How Long did the Great Pianists Practice (per day)

However…one has to be a bit more specific on what is meant by practice. There are two extremes here. In one extreme we have any piano related activity. Anna Magdalena Bach, simply by copying by hand copy after copy of hubby’s compositions could be said to be practicing. Does it include things like memorizing a piece from the score without ever getting near to the piano? If so, Glenn Gould and Walter Gieseking were practicing for most of their waking hours. On the other extreme, we can define practice (just for the purposes of this discussion) as time spent at the piano repeating patterns of movements. If so, Glen Gould could rightly claim that he never practiced.

And here is another interesting question. Most pianists practiced a lot (whatever your definition) during their younger years, and much much less in their maturity. Claudio Arrau practiced up to 18 hours per day before he was twenty. Yet in his sixties, he never practiced more than 3 hours a day, and advised his students to do the same.

So do they practice less because:

  1. If you practice 18 hours a day for a number of years, after that you do not need that much practice. (Btu you still need to do 18 hours daily for a while).
  2. They were practicing correctly in their youth and wasting a lot of time, however, as they figured it out, they realized that you don’t need all that practice anyway, and they wished they knew in their youth what they knew in their mature years.

So, even if there are pianists that affirm 1 or 2, that doesn’t imply a consensus.

Paderewski (when under Leschetizky): all day long.

Glenn Gould – Claimed he never practiced (that is, at the piano). However did a lot of mental practice.

Claudio Arrau (mature) – 2 – 3 hours daily – took one month completely off every year.

Sviatoslav Richter – Claimed to practice a few hours a day – immediately dismissed by his wife who said he was lying and set the record straight: ten hours a day.

Mischa Dichter – 12 hours a day in his younger years. Then 4 – 6 hours daily.

Ivo Pogorelich – 5 hours a day (when possible)

Bella Davidovich – 3 hours a day (sometimes 4 or 5)

Willhelm Bachauss – minimum of 1 hour a day of scales and technical exercises.

Katharine Goodson – no more than four hours a day.

Guiomar Novaes – 3 – 4 hours a day (never practised technique outside pieces in her mature years).

Alexander Brailovsky – “I don’t practice very much, only five hours a day”.

Walter Gieseking – “I really need very little practice, as I do not forget what I have learned: my fingers don’t forget either”. (But then he did a lot of mental practice). Took two months away from the piano every year.

Sergei Prokofiev – “I do not need so much to practice. My hands do not forget” (But then, a lot of what he played was his own music).

Vladimir Ashkenazy (in his hayday) – 5 – 7 hours daily

Alfred Brendel – (circa 1980) – 5 hours a day decades ago, but now 2-3 hours with a lot of mental practice.

Youri Egorov – 4 – 5 hours daily.

Zoltan Kocsis – In his younger years, “a lot”. Later in life, no more than 4 hours daily.

Garrick Ohlson – 3 – 4 hours daily.

[Sources: James Cooke – Great pianists on piano playing; Elyse Mach – Great contemporary pianists speak for themselves; Jeffery Johnson (ed.) – Piano mastery – The Harriet Brower interviews; David Dubal – The world of the concert pianist; interviews in several magazines].