10,000 hrs - how are you doing?

June 21, 2011 at 05:45 PM ·

This thought springs out of the practise log book topic I just started.  It occurred to me that I can actually add up how long I've been playing (I log all practise, lesson and group/performance time).  Well, since last november I've managed 450 hrs about.  Thats about 6 months.  I'm not sure what to do with my childhood playing - I wasn't a good student so the total time was about 1K (probably more but lets low-ball).  so if I keep up my current rate at ~1K/yr I should be Hillary Hahn in 9 yrs or so.  Assuming, of course, that I don't get an aging disease or drop dead, both of which would certainly compromise the total.


Replies (100)

June 21, 2011 at 07:07 PM ·

Sorry, I don't buy the 10,000-hour rule! Many people have played the violin for many years; some even practice diligently, but they certainly have not achieved the level of Hilary Hahn, who, at age 9, was able to deliver a very musical rendition of Ernst's "The Last Rose of Summer," arguably the hardest piece in the violin repertoire.   Sarah Chang received her first violin for her 4th birthday, and played Bruch Concerto and got in Juilliard at 5. Yu-Chien Tseng started at 5,  won a concerto competition and played with a professional orchestra at 6...  It takes much shorter than the prescribed hours for those very gifted to "master" the instrument, and for some, it will never happen regardless of how many hours they put in. Assuming everybody's hours produce the same results just doesn't make sense. Also, we need a definition of what "master" means  to have a meaningful discussion.

As for myself, yes, I'm keeping tab - I have played about 1,200 hours in two years, but I certainly hope it won't take me another 15 years of consistent and intense effort (I've never had to work so hard in anything else in my life) to be any good.  (I know I will never be Hilary Hahn, but becoming a virtuoso was never my goal.)

June 21, 2011 at 07:20 PM ·


It does not work that way, I'm afraid. You have to put in those hours before your sixteenth birthday. As my teacher, who is around 30, once told me: "If we'd met 40 years ago, you could have become a good violinist."

But violin playing keeps me young, so I go on practicing.


ps please don't drop dead, or develop a disease.


June 21, 2011 at 08:00 PM ·

A few minutes to go and I'm not there yet.

June 21, 2011 at 08:42 PM ·

BLAH BLAH BLAH (fingers in ears)... just 8.5K to go.  Wait, I played 2 hrs with an hour lesson today already so thats only 8,492 to go.  Yippee!!!  Lessee, where shall I make my concert debut?

Hey, in my lesson I played the first page of the Beethoven Romance in F from memory today .  She didn't exactly say 'virtuoso in making' but she also didn't run screaming from the room so THATS definitely progress :)  I should have side 2 by next week and maybe the whole thing in another...  Am I on track at 1.5 K...

Wouldn't it be neat to have a scale for hrs vs target repertoire... where should I be at 2K for example...

June 21, 2011 at 09:31 PM ·

imo, the 10K hr thing's a gimmick to sell books to certain people. The fact that people who are talented and driven may have met that mark has nothing to do with source of the particular level of their skill or talent...there are also many who do things for that long and are pathetic at them.  If it makes someone feel good that  "...they'd be a genius, too, and play just like Josh Bell, but just haven't got the 10K hours in yet..." then it's nice and serves a purpose. 

June 21, 2011 at 10:12 PM ·

Elise, that's actually a great goal to shoot for!  I know of a Taiwanese girl, at 9, told her new teacher (co-concertmaster of Taiwan's National Symphony Orchestra) that she would like to have her debut solo recital when she was 12, and she did it!  You should book Carnegie Hall now for a  6/21/2020 recital. That will give you enough motivation... :)

Here is the story for those who can read Traditional Chinese:

June 21, 2011 at 11:00 PM ·

I have to agree with Tom. The 10k hour thing is a joke. What, you suddenly pass that magickal number and poof, you're a virtuoso? I think not. There was way too many factors that determine someone's competency (or lack thereof) on an instrument.

As for having to put all your hours in before 16...that I also disagree with, but perhaps it's different for cellists. I have met more than I can count who began aged 14 and above who have enjoyed and are enjoying nice careers. Maybe not as internationally renowned solosits, but still getting into good schools, playing and teaching music as a living nonetheless, and fulfilling their dreams. Amazing players who began in the double digits...imagine that.

I know of even MORE people who began super young and are crazy talented, more so than a few big-name soloists imo, whom you will never know of simply because being in the int'l limelight requires more than being a prodigy, and especially way more than having those miraculous 10,000 hours under your belt. It's a spot reserved for an infinitely lucky few, and no one is guaranteed such stardom even if they began playing 6 hours a day in the womb.

I say, savour the journey, with all it's progress and setbacks, for it is individual to you. And please forget about the 10k fad.

