10,000 hours

Edited: November 15, 2017, 5:27 AM · Apparently someone tried applying the 10,000 hour practice.


Replies (56)

Edited: November 15, 2017, 5:33 AM · the link

10,000 hours

Edited: November 15, 2017, 5:56 AM · it's a wives' tale... actually it probably can't be classified as a wives' tale, more like just something some idget came up with because he had nothing better to do, 10000 such nonsense
November 15, 2017, 6:29 AM · The HTML is screwed up on this thread.

10,000 hours sounds about right. Plus or minus 8000.

November 15, 2017, 6:44 AM · Second post includes link. Read the article if you like.
November 15, 2017, 8:09 AM · "for every one of the 245 spots on the PGA Tour, there are 326,000 active golfers worldwide. Bjork got a look at McLaughlin’s game in 2014. 'I could watch him and think it was remarkable for someone who hadn’t played before,' Bjork recounts. 'Or, I could look at him ... and say the whole idea of [making] the pro tour was unrealistic.'"

Exactly my reaction upon hearing relatively high-achieving late starters on numerous occasions.

When I was a student and a young professional, I read the writings of Shinichi Suzuki and was nearly completely convinced by his argument that there was no such thing as "talent" per se. Then I got a lot more teaching experience under my belt. Anyone who has taught more than a few students is likely to have had the same experience I have had, which is that some students progress much more quickly than others even when approximately the same amount of practicing is taking place, and even when the students appear equally bright. Talent matters. Passion also matters.

I still believe that anyone of normal intelligence and physical coordination can learn to play the violin at a level that will bring pleasure to themselves and to others, even starting as an adult if they can manage to withstand the pressures in an adult's life that encroach on practice and lesson time. But I do not believe that just anyone can pick up the violin, put in 10,000 hours, and become a master.

Edited: November 15, 2017, 8:42 AM · 10000 hours seems to be an accepted ball park figure for the length of time it takes to get to a fully professional level in any activity, whether it is law, medicine, science, languages, music, art ..., but it is no more than an eye-catching figure for that period of time, which in most cases works out at about 7 years.

A typical craft apprenticeship was (perhaps still is) spread out over 7 years. implying something like 30 hours a weeks learning and gaining experience at the craft. A medical doctor's training is about 7 years. In my own (non-medical) former profession you weren't allowed to be let loose on the public until you had reached the age of 25, even though you may have passed all the qualifying exams a year or two before - this is to ensure that you will have had practical experience working under the supervision of a qualified practitioner before your name can be placed on the Register. Here again, we have that magic 7 years of studying after the age of 18 coming into the picture. And we all know how long it takes to become a professional level violinist, assuming you start somewhere in your sub-teens with really good teachers and the right sort of encouragement.
November 15, 2017, 9:10 AM · I'm sure plenty have asked how long it takes to gain mastery to an acceptable level.
The only valid answer is it takes as long as it takes. I've heard 2-5 years to begin to get there. This is only a SWAG. A Scientific Wild A**ed Guess.

November 15, 2017, 9:53 AM · Note that this guy achieved quite a bit -- the article notes that he got his handicap to the point where he was in the top 6% of golfers.

He just didn't reach competitive pro level. But what he achieved was still very significant for an amateur.

November 15, 2017, 10:14 AM · I think the whole point of the 10000hr principle is that talent alone isn't enough to reach mastery level. You have to put in a lot of efforts. That is exemplified by numerous top achievers, regardless of domain, who with very few if any exception did put in the hours before reaching the top levels. I don't believe it ever said than anyone can be a master if you put in 10000hr of practice/learning.
November 15, 2017, 10:45 AM · I think the underlying belief behind the idea is that any (pertinently abled) human who puts in around 10000 of (sufficiently effective) practice is able to master the subject...without referring to requirement of talent.
Edited: November 15, 2017, 10:49 AM · Of course it depends hugely on your age when you start. I've been offering encouragement to a would-be pianist who passed a few grades in her early teens but gave it up for 30-odd years. In spite of an excellent teacher she's finally acknowledged she's never going to get significantly past the level she achieved back then.

