasonably close to it), are there any who only played 2 or 3 hours a day for 4 or 5 years and reached that point? For perspective, I mean players whose peers would rank them as being among the best players in the business - the caliber of guys like:

Eddie Van Halen
Randy Rhoads
Yngwie Malmsteen
Steve Vai
Joe Satriani
Paul Gllbert
Darrell Abbott
Zakk Wylde

Is it safe to say all these guys, when in their formative years of learning to play guitar, played on average, a minimum of 4 hours a day, and that most of them practiced considerably more?

I think Yngwie played 8 or 10 hours a day for 7 or 8 years before he came to America and recorded his album with Steeler. Is this an exaggeration? Am I possibly underestimating how many hours he practiced and how many years he practiced like that until he became capable of playing, say, the unaccompanied solo on the Steeler album?

I think that’s a fairly reasonable estimate, but if someone here knows otherwise, let me know.

I’m not as familiar with how much Eddie Van Halen practiced or how many years it was from the time he started playing guitar until he recorded his debut album. Does someone here know?

According to Wikipedia, Paul Gilbert started playing music at age 5. I don’t know if he started with guitar then or if he started learning guitar later. He recorded his debut album with Racer X - Street Lethal, when he was 19 years old. So he may have taken as many as 14 years of practicing guitar to get to the level where he was then. Does anybody here know on average, about how many hours a day Paul Gilbert practiced?

Zakk Wylde, according to Wikipedia “…started playing the guitar at the age of 8, but didn’t become serious about it until his first year in high school. At the age of 14 he worked at Silverton Music in the Silverton section of Toms River, New Jersey. Wielandt grew up in Jackson, New Jersey, and went to Jackson Memorial High School, where he graduated in 1985. He has stated that he would practice playing the guitar as much as 12 hours per day and would often play the guitar almost non-stop between coming home from school and leaving for school the next morning, then sleeping through the school day.”

Zakk’s debut album was “No Rest For The Wicked”, was released in 1988. If he became serious about guitar and practiced as much as 12 hours a day from the age of 14 until recording his debut album, that’s 6 or 7 years of practicing up to 12 hours a day to reach the level where he was when he won the audition (which we can reasonably assume was filled with some excellent players) to become Ozzy Osbourne’s new guitarist. Let’s suppose that although he played as much as 12 hours a day, that he averaged roughly half that many hours a day. That’s 42 hours a week, a little over 2100 hours a year for at least 6 years. That’s at least 12,600 hours of practice not counting whatever practice he did from age 8 to age 14.

In summary, Zakk Wylde probably put in over 12,000 hours of practice in about 6 years and then was good enough to get the gig playing guitar for Ozzy Osbourne, who’d had guitarists like Tony Iommi and Randy Rhoads in the past. I think it’s safe to say that qualifies as reaching the top of one’s profession.

For Yngwie, I think a reasonable, although somewhat rough, estimate of his practice time was an average of 8 hours a day for at least 7 years before coming to America and becoming guitar hero, ultimately becoming one of the most influential guitarists in the history of rock music. That’s 56 hours a week times 50 since I’m allowing 2 weeks for vacation :wink: That’s a total of 2800 hours of practice a year for 7 years for a total of 19,600 hours of practice which he put in to reach a point where he was at least fairly close to as good as he ultimately became.

I’d be interested to see what information we can compile together for the rest of the players on the list, as well as any corrections on what I’ve written so far, if it turns out that my estimates are off by a considerable amount. Of course feel free to add other guitarists whose practice hours you’re knowledgable about if they’re guys who have also reached the top of the music industry and if their virtuosity on the guitar was a substantial factor in reaching the top of their profession. That excludes guitarists who played in very successful bands, but whose success was based primarily on other factors than how well they played the guitar.


#2

Yngwie started when he was like 6 or 7 didnt he? He says he had basically mastered all of Blackmores stuff by the time he was 11.