June 21, 2011 at 11:02 PM ·

I don't read Chinese, so I fired up my Google Chrome browser, called up http://www.wretch.cc/blog/nicochien/7919741from it, and Google politely offered to translate the webpage on sight. Here is Google's translation of the first few lines:

2008 to the beginning of the first class when the teacher's home Wu, Wu polite to say because he rarely teach children of this age, a little worried for undergraduate, graduate school the way I am afraid of Angela is not suitable, so he thought the former special class through to how to Angela class, the teacher said she can understand the words, 
Wu then asked the teacher tried to Angela first small problem 
"What do you think ? " 
Angela thought for a moment said, "I want 12 years of age to open a solo concert! " At this time, to attend the mother almost fell off his chair, thinking the child big breath! Then, Yanjun of breath red in the face of continued  
"Because I recently listened to a 12 -year-old sister ( Huang Yi Rong ) of the recital, I think I'm 12 years old should be able to do! " 


June 21, 2011 at 11:21 PM ·

I suspect the magic "10,000" was thought up for musicians as a nice round figure to compare with the years of training professionals such as medical doctors (for example) have to go through before they can safely (!) be let loose on the public. Even if you don't go along the medicine route but elect to do a PhD in a discipline you'll be spending 4 years (at least) at university for the Bachelor's, (possibly a further year for a Master's), and a solid 3 years for the PhD itself.  Even if you don't include the final 2 or 3 years of advanced study at school before going to university, there's 10,000 hours in there somewhere.
And it takes about 10 years to train a Jesuit.

June 21, 2011 at 11:38 PM ·

It certainly does take a long while to obtain excellence in any medium.

I also tend to think the 10,000 "rule" is yet more evidence of human obsession with numbers. Think about it...most of us slave away in the practice rooms to the ticking of a clock, and must accomplish "x" amount of practice hours a day, feeling guilty when we don't reach that magic number. I have done this and continue to do it on occasion. I used to rate my self worth based upon how many hours I logged in a day, if you can believe that. But it's not about the hours, really, it's about the quality. One needs to put in quality time, not "just" time. Just like a medical student will be a lousy doctor if they don't put in the quality study, even if they go through all that training and time spent. (I know it shouldn't be possible for someone to get their license as an incompetent, but sadly I've met a few).

Strive for quality first and always.

June 21, 2011 at 11:41 PM ·

Oh, sorry, Trever! That translation was atrocious! LOL! Here is a rough translation (I'm not very good at it):

At the beginning of 2008, during Angela's first lesson with Mr. Wu, the maestro said politely that he rarely teaches kids her age, so he worries that the way he teaches college and graduate students may not be suitable for her. He was just thinking before the lesson how he should teach her so Angela could understand him...
He tried to ask Angela a small question: "Do you have any thoughts?"
Angela thought for a moment and said: "I'd like to play a solo concert when I'm 12!"

Her mom almost fell off her chair, and thought this kid is bold!  Angela continued to say unabashedly "because I have recently heard a 12-year-old girl (I-Jong Huang)'s recital, and I think I can do it when I'm 12."

Mr. Wu seemed unmoved, and simply said:
"Very good! However, what I wanted to know was - is there any piece you would like to learn?"


So this question led to two results:

First, Mr. Wu selected Sarasate's Zapateado as her first piece with him...
Second, two years later, in the fall of 2010, Mr. Wu asked Angela during a lesson "How old are you now?" Angela answered "12!" Maestro Wu said: "Then let's have a concert to fulfill your dream!"...

That's how Angela's concert came about...

(The blog was written by her mom.)

I think it's very sweet that the teacher kept her dream in his mind, even though he did not say anything all those years. Apparently Angela also worked very hard so her teacher thought that she was ready for a solo concert.

The 10,000-hour rule comes from the book "Outliers: The Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell.

June 22, 2011 at 01:39 AM ·

"The 10,000-hour rule comes from the book "Outliers: The Story of Success" by Malcolm Gladwell."

That may be where you heard of it, but it's actually from a study by Ericson, Kramps, and Tesch-Romer published in 1991. I first heard of it in an article by John Sloboda in a collection of articles called "Musical Perceptions".

E, K & T-R , looked at the number of hours work put in by violinists up to teh age of 20, and found thet the best students and professionals had clocked up 10 000 hours, while good had achieved say 8500.

Teachers had only managed  around 5 000.

This was a study specific to violinists - I don't know how it has crossed over to "any skill"



June 22, 2011 at 02:27 AM ·

Some interesting ideas on this thread...

While it might be an incredible accomplishment, just being admitted to a prestigious school at a very young age doesn't constitute "mastery" of a particular craft.