If not "talent", then surely there's an huge influence of "aptitude" in every skill. You find out pretty young what you're good at and what not. After 30 years off no amount of practice is going to give me the athleticism and eye/hand coordination necessary to play decent tennis.

November 15, 2017, 11:04 AM · Steve, the idea that one cannot get past a certain level is not an idea I can accept easily. In fact, I find it needlessly negative. One is negating the possibility of improvement. The idea that one cannot get to a certain level (pro, soloist, concertmaster or mistress, etc) does not lead to the conclusion that one cannot always improve (there are many aspects to work on).
November 15, 2017, 11:29 AM · There is also the question of what "mastery" is. The guy in the article, in under half the 10,000 hour mark, managed to become a pretty good golfer. He didn't reach a world-class level, but I would say that top 6% is pretty darn respectable.

My guess is that an adult, putting in a similar level of effort on the violin, would be able to reach a professional level, if you define "professional" as, say, a public-school strings teacher, and not a full-time symphony player (which is probably more comparable to a PGA-tour player).

Edited: November 15, 2017, 11:34 AM · Instead of the hard, achievable limit, perhaps it is easier to think in terms of the asymptote that one can achieve. Due to inborn talent, parental and teacher support and other circumstances, each person has a different asymptote, or the "theoretical limit" of the particular pursuit (violin playing in this case) that one can achieve in one's lifetime.

If I remember correctly, the 10,000 hour ballpark figure came from the study of small group of people who _already_ achieved a high enough point. It is not the same thing as the popular but incorrect statement that anyone can achieve mastery of something with a 10,000 hour endeavor.

Then there is the enormous opportunity cost that people do not take into consideration. Would a 10K hour effort make it possible for me to master the category theory? Perhaps. Do I want to do it? No way.

November 15, 2017, 11:50 AM · The idea was widely popularized in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell but has been been hotly disputed since

As a longtime teacher, I've certainly seen those instances of a talented student who just seems to grasp things and do things with uncanny ease. But I've also seen the talented student who neglects to practice and falls behind; and I've also seen the less-"talented" student who suddenly steps it up, works hard, and surpasses all expectations.

It's all very complicated, but I'd say that the one thing that does work is..practicing!

November 15, 2017, 11:54 AM · I agree with Sung, the 10K hour estimate was arrived at by a retrospective process and properly interpreted it probably makes some sense - expertise in many fields tends to take roughly this long to acquire, with considerable inter-individual variability. But some skills are undoubtedly harder to acquire than others and playing the violin probably comes pretty near the top of the scale. These individuals had all chosen their speciality at a relatively early age, not randomly but on the basis of their inclination, aptitude and (just conceivably) the advice of their teachers. It is hardly justified therefore to assume that the same applies prospectively to individuals of any age, no matter how strong their motivation. The Groundhog Day effect is a chimera!
November 15, 2017, 12:01 PM · 10,000 hour rule is a vast generalization, and hard to measure for most musicians (I do agree some learn faster than others, but rarely will you be counting "mastery hours"). Just practice with Love for the instrument and its repertoire, and don't think about how many hours or years it will take to play at a very high level. Think about the hourglass-it seems to take forever, but every bit of sand will eventually accumulate and equal progress.

On the other hand, thinking along the lines of "I won't ever reach a high level, so I will be happy to play like this or that"-conformism-is the kind of ideology that holds back most people of any age. Be realistic, enjoy the process, but never stop improving and striving for greater technical (and therefore, musical) control. The status quo and likely falsehood of "adult learners will never attain the mastery of one who started as an infant" is usually a self-fulfilling prophecy-no point in putting yourself down just because you can't see yourself playing Paganini D Major well today.

I agree the violin playing path is not easy for anyone of any age, but motivation is key, and repeating in your head "I won't amount to much" is not only non-factual (you do NOT know that), but unnecessary, and works against your aspirations, however humble they may be.

November 15, 2017, 1:07 PM · Alternatively, just enjoying playing ("engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose") and occasionally be pleasantly surprised by the fact that you seem to be playing better than before. The music itself is the main thing.
November 15, 2017, 2:05 PM · Lots of good replies and as someone mentioned, the term "mastery" has to be defined, and it actually cannot be defined in musical circles, because different people have different musical goals.

