The concept of "10,000 hours to mastery" presented in Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is intriguing. He claims that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill. The examples used in this book include musicians, computer programmers, lawyers, and clothiers. Of course we are especially interested in mastering the skill of playing our instrument.
Gladwell contests, and I certainly agree, that innate ability, or talent, is not enough to achieve proficiency. All of the violinists from an elite school were categorized into three groups: (1) potential world-class players, (2) players considered to be good, and (3) players who were unlikely to play professionally. Then they all answered the question, "How much have you practiced?"
Here is what they found:
"Everyone from all three groups started playing at roughly the same age, around five years old. In those first few years, everyone practiced roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week. But when the students were around the age of eight, real differences start to emerge. The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen, and up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practicing - that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better - well over thirty hours a week. In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice."
A close look at the legendary band "The Beatles" tells a similar story. Before reaching world-renown, they had played together more than 1,200 times, mostly in Hamburg, Germany. Some musicians don't play that many gigs in their whole lives, let alone with the same band. It was the substantial amount of time they had put in that enabled them to have such a huge impact on music.
10,000 hours is a LOT of time. If you practiced your instrument non-stop, it would take more than a year to get that many hours. But, with regular practice and perseverance, it is an obtainable goal, especially if you have the opportunity to start young. Look closely at the graph, how many years would it take you to log 10,000 hours at your current rate of practice?
It is important to note that no one gets to spend the necessary time honing their craft to become a master without help from family, teachers, friends, and their community. Helping a young child recognize and begin to develop their skills and talents while they are young will give them an enormous head start towards mastery and success. The goal is that we spend our time - or empower those we wish to see succeed to spend their time -, wisely. All it takes is time, but another moment has just slipped away.