I think the “genius” aspect of these guys is that they figured out stuff quicker. Where as a lot of us would just sort of doofus around making millions of errors and not caring, these guys would more quickly hone in on what worked


#3

I’m not sure about the age when he became serious. He did have a guitar at 6 or 7 like you wrote, but I thought he only became serious at around 9 or 10 years old. I could be wrong about that though.

When you’re a genius you do figure things out quicker than people who are of a more modest talent level. Having that genius level of talent allows them to develop faster in all aspects, whether it’s alternate picking or songwriting ability. It is possible to have a gift for one and not the other and Dave GIlmour is a great example of a guy who is a tremendously talented guitarist in most aspects except being able to play fast, intricate music. I remember reading an interview with him (probably in Guitar For The Practicing Musician - remember that magazine? It was my favorite of the guitar magazines) and he was asked about playing fast. He said he tried but was unable to do it. It wasn’t a matter of not knowing efficient picking motions either because I remember he said “My fingers just won’t move fast.”

Not taking anything away from legends like David Gimour, but the ones I’m interested in for the sake of this particular discussion are the ones who had a great gift for songwriting as well as a great talent for learning the more technical aspects of lead guitar at an accelerated pace.


#4

I mean, in reality, if u wanna include songwriting you are talking about like 5 guys tops lol

Yngwie, Eddie, John Sykes (BEST combo singer, writer, lead guy ever), Satriani if u dig his songs

it gets down to a matter of taste. Is Petrucci a great songwriter? well if u dig his songs I guess he is lol. I couldnt tell u 5 cents about DT though

When u add “great songwriter” it gets substantially more subjective


#5

I think counting practice hours like this is pointless and can’t really be measured. We are not robots, we have to sleep, eat and take breaks. My advice would be to stop worrying about that stuff.
Two years ago I started to practice really hard and organized because I wanted to have formal education in jazz. I’d divide my time something like:
1 hour sight reading
1 hour technical stuff
2 hours jazz standard #1
2 hours jazz standard #2
6 hours doesn’t sound like that much, right? The trick is that I always practiced with a stopwatch and every time I started feeling that I’m loosing concentration or I’d go make myself tea or something to eat I’d pause it. There can be a really huge difference between practicing one hour and practicing one hour, therefore I think comparing the hours you put into playing and instrument to other people makes no sense because there’s no way you can measure the quality of their practice, the amount of technical progress and data memorization they did per hour. Cheers!


#6

This a really interesting thread.

Personally, I’ve seen so many numbers floated, but I keep hearing 1-3 hours a day of focused practice being the recommended amount. Itzhak Perlman has some great insight:

That said, I am of the belief that a lot of these professional players have the advantage of sitting on their throne of mastery and claiming that less is more, when in reality, if we were to look at what they actually did, it would be pretty staggering. To that effect, Rick Graham claims 10 hours a day for a long period of time which sounds a bit ridiculous. It was probably more like 10 hours a day with tons of break, lunch, dinner, etc. But, it sounds sexy, and gets him views and attention.

Personally, I shoot for 2-4. There were a couple significant month-long periods in school where I was doing 8 hours broken up with breaks. By the end of those days I was practically hallucinating. Never got an injury, but psychologically it was abusive. 1 hour feels like too little, 2-3 is probably the sweet spot.

My ultimate opinion is that Troy and Itzhak and a lot of pros who recommend less is more are probably right in terms of raw efficiency and what can be accomplished, but I still can’t fully swallow that pill because it seems like all of them probably didn’t adhere to that rule when they were passionately practicing. It seems like a retroactive glossing over, and it might also not account for practice time that is inefficient when performed by less-experienced players.


#7

You misunderstood me. I’m not the least bit worried about it; I just happen to find the subject interesting.

it’s subjective but I think a lot of people who like hard rock and heavy metal would consider most of the guys on my list to be quite talented at both writing and playing difficult leads. Pantera, for example, isn’t everyone’s taste, but Dimebag wrote some classic riffs and he also could play lead in a way very few could.