In my job, I am required to work with some of the most incredible and famous musicians in the world (non-classical), and some of them are child prodigies. I see a clear pattern in each of them: incredible self-motivation, and obsessiveness with wanting to sound good. This last point is extremely important, because this obsession drives the players to constantly research music on their own, whether they have a teacher or not. There are different degrees of this obsessive research, but generally, it makes them very observant and therefore they practice correctly and intelligently.

If you look at child prodigies, a high level can be achieved within 5 years. The child prodigies have those qualities that I mentioned. You can watch videos of Leia Zhu on Youtube from when she was just 4 years old; by the age of 9 she has reached an incredible level of technique and musical maturity. What is most remarkable is the jump from age 6 to 7 , and then 7 to 8. It's clear from her Youtube channel that she just loves music and the violin and approaches the instrument very intelligently. Let's assume she practiced 4 hours a day, that's 7300 hours, well under the 10,000 hour mark, and really by the time she's 8 years old, she has reached a level that is "College" level, so that would be 5840 hours.

Anyway, that's what I consider talent to be, the natural ability to observe the smallest of details (tone , rhythm, phrasing, technique, etc...). This skill allows students to practice in the most optimum way on their own.

November 15, 2017, 2:22 PM · The idea that 10,000 hours equals mastery has been floating around for some time and has a lot of traction. Four hours a day for about six and a half years might make you a master but,... My teacher used to say: "Only perfect practice makes perfect, lousy practice only makes lousy."

The biggest problem with the 10K hour mantra is that it can be completely misunderstood and seen either as an insurmountable hurdle or assuming that simply putting in time will somehow make you a master.

In my professional career I probably put in well over the requisite 10K hours reading, studying and practicing my profession and I never considered myself to be a master. I was, and now in different areas, what Tom Friedman has called "A life long learner"

Oh yes, my teacher also used to say: "You can never master music, every time you think you know it all, music throws a new lesson at you." I've found that to be true in all aspects of my life, violin included.

November 15, 2017, 2:37 PM · I haven't actually read the book, but I doubt he means anyone can just do 10,000 hours and magically become a master. I would interpret the theory to mean someone who *already* has the required talent, passion and instruction would need roughly that amount of hard work to reach a professional level. Obviously it varies based on the individual.

10,000 would be approx. 4 hours a day for 7 years, which personally doesn't seem completely out of reach as long as the player doesn't have other massive responsibilities like a full-time job.

A question: what does everyone think of the common theory that you need to "get your technique" or "get the practice done" by a certain age? Usually people say this age is around 18-21. Just curious what the consensus is here.

November 15, 2017, 2:57 PM · Gemma, I wouldn't call it "common theory" but rather a common myth. The studies on brain plasticity has taught us a lot about how much one can learn at any age. Sports psychologists will tell you too that you can achieve anything physically if you know how to practice.

Too often I've seen adult learners who unwittingly use the age myth to avoid learning things that they don't feel comfortable, such as playing high up on the finger board, or working on challenging solo pieces with great care. I think it's time to debunk such myth. I didn't start violin until in my teens and took more than 20 years of hiatus shortly after that. I returned to violin in 2007, with a good teacher and regular practice, now in my late 50s, I've learned and performed some major concerti (Bruch, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Barber, etc.) without displaying more technical difficulties than young violinists in our community conservatories. I don't think my personal experience is that unusual.

Edited: November 15, 2017, 7:27 PM · What do we mean by required talent? That means that the 10000 or so (if true...and i have my doubts) applies to some people and not the average person. Which means it would be a theorem of exception. I didnt read the book but does it asssume the exceptional (talent..which of course stands to be as nuanced as the idea of mastery, which Lydia pointed out).
I understand it this way (as a simplistic idea) : it takes 10000 to become exceptional (in the subject) and not 10000, in addition to already being exceptional, to become exceptional.

Edited: Then again, i didnt read the book.
And I agree with Lydia's point about mastery and suggest that talent itself also be subject to nuanced thought, not an absolute have-it or not binarity.

