Practice, practice, practice

My friend Jp over at I can't get started is posting some great practice advice on his blog. It's inspired this post.

Here's what I try to do to fit (squeeze) in time for practice in a schedule that includes work & family (wife, 2 kids, in-laws, etc.) in generous quantities:

Rehearsal - 1x per week, 3 hours, with the band.
Freeplay practice - usually 1x per week, often on Saturday afternoons. This is often a 2-3 hour session. I know - folks say don't force yourself to practice long hours, but it's a joy to have the opportunity to play that much, and I feel it helps me to build my stamina for 4 sets. I usually spend some time practicing train chugs & whoops, some time on Jazz melodies, some time working on new keys for improvisation, and some time on new songs for the band. This session also includes most of my vocal practice.
Mornings - about 3x per week, 15-30 minutes, usually band songs, or other tunes I'm working up.
Lunch time, 1-2x per week, 1/2 hour, usually diatonic licks.
Afternoons, 1-2x per week, 30-45 minutes, diatonic/chrom licks.
Evenings, 1-2x per week, new songs for band & "other" projects.
Sundays (not every week consistently), listen to songs, play new songs, make performance notes, work out horn lines, lead lines, specific parts for the band, etc.

I've found I can't usually practice at home in the evenings, unless I 'hide' somewhere - too many distractions and homework to help on.

Gear Digression - I carry a cheap 14-hole chrom and a diatonic everywhere, even to work. I usually won't carry either my short set or a full set unless I'm performing. I find that I can easily transpose on diatonic, so 1 is enough for practice. The Chrom I carry is compact and substantial-feeling, the MP is 'OK', although a little leaky. It's OK for practice, but not performance, and it cost next to nothing, so I don't mind leaving it in the car. I'm still working on being able to transpose by ear on chrom (harder for me than diatonic).

If you add it up, you'll see I only manage to squeeze in as much as 13 hours a week of practice (not counting performances) - and that's on a good week! Occasionally, a week might include less than 6 hours of practice. Compare that to Bird, who was playing 12+ hours per day when he was coming up.

A Zen Master said: "Practice does not make perfect; Perfect practice makes perfect".

By the way, I don't play harmonica anymore while driving in my car; I find it too distracting; it affects the quality both of my driving and of my practice.

And on that note, one last thought:
The biggest difference between pros and everybody else is their attention to detail. Fine, granular, microscopic attention to content, nuance and execution is what it takes to reach the high level of play of a true professional, no matter what the discipline.