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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

10,000 Hours’ Practise Makes Perfect

We're All Going On A Summer Holiday, Except The Dedicated Few

Just before leaving on my summer travels I went to the Royal College of Music to meet some students. It was the 13th of July. By this date the term was finished, and most students had returned home, although some stay over for the holiday period or live in London. Walking around the almost empty building I could feel that the elegant 19th century corridors and high-ceilinged teaching rooms were themselves earning a well-deserved rest from the constant activity of term-time.

From a very few of these rooms I could hear drifting towards me the sounds of some very fine players. Violinists, pianists, and chamber groups of excellent quality encouraged me to pause and listen at the doorways, reminding me of Igor Stravinsky who in old age would stroll anonymously through the corridors of a music conservatoire local to where he lived in Asolo, Italy.

Maybe it is no coincidence that the few students still coming in especially to College to practise and rehearse are very good players. While others are socializing, at the seaside or resting – and who can begrudge them the respite? – a handful continue the steep ascent towards a self-defined level of accomplishment. That extra determination marks them out from an already highly motivated group of peers. Slowly but surely they are notching up the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers considers a necessary requirement for becoming first-class musicians, sportsmen, scientists and other demanding professions.

Consider the young guitarist, aged 7 years of age, who innocently picks up the instrument and becomes smitten. For the first 7 years he/she may play/practise one hour per day: that adds up to 2,500 hours. From 14 – 17 years of age it might become one and a half hours per day: that is a total so far of 4,000 hours. Now, at the age of 17 the player prepares for the audition at a College, at which let us assume he/she is accepted for a four -year undergraduate course. The time now dedicated to practise increases dramatically: let us say to between three and four hours per day: This translates into 1,200 hours per year. In four years the total is 5,000 hours. The grand total so far is 9,000 hours. The extra 1,000 hours will occur after leaving College, in the profession itself.

Now consider the case of dedicated child prodigies, many of whom go to special music schools for gifted children. By the age of 17 they may have clocked up twice as many hours as the example above: 8,000 hours. Let us assume that at College they study half as much again as their companions: 7,500 hours. The grand total so far for them is 15,500 hours!

15,500 hours represent one year and nine months of your life. By the age of 21 or 22 a brilliant young musician may have spent 15% of his/her waking hours developing musical skills. Alas, such time management is not a guarantee of reaching the dizzying heights. How you spend those hours is the real issue. About that not even the Conservatoires can agree in detail, but only in broad outline. For example, does the study of composition, music theory and history directly improve instrumental playing, and if so, how much?

As for the students still practising deep into the summer holidays all I can say is they sounded wonderful, and that they are well on their way to passing the 10,000 hours’ frontier. Some may be exceeding 15,000 and heading towards 20,000.

If you are reading this, and feel disappointed you may not have dedicated this time, do not despair. There is more, lots more, to playing the guitar than being a virtuoso. More of that in another blog.

Read more:

The Yehudi Menuhin School for gifted children:
www.yehudimenuhinschool.co.uk

Igor Stravinsky: An Autobiography
www.amazon.com

Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers: The Story of Success
www.amazon.com

August 2011

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=646 .
© 2017.

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