November 15, 2017, 4:23 PM · For your information, Ray Chen posted this on his Instagram account earlier this year:

"How many hours did you practice when you were a kid?" ???????? I get this question a lot, so here's an average estimate from when I began violin as a 4 year old. *PS. The author Malcolm Gladwell says in order to attain "mastery" over something, you have to practice 10,000 hours. So let's do some math: (MPD = minutes per day, hrs = hours)
Age 4: 15 MPD x 365 = 91.25 hrs (Hey 15 minutes a day is long when you're 4 years old!)
Age 5: 20 MPD x 365 = 121.6 hrs
Age 6: 30 MPD = 182.5 hrs
Age 7: 30 MPD = 182.5 hrs
Age 8: 45 MPD = 273.75 hrs
Age 9: 60 MPD (1 hr) = 365 hrs
Age 10: 90 MPD (1.5 hrs) = 547.5 hrs
Age 11: 120 MPD (2 hrs) = 730 hrs
Age 12: (2 hrs) = 730 hrs
Age 13 (3 hrs) = 1,095 hrs
Age 14 (3.5 hrs) = 1,277.5 hrs
Age 15 to 18 (4 hrs) 5,840 hrs
[At this point I’ve reached 11,436.6 hours so according to Mr Gladwell, I've technically “mastered” the violin. Yeah right.
Age 19 (5 hrs) 1,825
Age 20 (5 hrs) 1,825
Age 21 (3 hrs) 1,095
Age 22 onwards = Graduated school, no longer a student. Need to work as well as practice? Forget it. ??


November 15, 2017, 4:42 PM · Wow, seems like Ray Chen is either unbelievably talented or just really knows how to be efficient! That doesn't seem like a huge amount of practice for someone who's now a soloist.
Edited: November 15, 2017, 4:46 PM · I have clocked at least 7,300 hours in past 10 years, and way more than that during my education year. Have definitely more than 14k under my chin. Methinks I am darn good, but still not even close to, say, James Ehnes, eh.
A living proof that this theory is bogus. Off to another 2 hours of pure joy of Baroque music with my friends....
November 15, 2017, 6:58 PM · I am an adult amateur and I don't buy this at all. If this 10000 hr is valid, why aren't we seeing any adult beginner maturing into a Ray Chen or James Ehnes. While some adults players can play advanced repertoire, I doubt they can achieve a level of mastery of, say, an typical kid in the prep division of any major conservatory.

No one would seriously think this 10000 hr thing could apply to ballet or gymnastics in the case of adult beginners, right?

Edited: November 15, 2017, 7:15 PM · I'd bet if someone ran that golf experiment with violin-playing, they could get to a pretty high level of competence.

A late starter getting to the level of a competent and musical Bruch concerto, with 4 hours a day of deliberate practice and excellent teaching? Totally believable, I'd say.

The prep divisions of major conservatories are quite selective. Given the size of the funnel of kids that goes into producing potential violinists, the number that actually get into such prep programs is pretty limited.

It takes a staggering number of child-beginning violinists to produce one Ray Chen. There's not even one of those kids a year, out of the countless tens of thousands of kids who begin playing each year. There's not a big enough funnel of adult beginners with serious dedication to have reasonable percentage odds of producing someone at that level of capability.

More to the point, the adult who has the talent and perseverance to become the next Ray Chen, has probably already spent their childhood becoming incredibly good at something else, and if they pick up the violin as an adult, they don't have the time to dedicate to something else. :-)

November 15, 2017, 7:18 PM · One interesting aspect of the golf article that no one has mentioned is the function of the peer group. One of the difficulties that the guy ran into was maintaining a peer group that was going to help motivate and challenge him.

Adult players have difficulty finding this sort of peer group. Indeed, I find that at the higher levels of amateur playing, most people are just focused on enjoying the use of the skills that they already have -- not continuing to steadily work on improving. The better a player is, the less likely it is that they continue to take lessons as an adult, as far as I can tell.

Edited: November 15, 2017, 8:10 PM · Ballet and gymnastics rely heavily on shaping the body before the bones harden. Sure, there have been studies on violin that show muscle memory develops a lot easier as a kid, but those types of physical sports absolutely have to start in early childhood - there's no real debate about it unlike with music.