The human factor in all of this, is that some people accomplish far more in far less time than their peers. There are players who could invest 20,000 hours and not achieve as much as others with only 5000 hours, all other things being equal. As it stands, 10000 hours is about 2.7 hours a day over ten years. That's probably not all that uncommon of a milestone for most aspiring young musicians to reach!

Ultimately, the difficult part here is recognizing that it's not blindly playing for 10000 hours that accomplishes anything, but actually engaging in disciplined, well-researched, and focused work in any field.

June 22, 2011 at 03:10 AM ·

Bad jou jou coming somebody's way.

June 22, 2011 at 04:10 AM ·

Hmmm.....I've definitely not put in the hours, 10,000 that is. However, I believe that one needs to work hard and "put in the hours". I studied with a teacher who, in turn, studied with, both,  Mehli Mehta, Zubin Mehta's father, who studied with Galamian, and Jules Craen, a pupil of Ysaye. Mehli Mehta, Zubin Mehta's father,  studied conducting under Jules Craen. The one thing my teacher emphasized was that there were no shortcuts and that one had to "put in the hours". BTW, Simon Fischer's teacher, Homi Kanga, was Mehli Mehta's pupil. I'm not sure what he had to say about 10,000 hours.

Perhaps, Mr. Fischer might wish to weigh in.

I gave up playing the violin to focus on academics, and took it up, again, about 3 years ago.

I firmly believe in hard work. However, I am, often, amazed at the kids who play advanced repertoire that even adults cannot tackle, let alone master. Is it the 10,000 hour effort? I don't know.

June 22, 2011 at 05:33 AM ·

 I'm sure there's some truth to the 10,000 hour idea but it depends on how well those hours are spent. You can get 2 hours' work done in 1 hour if you practice with your mind and not just run through with the sole intention of spending time. Regarding age limit: There aren't any real rules regarding this. There are excellent professional violinists who are exceptions to every rule people come up with. Christopher Warren Green, the concertmaster of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London started playing the violin at age 14. I also know of a great Chinese violinist by the name of James Chen who became a very successful soloist in China. He started the violin when he was 21. He didn't really take his career out of China but he retired and now teaches privately in his leisure time. I had a few lessons with him and got to hear him play. He's still great.

It all depends on the quality of your instruction, the quality of your attention, good luck in genetics and work work work.

June 22, 2011 at 05:39 AM ·

Graham, thanks for providing the origin and further information of the 10,000-hour rule! I stand corrected. However, I'm a little confused - according to this, it seems to suggest that the research was about pianists, or am I misled by this sentence "only 2,000 hours for serious amateur pianists"?

Gene, I was not suggesting that Chang and Tseng achieved mastery in violin after 1 year. I was just using them as examples to say that for the extraordinarily gifted, it would take much less than 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. I agree with your point about "engaging in disciplined, well-researched, and focused work", although mastering the violin seems to demand much more hard work than many other fields (or maybe it's just me).

June 22, 2011 at 05:55 AM ·

As violinists should we measure our experience in the sets of strings we have worn out? The instructions  that came with my new Evah Pirazzi strings (bought because I like the green lady on the packet) say they should last 250 hours. That makes 40 sets before expertise beckons!

June 22, 2011 at 09:20 AM ·

From the above (and a little addition) perhaps we can identify four main factors that set the success of a violinist:

1. the talent (mental capacity, physical abilities), that inate characteristics;

2. the quality of training or the teachers that are available at each learning stage;

3. the number of hours spent practicing; and

4. the quality of practise time

Because 1 in particular and also 2 are simply not equal its reasonable to assume that each violinist has an optimum cieling of development that is part inate and part circumstance.  I'm guessing that at 'optimum development' most people could play in a good orchestra but still only a few could be virtuosos.  So lets say optimum development is a career violinist.  4 is also a limit but that is within the control of each player (that is the quality of practise can be optimised) and could therefore be ignored.  What it boils down to then depends on #3 , or

How much effort is expended to reach (at least) the level of a career violinist .

It is, of course, unlikely that that is exactly 10,000 hrs but perhaps this is not far from the truth: as pointed out above, this 10 yrs of ~3 hrs per day.  Practically thats probably 15-20 yrs of development for almost everyone.

QED (bit of a tongue in cheek)

June 22, 2011 at 09:44 AM ·

@ Joyce

"Graham, thanks for providing the origin and further information of the 10,000-hour rule! I stand corrected. However, I'm a little confused - according to this, it seems to suggest that the research was about pianists, or am I misled by this sentence "only 2,000 hours for serious amateur pianists"?"

Could be from a different study, or even mis-quoted...  I don't know.

One of my belifs about this 10,000 hrs business is that the feedback and satisfaction experienced by the better players encourage them to practice more. We tend to repeat what we enjoy and what we are good at.

