The Strad’s March 2015 cover star advocates shorter bursts of more concentrated practice
I remember reading in the autobiography of Pablo Casals that he played Bach every day, so I adopted this in my practice. There is something so cleansing about it; you can’t play it properly unless you are playing in a healthy way. I also used to play the Paganini Caprices just to warm up – this is when I was playing all the time. Each one teaches you a different aspect of technique. Even if you are simply practising them slowly, they are just fabulous.
Now, because I don’t play all the time, I go back to the basics – open strings, breathing, concentrating on the arm, wrist and fingers. It’s like that famous quote from The Karate Kid:
When you feel life is out of focus, always return to the basics of life: breathing. No breathe, no life.
The length of your practice depends on what you are playing and how focused you are. I always felt when I was working with my teacher Boris Kuschnir that the lesson was a form of practising together. The quality of that practice was so intense that the benefit was equivalent to 24 hours of practising on my own. If you practise that way, there is a limit to how much time you can spend because your brain gets tired. If you are in front of the mirror, really analysing your playing, you should have breaks very often. An hour, or an hour-and-a-half maximum, is as much as you can concentrate in any one session.