Why aren't we seeing any adult beginner maturing into a Ray Chen or James Ehnes? I find this really interesting to think about, have come up with a few things - could all be crap but going to list a few of them anyway. Edit: Sorry for the rant!

- Since most people (regardless of age) don't have that kind of talent or intellect, it makes sense that the dramatically smaller pool of adult beginners - as opposed to child beginners - will also have a smaller number of success stories.

- Most adults also don't have the time to practise the necessary hours in the necessary space of time.

- My parents have often said your mental energy and ability to adapt & learn new things is better in youth - I can't really vouch for this yet...

- Muscle memory developed as a child, in addition to age (sadly ageism can be present in the music world) and public interest in young talent, will always put younger virtuosos that step above older ones in terms of demand

- A lot of international competitions (very helpful in kicking off a solo career) only go up to around age 30. This also goes for eisteddfods, acceptance into a lot of music programs, etc. It's underestimated how important it is to get your name out if you want to be a soloist.

- How often do adult beginners actually have the talent, persist for the necessary years (15-20+ to become a professional) with the necessary hard work, and apply for jobs? I've literally never heard of anyone who went that far without either quitting or putting it on the backburner because of the responsibilities of adulthood.

November 15, 2017, 9:44 PM · Perhaps a classical example of correlation mis-interpreted as causal connection.
If you take a sample of (only) successful violin players, sure thing, they will all confirm that they had clocked at least 10k. So, there is a correlation (quite possible positive, significant) between success and number of hours spent practicing. If, however, you have a representative sample from all violin players, and keep "control" variables away, correlation may not be that high or significant anymore.
Any regression or other statistical method will most likely not show a causal connection.
November 15, 2017, 9:50 PM · tammuz, "Steve, the idea that one cannot get past a certain level is not an idea I can accept easily...."

It reminds me of Henry Ford's words: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can't--you're right.”

Gemma, I hear what you are saying. In a competitive music world, being young and accomplished is definitely getting more green lights. However, this is a wrong way of looking at ourselves when we set our heart to seriously pursue something. Age is only one of many factors affect our success, but it's a factor that we can't change. Why not look for something we can do to move forward? You are only 18. You have no idea how young you are right now until you reach, say 28 or 38 and look back. Don't waste your youth by worrying about something that is outside your control. Take a look what's within your control and maximize those to make your dreams true.

November 15, 2017, 10:31 PM · That's true, I was just commenting on a few times I've seen ageism in the music industry with my own eyes.
Edited: November 15, 2017, 11:15 PM · Gemma,

I hear you. A few years ago I wanted to compete in the local music festival. I was playing at around a grade 7 level, but because of my age I would have been forced to compete in the ARCT/Open category. Thinking that 'open' meant any rep I went ahead an applied with a list of decent enough pieces:

A concert set (two contrasting pieces) and a multi-movement work. A few weeks after applying I was informed that my pieces did not meet the minimum requirement - one being Grade 6/7, one grade 7, and one grade 8 level and that I would not be allowed to compete.

They offered me the opportunity to present one or two of my pieces as an noncompetitive (but adjudicated) entry, and I took it because I didn't want to waste the prep, but to me paying the fee and not getting the satisfaction of competing was truly pointless.

If I recall correctly I would have had to have been in middle school to compete in the category I fell into musically.


I want to add that, for me, this was a pretty seminal moment in my musical development on that instrument. Since then I have never quite taken performing on it as seriously. It can, and did, crush a part of my spirit and ruined a large part of my enjoyment for it. Just some context for how these things can affect people. I didn't even show up for my composition adjudication later on. I withdrew.

November 16, 2017, 12:57 AM · Not sure if this is completely relevant, but as I currently learn from one of Ray Chen's old teachers, she has told me Ray was 9 years old when he finished Suzuki Book 10 (Mozart D major) and at age 13, he learnt the Tchaikovsky with her, and won multiple competitions.
Nowadays, we see 6 year olds playing Sarasate or Paganini at a pretty high standard, but will we ever see them as promising soloists in the future?
Although it doesn't seem like much practise (for a soloist) I have been told Ray was very efficient in his practise schedule and always practised scales and etudes.


