When people become aware that I practice the violin for several hours daily, they often ask questions like, “why do you practice so much?”, or “what are you practicing for?”.
Usually, I reply, “for my next concert/CD-recording”, while thinking, “for the future, of course - don’t you know that performing musicians, just like athletes, need regular and prolonged practice to keep in the best possible shape?!”.
A better short answer might be, “to be fit for the demanding task of making music”.
Actually, when people suggest that I practice a lot, it should be pointed out that it’s relative. Compared to whom? Many world-class violinists practice more than I do. Like most performers I know, I wish I could consistently practice more, but then living any semblance of a balanced life would be a greater challenge still.
For those who might want to know more, here is a more comprehensive explanation of what my practicing is all about. I practice with the following goals in mind:
First, and most fundamental, is maintenance: I practice the violin for an absolute minimum of three hours daily to stay in shape. If I do less than that for even just a few days in a row, I feel a definite deterioration of my skills. Usually, for at least an hour every day I focus on basics like scales and exercises for shifting, double stops, vibrato and sound production.
Honing of skills
However, maintenance is not sufficient. I also practice to hone my skills. There is always room for improvement. Again, just like athletes who strive to improve on their personal best performances, performing musicians continually practice to improve.
Short Term Performance Goals
Then, of course, there are short term performance goals for which I practice: the next concert or recording that may be only weeks or days ahead. Most of my daily practice is devoted to polishing the repertoire for those performances.
Medium Term Performance Goals
Then there is repertoire that needs to be ready in the medium term. Those performances might by several months or even a year away. Part of my daily practice involves the beginning stages of its preparation, especially if new repertoire needs to be learned.
A fourth goal of my regular practice is learning and/or refining repertoire that I regard as essential for becoming a well-rounded violinist/musician, irrespective of whether or not I ever get to perform it in public. It is repertoire that I feel the need to learn for my own development and satisfaction. It forms part of my profile as a violinist.
Lastly, I spend part of my regular practicing simply exploring the wide and wonderful world of music for my instrument. This is what keeps my fire burning, and what often leads to exciting discoveries of unusual, off the beaten path repertoire that deserves a much wider audience. My greatest satisfaction as a performer is when I can successfully share my excitement about new musical discoveries with an audience.
So, this is my comprehensive answer to why I still need to practice a lot every day: I do it to maintain and to hone my skills, to prepare for the next performance, as well as for performances in the medium term, to learn and polish essential repertoire, irrespective of performance opportunities, and to explore new and unusual music.
One last thought: what is plenty of practice to one person may be quite insufficient to another. Each performer does what he/she needs and is able to do.