Ten Thousand Hours and the Importance of Practice
By Erica von Kleist
We all know that practice makes permanent, and that regular practice is essential to getting better at any endeavor one chooses. I recently saw a Facebook post that said if you spend ten thousand hours practicing something, you can then consider yourself a “master” in that field. Thinking it was weird to quantify something so unquantifiable as “mastery” I decided to do some math.
My first moments of musical training began in piano lessons at age five. I’m thirty five now, which means I’ve been practicing music for thirty years. Obviously my level of time commitment to piano was minimal at age five, but evened out when I became serious about it at age twelve, then full-time in college and beyond, which led me to determine that on average I’ve spent about six hours every day of my life dedicated to music or music-related projects. As an adult, some days I spend zero hours on music, some days eighteen, but it evens out.
6 hours x 365 days a year = 2,136. This is how many hours a year I spend on music.
2,136 x 30 = 64,080. This is how many hours I’ve spent on music in my 30 years of practice.
64,080/10,000 = 6.408.
According to the “Ten Thousand Hour Rule”, I’ve “mastered” music almost 6 and ½ times over.
I recently asked one of my students to tell me something that he wanted to master, to which he said skiing. I asked him on average how many hours a day he spends on skiing or ski-related exercises/activities to which he said about 30 minutes. So we did some math.
30 minutes = .5 hours
.5 hours x 365 = 182.5. This is how many hours a year he spends on skiing.
10,000/182.5 = 54.8. This is how many years of study it would take him to become a ski “master”
54.8 + 13 (his age) = 67.8 years old.
This is how old he will be upon reaching “mastery” of skiing at a pace of 30 minutes a day.
This brings me to my point. I’m really good at what I do, and I’m really good at many things relating to what I do, at least qualified enough to enjoy a fruitful career in my field, garner a few accolades from time to time, and retain the ability to pass musical information off to the next generation. I didn’t get where I am by NOT practicing.There is no choice. If you want to master something, or even begin to scratch the endless ceiling towards “greatness” you have to put in the time, end of story. Do you want to learn how to play an instrument? Do you watch your favorite artists effortlessly execute performances of songs you love? This comes about from practicing, at home, alone, for hours. If you’re getting bored or frustrated with your musical studies, ask yourself if you’re practicing at least 30 minutes a day, working on the assignments I gave you. Chances are you’re not.
I can only coach you so far. If you regularly come to lessons not having worked on the exercises and pieces I’ve asked of you, you’re not taking full advantage of what I have to offer as a teacher. There’s a reason I’m having you focus on certain material, trust me. If you go home, dedicate yourself to it, and come back with it aced out for our next lesson, we will get closer to tackling the repertoire you ultimately want to learn, but you have to meet me halfway. There is no way you’ll be able to play your instrument if it sits cold at home in between lesson times. Music is not a weekly pottery class, or knitting club (not that those two fields take any less time to master). It’s just that you can’t put an instrument down for a week and pick it up again thinking you’ll progress like you would while knitting a scarf. You won’t.
This semester I want to see ALL of my students taking full advantage of my time as a teacher. Don’t “try” to practice this week. Do it. Practice at least 30 minutes a day on what I asked you to. I don’t want to simply coach you during your lessons because you failed to work on your assignment. That’s no fun for either of us. I’ve worked with some of you for four years now and have seen such wonderful developments in you as both students and people. But it’s time to up the level of commitment.
When you practice, don’t practice just to practice. Practice to GET BETTER. Master that scale. Do a little at a time until you’re frustrated, walk away, then come back to it. Don’t let it beat you. Beat IT. Return to your next lesson with a sense of accomplishment and excitement because you can’t wait to show me how hard you’ve worked on something. Trust me, I know even before you walk in my door if you haven’t touched your axe.
By now you know that I support all of you unconditionally in everything you do, not just music. I also know that not every twelve-year-old is going to dive head first into a serious, life-long music career. You’re doing sports, academics, extracurriculars, which I’m proud of all of you for! We will always have great positive fun in our lessons, but I also see musical promise in each and every one of you. As your teacher all I want is for you to experience the same infinite musical joy that I do when the metaphorical training wheels come off and you can execute a song with ease and fluency. You’ll know what it feels like to fly once you’ve practiced that difficult piece for hours on end until you know it backwards and forwards, then perform it with integrity, gusto and heart in front of a pensive, appreciative audience. I tell you, there is nothing like it.
Cheers to a fruitful and dedicated fall semester!
Erica von Kleist