Edited: November 16, 2017, 8:04 AM · Ray Chen is an extreme example. The question I have posted repeatedly on this forum is this: is there a publicly verifiable example of a raw adult beginner ( NOT returners ) who has achieved the level of a freeway philharmonic professional? A positive answer should significantly boost the argument of age deniers.

Having said that, I think active returners on this forum such as Lydia, Gene Huang, Smiley, Yixi could and some did achieve above-mentioned pro level proficiency.

November 16, 2017, 8:34 AM · David, there are a few former v.com posters that would fall into that category, if you count late teens (17 to 19) as "adult".

I think the key difference there is that they were able to spend their college years seriously dedicated to the instruments. Once people get past college age, there's typically pressure to go earn a living. I don't think that's related to physiological limitations so much as raw practicality.

Golfer guy had the incredible fortune to apparently not need to earn a living even though he was in his 30s, allowing him to devote himself to golf 100%.

Many prodigy-level children have a broad range of gifts. (Corey Cerovsek is an extreme example of this.) I imagine many of them go on to highly successful professional careers in other fields, but quite a few of them end up populating pro orchestras. (When I watch older YouTube videos of really great young players, I usually Google them, and it appears that pro orchestra jobs seem to be the most common destination.)

November 16, 2017, 9:22 AM · "If this 10000 hr is valid, why aren't we seeing any adult beginner maturing into a Ray Chen or James Ehnes."

Adult beginners aren't necessarily limited by talent, motivation, or hours. They are limited by self-consciousness.

Besides, don't put the cart before the horse: no one has said 10,000 hours automatically guarantees anything. It has to combined with the other ingredients. While I've liked Malcom Gladwell (the original culprit in this talk I think) in his New Yorker article, I've found his books to be a little simplistic and overly dependent on pop science and pop psychology.

Edited: November 16, 2017, 1:08 PM · "Adult beginners aren't necessarily limited by talent, motivation, or hours. They are limited by self-consciousness." Scott has nailed it again. I'm not sure the lack of confidence is part of the talent issue or not, but I see this everyday playing among adult amateurs. Most of them at intermediate level for decades without seeing much improvement, even though they play a lot in orchestras and chamber groups. They usually don't take regular lessons, even though they can afford and have the time to do so. Reasons stated are simple: too old to learn certain techniques and solo repertories. They admire and intimidated by young advanced players so they avoid summer string camps or community orchestra where players are mostly kids. And then you'd hear more excuses such as "I didn't learn x,y,z when I was young so now it's too late", "we just want to have fun", etc.

I often remind myself to stop self-sabotage and believe that life-long learning and working hard is fun and rewarding. If not, I'm not doing/thinking right.

Edited: November 16, 2017, 1:59 PM · "Adult beginners aren't necessarily limited by talent, motivation, or hours. They are limited by self-consciousness."

This is absolutely true. I wasn't that great, just intermediate, when I quit as a kid. I took it back up two years ago and was able to fix all of bad posture habits that were unsolved previously and have recently crossed over into successfully playing advanced repertoire (with a very good teacher's help, of course). Part of what helps me plow along now is remembering what it was like to practice and play as a kid, when I didn't have as much self-consciousness. It may not be impossible to learn to do this as an adult with no prior experience, but it would be really, really hard. Also, just blindly trusting your teacher would be really hard to do if it wasn't something I had learned to do when I was a child. I also find that getting a lot of performance opportunities to be really key, which is of course harder to do as an adult (Church and playing for older people or outside or at the mall are all ways to get this experience, Church works especially well for me).

Yixi, I wonder if you had played another instrument or done something else very challenging as a child that might have provided you some crossover experience in this area?

EDIT: Also, on the 10,000 point specifically, I think you have to hold IQ and other violin-related talents constant if you're going to then measure the value hours of practice. If you do hold these constant, than of course the biggest differentiator between one person and another will be practice, until they both hit a certain amount of hours when tiny fluctuations in talent and taste will be the final differentiators in their playing.

Also, we should say that "mastery" is not the same as soloist-worthy playing--you could be really darn good and know everything about playing the violin well and not have that magical sound in part because you just don't have the same musical genius/taste as a great soloist. Being a master and being Szerying or Heifetz (or even lesser soloists) are two different things. I think it's useful to just confine the discussion to mastery and leave discussion of the heavenly to the saints and theologians.