So I’m curious - did all these guys practice for anywhere from 4 to 12 hours a day for quite a few years before they reached their primes, or are there some exceptions on that list who only practiced maybe 2 hours a day to get to where they eventually did?


#8

well I didnt touch a guitar until I was 20.5 years old and in the USAF. So I sort of missed the “do nothing but play all summer long” deal

most of those guys started as young teens and some even before. So you KNOW they put in many many days of 14-18 hrs of playing lol.

I know Yngwies mom let him quit school at some point


#9

All I’m saying is that all of them definitely put lots of hours to their craft but there’s no way of properly measuring this stuff. Thousands of hours definitely.


#10

It makes all the sense in the world when your goal is to do it for a living. If you’re planning to make your living as a scientist or as anything else requiring a college degree, nobody would think it’s unusual to study 8 hours a day. So if one’s goal is to play guitar for a living, why wouldn’t he want to go all out for it and be willing to put in the requisite hours?

What those requisite hours are is what I’m curious about though. Is it really 8 or 10 hours a day or is it more like 5 hours a day? Unlike studying books, guitar is physical and the hands do need some time to rest. So “the more hours you put in the better” doesn’t apply. Putting in the optimal amount of time is best but what that would be, I can only guess as to probably being somewhere between 4 and 8 hours a day.

It’s my opinion that if a guy doesn’t like to practice more than 2 hours a day, he’s probably better off pursuing guitar as a hobby rather than as a profession. As far as I know, every single player on my list practiced considerably more than 2 hours a day.


#11

well part of my implied point was…when you are THAT young, the whole overuse/tendonitis things isnt going to hit as hard

have u seen the comments by Anton Oparin? seems he says he didnt do more than maybe 4-5 hrs per day ever. I dont remember the exact quote. But he started super young and had a sports scientist type dad so everything was optimal

for us older dudes its a different question lol


#12

the internet changed all the rules of course. Now anyone can do anything at a very young age


#13

Yes, I’ve been noticing that lately! When you’re 50 years old, injuries don’t heal like they did when you were 30 and at 30 they don’t heal like when you’re 16.


#14

im more worried about getting too enthusiastic and having little nagging injuries creep up. so far so good and Lord willing ill keep improving

I try to NOT play at least 2 days per week lol.

and now that I am really trying to get better technically I think i will pay WAY more attention to hand tension. If one plays with light tension then it follows that he can play longer without issues

We have to keep in mind guys like Vito Bratta who was said to practice 12-14 hrs a day. Maybe he liked higher action too? not sure. In any case he is pretty much done on guitar now due to carpal tunnel type issues. Pretty sure Dave Sabo from Skid Row is done too

look how light Yngwies touch is. Dude played a zillion hours and I think he is still good to go physically


#15

You’re kidding, right?


#16

nope, not kidding. kid down the street did successful brain surgery on his dad just by copying what he saw on a youtube vid. He did it WHILE playing Black Star with his feet


#17

I bet there are guys out there that practiced 2 hours a day and make a living out of playing music. Sure, they may not be as famous as Yngwie or VH, but that’s not the point. Being able to pick scales fast is not really that important in the “real world”.


#18

You definitely, definitely, definitely do not need to practice more than 2 hours a day to be a professional musician. That’s not even remotely within the realm of truth. A focused hour of practice can be intensively beneficial if you know what you’re doing.


#19

well we r living in an age of fake everything. SO we have to define our terms. The music biz can take any pretty face and make them famous in a year with zero talent

ever heard of Milli Vanilli? that was 20 years ago. How about now?? they say it took 57 people to make one of Beyonces albums. u do the math


#20

Was that even after he became a star? That sounds like terrible overkill to me. As I wrote earlier, I believe that “the more practice the better” does not apply to guitar. It’s too physical to put 12 or 14 hours a day in without risking injury.

If we were able to find the average number of hours a day that the guys listed in the OP practiced per day, what do you suppose it would be? I believe it would be 4 to 8 hours a day but I’m interested in what other people people might know about how much those guys practiced while they were still on their way to becoming great.