You’ve all heard it by now: all the talk and focus on the 10,000 hour “rule,” from people like Malcolm Gladwell, and the lead researcher who originally published the finding, Anders Ericsson, whose theories on deliberate practice are not without opposition in the academic world. If you haven’t heard of this finding by researchers Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer, it goes like this: it takes 10,000 hours of what they call deliberate practice to reach expert-level performance, whether it’s in sports, music, chess, comedy, or x-ray diagnostics. But the 10,000-hour rule is a red herring for several reasons.
1. It’s not the hours you practice, it’s the practice in your hours. If you’re practicing in the wrong way, or practicing the wrong things, there is little benefit. Quality of practice matters. Playing one note for 10,000 hours will not make you an expert.
2. This “rule” pertains to elite-level performers. You DO NOT need 10,000 hours to be a good player and enjoy yourself, and entertain others. Consider a recent book from Josh Kaufman, The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast. (his video is below, too).
3. Trying to wrap your mind around putting in 10,000 hours can be daunting. Forget about it. Concern yourself with the next practice session, not the ones years from now. Expert-level performers weren’t trying to accumulate 10,000 hours, they were doing what they love to do.
4. Context matters, as Gladwell pointed out in Outliers. Where you are and who you’re with (and when you are) all matter. Cultivate relationships with like-minded people to boost your musical ability and knowledge.
5. The 10,000 hour “rule” is for what Ericsson called deliberate practice. All experts engage in many other activities and behaviors that also contribute to their expertise. For musicians, it can be performing, talking about music and musicians, playing informally, reading about music, studying music theory, going to performances, listening to music, watching YouTube videos and many, many other activities. It all contributes. Greatness isn’t about the hours, it’s a lifestyle.
6. The last issue (there are others, so please share if you have some) has to do with something tuba player Rex Martin told me. It was told to him by legendary Chicago Symphony trumpeter Bud Herseth who passed away recently. Herseth gave lots of good advice. Bud told Rex, “You have to be careful about practice, or you start practicing practice. You need to practice performance.”
Classical musicians and anybody learning in school often get caught up in this practice trap, the trap that the 10,000 hour rule reinforces: we practice too much and perform too little. Performance is key, and it’s an experience that will sharpen your skills very quickly. Performance will also give you excellent feedback about where you most need improvement. Practice as though you’re performing, and perform a lot as a form of practice.
The 10,000 hour “rule” is supported by some research, but one thing that isn’t spoken about is that, in Ericsson’s original study, the musicians he studies were Western classical musicians, string players if I remember correctly (here’s the original study). This number may well be different for other genres of music, or maybe not. We don’t know because nobody has done the research. But again, the numbers of hours is beside the point.
It’s not the hours in your practice, it’s the quality practice in your hours and a whole bunch of other stuff that create greatness. Forget about the 10,000 hours and worry about the half-hour practice session you’re going to do today.
- What Young Athletes Need Besides 10,000 Hours Of Practice (80percentmental.com)
- Really? An Expert in 10,000 Hours (thisgrandventure.wordpress.com)
- 10,000 Hours May Not Make a Master After All (mind-revolution.org)
- Is 20 Hours Enough to Add a New Skill to Your Resume? (danarmishaw.com)
- BlackBerry World: Q&A with Malcolm Gladwell (blogs.blackberry.com)
Filed under: Casual Rant, Do This, Expertise, How, Master Musicians, Research Articles, TED, Writers/Researchers on Expertise Tagged: | 000 hour fallacy, 10, 10 000 hours, Adolph Herseth, Bud Herseth, Ericsson, Herseth, K. Anders Ericsson, Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, Practice (learning method), red herring, Rex Martin, YouTube