Another EDIT: A thought regarding Ray Chen's comments posted above--I think it's fair to say when Ray played Tchaikovsky he had achieved mastery of the violin, or maybe a year or two after that. So, it was by 10k hours, or even a few thousand before that. However, there is more to violin playing than just technical competence: you have a MASSIVE amount of repertoire to learn if you want to be either a soloist or win an orchestra audition, and including that in evaluating the 10k rule is to misunderstand the rule. Mastering the violin and mastering a significant chunk of the repertoire are not the same. Of course, part of the reason why climbing the mountain is worth it is because now you have access to learning all that repertoire, but that is a task you mostly perform after standing on the summit of the crag of mastery.

November 16, 2017, 4:43 PM · I would say, not self-consciousness, but the wrong type of focus (or the lack of).
November 16, 2017, 5:00 PM · Jason maybe that's where talent comes in? Apart from actually having the intellect to get to concerto-level repertoire, soloists seem to have an innate sense of interpretation and style that most other musicians fail to achieve.
November 16, 2017, 5:10 PM · Gemma, some people definitely have an innate sense of the music from the beginning:


If you sound like Joshua Bell, I don't think anyone would argue that you should stop working as hard as you can;)

Edited: November 16, 2017, 5:35 PM · I'm not talking about myself here, sorry if it came off that way. I was suggesting that people like Heifetz have an innate sense that the rest of us probably never will, no matter how hard we try.

I do not consider Joshua Bell to be on the same level as Heifetz (almost nobody is).

Edited: November 16, 2017, 7:35 PM · Jason, to answer your question: "Yixi, I wonder if you had played another instrument or done something else very challenging as a child that might have provided you some crossover experience in this area?"

No, growing up during the "Cultural Revolution" in China, I didn't have any formal music or related training as a child. That said, I am blessed to have a poor childhood and a challenging enough life as an adult immigrant who doesn't take no for an answer. I came to Canada with only $30 in my pocket. I worked my way through colleges and law school. Picked up violin again in my late 40s, have been taking regular lessons on and off. Mostly work on solo reps and techniques. This is what I believe, as an adult student, we have to choose carefully how to utilize our practice time if we want to see results. Working on solo repertories is challenging but you learn so much in each piece that I believe is the quickest way to improve.
I'm very lucky to always be surrounded by wonderful people and mentors. Other than that, really, there's nothing special about me. If I can do it, so can anyone else.

Edit: As a returner, you can't play like when you was a child. First of all, unless you have a recording of your childhood playing, what you remember your playing as a child might not be accurate. Physiologically and intellectually you are a different person now, why compare to that child?

November 17, 2017, 1:03 AM · I think the golf/violin analogy misses the most important factor for a violinist which isn't technique but musicianship. In golf technique is all you need - there's no such thing as golfmanship. As Jason remarks, a certain portion of "great" musicianship is probably innate, but how do the rest of us acquire it at a more humble level? Not simply by clocking up the hours on practice, that's for sure. My friendly violin dealer sells a lot of violins to budding students and young professionals who have done the hours and, as he says, can play millions of notes but you wouldn't want to listen to any of them.
November 17, 2017, 1:32 AM · I’m not sure that an innate sense of interpretation/musicianship is innate/inborn.
I think most of us, deep down, have a musical sense. I’m sure most of the v.commies can sing beautifully, from a musical point of view. Music is a universal language among humans and most people can understand it deep down.

I think the problem is elsewhere: too often, there is a disconnect between music and playing the violin. Many players get so caught up in technique, in wanting to play perfectly in tune, in rhythm and with a nice sound on each note, that they forget the music part. In their minds, there seemingly is no association between playing the violin, and making music.
They forget that violin is just a vehicle, a mean of expression, for Music, and not an end in itself. I like this quote:
‘Musician first, violinist second’. Unfortunately, the contrary happens most of the time.

November 17, 2017, 4:00 AM · Hmm. If the playing is not "sufficiently" in tune, in time, and with a nice sound, the musical part will tend to stay locked inside the player.
November 17, 2017, 4:06 AM · 10,000 hrs over 15 years comes to about 2hrs a day average; over only 10yrs its 3 hrs a day. Starting out at 20mins a day and ending with 5hrs, all this seems realistic to me.

