Flight hours - on your setup?

Hi there,
From what I’ve understood (believe I’ve heard/read), commercial and military pilots need a certain amount of ”flight hours” every year to keep their license.

True or not, it seems to me that the analogy works well for how I need to think about my setup. A few years back I invested a lot of time in learning the ninja tricks of working around the constraints of the Roland SP-series of samplers. However the last few years I’ve been all focused on learning Live, and very little of my old SP-ninja remains. In fact, I was completely lost as I picked up the SP the other day.

My impression is that the llllllll-community in general is technology friendly and never afraid to learn a new piece of hardware or even pick up programming to write your own scripts.

I’m impressed, or envious. Yet, I believe it’s somehow not for me. Another manual I try to read and something I know must be forgotten. Not that the brain can’t learn new stuff, but that I don’t have enough time to keep up my ”flight hours”.

Just curious how other people relate to this and what your strategy has been. Cheers!


When I first started making music (on a PC) in the 90s I used a programme I got from Virgin Megastore called Magix Music Maker. When I realised that my SoundBlaster Live soundcard wasn’t all it could be I got an M-Audio Audiophile and with that a copy of Acid music.

This was my main setup for years and years. Although I added a couple of MPCs (2000XL and 1000) they never replaced the PC and were ultimately moved on.

I only changed from Acid to Ableton Live after putting up with constant crashes and file corruptions for a year at least - so adamant was I that I didn’t want to change to something else and have to learn afresh how to make music.

Somewhere along the line I tired of samples and became gradually hooked on synthesis. My setup became more complicated, incorporating analogue synths, effects boxes and pedals.

Live was/is still up to the task, though, and my methods of music making haven’t actually changed a lot: despite not being dependent upon samples from the music of others, I still use many of the techniques I always have done. Now, though, they are augmented by new approaches… which, in a very long-winded way, is where the real answer to your question lies.

Of late - in the past year or 2, but especially in recent months - I’ve become hooked on the possibilities of portable music making via Android and (especially) iOS devices and this is where things have become tricky. Trying to really get to the bottom of some of these apps feels so incredibly difficult to do - particularly as I’m using multiple ones in tandem and therefore can’t become entirely immersed in just one. It’s something I’m acutely aware of and can’t honestly predict the eventual outcome of. Will I end up scratching the surface of most of these apps but known them just enough to be productive with them, opening up a little more via YouTube videos as and when I feel the need to? Will I become deeply engrossed with a handful of them and end up almost entirely using those, becoming and student of them in the same way I was a student of my 2000XL? I’ve no clue. Maybe a middle way is most likely. The only thing I know with any degree of certainty is that it means I’m very unlikely to go down the hardware modular route any time in the foreseeable future.

(Sorry for the novella!)


at best i figure i get in 4-8 hours of practice or listening every week. some week are obviously lighter, but there are always periods where i get more work in.

id say average that out over 20 years since i went to college w a yamaha ex7 and cubase.


if only to offer a thought to the contrary, i often find the best way to progress at something is to spend significant time away from it


There’s a thought in medical education that the duration of time spent gaining experience is not necessarily as important as the quality of training… Introducing feedback from expert trainers/coaches and reflection of the learner.

Clearly there is a combination of both when learning how to operate a piece of equipment, but one might argue that reflection and deliberate practice is more important than absolute hours-put-in.


I agree. Around the beginning of this year I began practicing piano every day. I had done this in college ~ 20 years ago but didn’t keep it up and lost pretty much everything. Like, I couldn’t do a major scale with two hands at a moderate tempo. Four months later and the Brahms B minor Rhapsody is coming back into my fingers. My sight reading is about as good as it was back then…maybe a little better.

For something like playing piano, it’s so easy to get good education online today. Most of the good teachers and performers don’t recommend hammering out repetitive practice for hours. I’d imagine this is true for many things.

One notable book I read on piano technique mentions the superstitious sounding Post Practice Improvement (PPI). This is literally a recommendation to relax and stop thinking about the patterns you have practiced and get some sleep. It’s shockingly effective. I would wake up and play a passage that was difficult the day prior and I could play most or all of the notes. So yeah, not practicing is sometimes as helpful as practicing.


Thanks for chiming in. Interesting to hear your views on this and also interesting to see different interpretations of “flight hours” – I was thinking mostly about the interaction with complicated technology, but of course it’s applicable to instrument playing as well.

I have similar experience of studying lead guitar, recognizing progress overnight. As if the brain figures out how to let the muscles take care of it themselves.There may be something interesting here regarding consciuous and autonomous memory (excuse my laymen-expressions).

Maybe it’s this muscular memory aspect that is often missing when I handle technology, pots and buttons?

Regarding gear/setup I’m thinking I could benefit from “staying” with a certain setup and techniques for a longer period, instead of always adding more possibilities.

