1000 Hours to Competence « Music Teacher’s Helper Blog

1000 Hours to Competence « Music Teacher’s Helper Blog

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Should 10,000 hours really be the benchmark?

You’ve no doubt heard rule of thumb that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of practice to become a master of something.

The statement originated in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” and, even if you haven’t read it, you’ve no doubt heard the statistic. It has since been used by many authors in discussing high-achievement and mastery in sports and music and formed the basis of my articles: Deliberate Practice and Deliberate Play v Deliberate Practice.

The required practice must be dependent on the desired goal

In this article from the Music Teacher’s Helper blog earlier this year, Kerri Green discusses whether this is actually that important for students these days:

I used the 10,000 hours idea in a group class a few months ago to help persuade my students that the more time they spent per week at the piano, the faster they would accumulate knowledge and skill. We discovered that it would take 10 years of practicing 20 hours a week, 20 years of practicing 10 hours a week, and with the average of 2 hours a week it would take 100 years of practicing to achieve this nebulous “expert” level. We all laughed, especially those of my students who struggle to get more than two hours of practicing in a week, but it left me thinking: while achieving expert level is certainly important to some of us, it is not the goal of most of my students or their parents. What is important to them? Being able to play a song from Frozen, accompanying a friend in a school performance, playing for church…in other words, they want to be competent pianists.

A similar thought about this “rule” was outlined in an article by Drake Baer from Business Insider Australia earlier in the year:

…deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures. For example, in tennis, chess, and classical music, the rules never change, so you can study up to become the best. But in less stable fields, like entrepreneurship and rock and roll, rules can go out the window.”

I tend to think that for 99/100 piano students around the world, the 10,000 hour rule is going to remain pretty elusive and I think that’s OK. As Kerri says, for students to be able to play some great classical music, do some improvising and play some current pop music for their family and friends, 1000 hours may be enough. More to the point, it may be all they can afford with everything else that’s going on in their lives these days.

Read more here: 1000 Hours to Competence « Music Teacher’s Helper Blog Music Teacher’s Helper Blog.

Do you have any students likely to be heading towards 10,000 hours?

Leave your thoughts below.

Tim Topham

Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular Integrated Music Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at staging.topmusic.co and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as integrated teaching, creativity, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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  1. the 10000 hours ‘rule’ is more for the concert pianist who will have to learn the most difficult repertory. Does that means he is the ‘best pianist’ ? not at all. My idea of best pianist could be Hiromi, or anyone else, rather than Horowitz.

    And obviously, someone with more talent will do in 5000 hours what someone with less talent will learn in 10000, given that both will practice the same material.

    Also, what material? will the 10000 hours cover a narrow set of skills, or a very wide one?

    The real problem is this: anyone will become his best after practicing 10000 hours than 1000 hours, no matter how you look at it.

  2. Thanks Kerry – I think you’re right on the mark.

  3. That’s interesting… but so what?

    What can they really do by 1000 hours? Can you give us examples of students at the 1000 hour mark?

    • I’m coming to this late in the game, but here’s my experience. At 1000 hours, my students (in general. Of course there are outliers) are playing at an early advanced level, can sightread at an intermediate level, are proficient with their scales, arps, etc., can play with a chord chart, and have learned hundreds of pieces. While it’s not a hard and fast rule, of course, and your mileage may vary, the 1000 hours has been a fairly simple to explain benchmark to parents of new students and I find it’s pretty accurate.

    • Not specifically, it was more a discussion about whether 10,000hrs is actually realistic for the majority of kids these days… I’d certainly struggle to imaging many of my teens doing that much practice. As you may have read, I’m very pro chord/progression/improv teaching in my lessons and a student at even 100 hours can make some great sounds at the instrument 🙂

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