Now, I suspect the gifted ones who get it all right straight away still need to put in the hours for reliability.

November 17, 2017, 5:49 AM · Adrian, of course, I’m not saying one shouldn’t practice, but very often, players stop at that, and correct technique becomes the end goal.
November 17, 2017, 6:17 AM · I believe 10,000 hours is meant to be a necessary condition, not a sufficient one.
Also, it should be construed as an average figure (with probably a large underlying variance resulting from a plethora of factors such as quality of practice, teachers, supportive parents, self-confidence, talent, etc. which has been discussed in this thread).
November 17, 2017, 7:05 AM · I don't think I've reached my 10,000 hours yet. But the original study of violinists had an age 18 (pre-conservatory) hours of practice of about 3,400 for the music teachers; 5,300 for the good students; and 7,400 for the very best students. That suggests that the number of hours needed to achieve pre-conservatory preparation is significantly less than 10,000, and signals that you can get very good at the violin in that time.

Edited: November 17, 2017, 7:50 AM · I think Yixi's point on focusing on solo rep and technique is spot on. If playing second violin in a community orchestra is all one does, it will not get an adult student very far, no matter how many thousands of hours were involved.
November 17, 2017, 7:55 AM · I don't think it's the quantity of time a person uses that's necessarily as important as the quality of work done within the time. In Outliers, Gladwell makes a big deal about The Beatles playing for 8 hours a night in German clubs, and somehow getting 10,000 hours out of the whole thing. (The number is dubious, because they weren't in Germany long enough to acquire that many hours on stage.) Well, actually, on many of those nights, they split the bill with another band, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Well, if Rory Storm and his band were putting in as many hours as The Beatles, why didn't they succeed like The Beatles? The answer, of course, is far more complicated than simply numbers. The Beatles were writing their own material, they ended up with a manager who really knew how to sell their music, they were willing to change from all leather outfits to tailored suits, they changed their haircuts, they stopped eating and swearing on stage, they found an excellent recording engineer, and on and on. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes had none of that with one exception. It seems their drummer, a guy named Richard Starkey aka Ringo Starr, was excellent. It also seems, with all those hours of work, that The Beatles drummer, Pete Best, wasn't good at keeping a steady beat. Even though he had all those hours on stage, he couldn't muster much beyond a basic 4/4 beat. Subsequently, The Beatles fired Pete, hired Ringo, and things moved forward. Again, it's not how much time you put in to the work. It's how well you use the time you have.
November 17, 2017, 10:21 AM · Remember that it's 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, too, not just "time spent doing the thing".

Orchestral music, played properly, has its own set of unique technical challenges, by the way. For instance, I was struggling with a Brahms 2 bit recently, which requires an instant change from ff to pp, requiring some extremely precise bow-control in a way that I don't think I've ever encountered in solo literature, since that sort of gesture wouldn't normally exist if you just had, say, violin and piano.

Also, there's a huge delta between what's required to play orchestral music at the level of "manage to get through it without major embarrassment in a community orchestra" and "actually play it very well". That applies to 2nd violin parts as much as 1st violin parts. You could spend serious practice time on orchestral literature, and learn a lot, if that was your goal.

Edited: November 17, 2017, 1:06 PM · Lydia, played properly is the key, which requires solid techniques (good intonation, tone production and rhythmic control, etc. at the level required in solo reps) that, so far as I can see, many violinists in community orchestras (first or second, but especially in the second session) don't have. I'm not saying that one doesn't learn much by playing in orchestra; quite to the contrary, one learns a lot, including technical stuff and certainly listening and playing with others. My point is that doing orchestra works at the expense of challenging one with solo reps is how get people stuck at their level for decades. I'm sure you can find some of these players in your orchestra.

Note to those who are about to jump up and object, I'm not criticizing violinists who do not want to or have the means or both to work on solo reps or technique in a more rigorous way. Each person has to choose what they see the best for them. My comment has been made within the context of what 10,000 hours can result in violin playing, rather than a general statement about how one should approach to violin learning the way each sees fit.

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