And when it comes to learning/analysis I’m reminded of Francis Preve at Loop that said in regards to synth-patching and experimentation: “If you can’t repeat the result, you haven’t learned anything”.


This is definitely a thing that bothers me,

On one hand - I spend several hours a week on making music, plenty more thinking about it. I’m definitely progressing in ways that I’m pleased about - so that’s good

On the tech side though I have some amazing bits of kit - and I absolutely feel that I don’t spend enough time with any of them - in fact just take the modular - I’ve got 4 rows (of 84hp I think) in there there are some things that are super complex - Morphagene, Cold Mac, Teletype, DPO w/, Rene, Disting 3 AND Disting 4 etc - that quite frankly I should spend a couple of weeks each on learning - I use all of them, I get results out of all of them but I know they are capable of so much more. And that if they were my only tools I’d do that work.

So yeah - hard one. I’m trying to keep a lid on any ‘GAS’ for a while, having had a recent period of expansion but best intentions and all that…

On a very flippant side note - translating Kria from C to Lua taught me a massive amount about how it worked - but not sure that route is any easier…

Last edit: I would say though - take time to look back how far you have come. I know that when I think like that I’m much more competent at patching synths and the modular than I was even a few months ago and am using a wider range of features than I was a few months ago even.


I put countless hours into building tools, but not so many into actually using them to make music.

It’s a problem.


There’s definitely an argument for really ‘mastering’ a smaller setup in a virtuosic way. I’ve definitely tried to consciously quell my GAS over the last year to optimise my workflow in a smallish modular and one other synth.

It’s almost like we are paralysed by choice if we have too much music gear. Or that’s how I feel anyway. Others may strongly differ!


going to cross post this topic here, since there are some ideas here that apply:

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No, I agree totally. No boundaries or limitations results in no real productivity (for me, at least). I’ve sold a wealth of gear and ditched a plethora of plugins for this reason.

Also - and I’m sorry if this is a tangent - I find it helpful sometimes to split the process into different stages:

  • the sound gathering stage (like mixing colours before painting);
  • the initial production stage;
  • the marination period (where i get a track to a point where i let it sit and listen to it before i figure out what it wants to be);
  • final structure (acting on the previous stage);
  • post production (final mixes and mastering).

Sometimes I follow this rigidly; other times I disregard it completely. On occasions I use it to justify spending hours just making noises (“I was sound-gathering!”)


Sound gathering… It’s the best isn’t it?

I think for me that’s the case because there’s no pressure of having to provide a finished product… It’s pure process.


I love to quote Brian Eno. I might do it too often.

“Often in life you are confronted by many possibilities. The best thing you can do is just go for one with a quick decision, then make that choice work for you. It takes you to interesting places with surprising results.” - Eno

“A studio is an absolute labyrinth of possibilities - this is why records take so long to make because there are millions of permutations of things you can do. The most useful thing you can do is to get rid of some of those options before you start.” - Eno again.


I kind of fall in the same boat as @petesasqwax but condense the actual creation of a “piece” into every session forcing myself to continue to create things that might not be “perfect” but allow me to gauge my progress and see where I want to spend time during my next session of so-called “flight hours”. I also only record stereo out which doesn’t let me mess with much other than the basics afterwords.

This also ties into what @janglesoul referenced with the Brian Eno quote giving myself limitations to try and be more creative and accustomed to my setup. Trying to be efficient with my time while still exploring.


I’ve been attached to classical harmony lately, as a way to stay focused. It’s extremely limited and conservative but helps me with synth stuff because of how very simple differences like chord inversions across octaves make so much difference in the results.


I love this idea but haven’t done it as much as I’d like to. I’m still too precious about things at times - but I’m working on it!


I find it very very freeing, in the same way using modular is limiting. It also helps with the performative aspect which I’m slowly trying to move toward albeit at a wildly slow place.


I have to admit: don’t have any modular, I have a modestly sprawling hardware setup that includes an MS-20 Mini, Werkstatt, Koma Elektronik Field Kit FX and a handful of pedals and effects. I haven’t mastered a method of creating things in the flow of spontaneity (outside the box) with these yet but I’m hoping iOS midi sequencers will help me get there eventually

I do the same, and I love working that way. Recording only the stereo mix was a long habit of working in 100% software and rendering out to a “finished” file, and I just stuck with that habit when I started getting into hardware. And then I started using using some hardware which was unstable and unreliable, and which I had to put back in storage to get it out of my way for other things – so I tried to get things done in a single session before it had the opportunity to crash and lose my settings or before the mess became a problem. :laughing:

The combination worked out very well for me. Instead of trying to perfect everything I recorded, but falling into a trap of just changing things to change them or for the novelty without actually improving anything – I recorded a lot, and then critiqued it later and used that feedback process to improve the next thing I recorded.

And between that process and going modular, it led to more pure improvisation rather than a cycle of improvise->record as MIDI->tweak->change the timbre->change the effects->edit the performance some more etc.