But there is also the dogged insistence of those who will not let something beat them. You can clock up many hours trying to get something right. And then many more making sure you don't get it wrong again.


June 22, 2011 at 10:35 AM ·

Elise using your points is this the correct formula for a career violinist ? 

: .  3 x 4  =  10 k  

     --------         -----    =  career violinist
        2              1
I think a new law can be formulated, can we call it the Stanley Law for Career Path. 



June 22, 2011 at 11:01 AM ·

Andre: to quote charlie brown: "Oh good grief!" lol!

And now I must get up and take another hour off my 10K.... :)

June 22, 2011 at 03:11 PM ·

As hinted by previous posts, age-related neuroplasticity plays a major role, in addition to the hours accumulated.  The analogous situation might be learning a second language.  It's been said that prior to the age of 7 a child can learn a second language with no telltale accents, whereas beyond that age, as the nervous system loses some of  its "plasticity," this is not so much the case.  There is no doubt a huge difference between 10,000 hours spent in childhood and the same hours invested in later years. As in many things in life, timing is critical.

June 22, 2011 at 04:59 PM ·

Heather, you wrote: "… but perhaps it's different for cellists.  I have met more than I can count who began aged 14 and above who have enjoyed and are enjoying nice careers."

This makes sense to me, in light of what I've heard so far -- although I have no cello experience for comparison.  In elementary school, I told a classmate that I'd like to learn violin.  This was shortly after a professional orchestra had performed at our school.  This classmate was already into cello lessons.  He told me, "Violin is a lot harder than cello."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Anthony, picking up on your point about languages and accents -- and this carries over to music-learning: A couple of other factors come into play.  As the years pass, we have more on our minds to deal with.  A German-born friend told me: "I had to learn to think in terms of English.  As long as I kept thinking in German and translating everything into English, I couldn't reach full speed and fluency."

Then, too, we acquire personal and cultural inhibitions later that small kids don't have.  I excelled in high school French; but I disliked the pronunciation -- no offense to the French-speaking part of our audience.  It just felt and sounded so unnatural to me.  At age 3 or 4, I'm sure it wouldn't have bothered me; but once I got to 15, part of my subconscious kept nagging me: "Hey -- American guys don't talk like that!"

June 22, 2011 at 09:39 PM ·

I think it's worth mentioning that:

       Correlation is not Causation

To say that practicing 10,000 hours because you're good is logically as valid as saying that you're good because you practiced 10,000 hours.  (Read that carefully!)

Sure, practicing a lot (if done properly) will lead to improvement.  But 10,000 hours practicing things wrong will makes you really good at being bad

There are just so many more factors involved, that the 10,000 hour observation is really only good as an observation.  Which is fine. 

But don't say that 10,000 hours alone CAUSED someone to be good.  Way too simplistic -- but good fodder for pop culture books!

June 22, 2011 at 11:56 PM ·

June 23, 2011 at 09:03 AM ·

Interesting Trevor - but what do they have to do with the 10K hrs?  Perhpas this was on the wrong topic? :)

June 23, 2011 at 10:23 AM ·

 Elise, probably not a lot, but it seemed to arise naturally following comments by one or two others about language learning in the younger years.  I'll delete my comment.

July 13, 2011 at 08:46 AM ·

Update: I reached my first 500 hrs since starting tracking (last november).  That includes practise, lesson and playing time (almost all the former).  I have some recordings from close to when I started and must make some now.  What I should do is try to play a difficult piece - one well beyond my skills - and then leave it completely and try again at the next milestone.  That might be a good way to track....

Meaningful or meaningless its still a cute way to get a sense of progress...

July 13, 2011 at 09:07 AM ·

 alternatively, record a piece that you THINK you are in control of, and then compare it in 500 hours time.  I'm going to do that this weekend (the baseline recording).

July 13, 2011 at 12:01 PM ·

Good point.  The more I learn the more I know how I'm NOT in really control of anything.... perhaps I should try 'twinkle, twinkle...' again :-\

July 13, 2011 at 05:04 PM ·

" perhaps I should try 'twinkle, twinkle...' again :-\"

A few years ago, I bought the first three books of the  Doflein Method, and worked my way through them. Did me the world of good. I think I might do it again.

July 13, 2011 at 05:35 PM ·

I think its like that in most arts - the better you get at them, the more you obsess with perfecting their simplest expressions - those are the true test of mastery.  Thus for the violin, can you generate a pure tone?  In dancing, can you move witout effort?  In art, can you paint a perfect line? etc....  Oh dear I'm getting yogic here!

July 13, 2011 at 06:40 PM ·

One way to spend a practice hour or two is to go from the "too simple", such as Sevcik opp. 1, 2, 3, Twinkle, and the like, through the  "just right" (Bach) to the "too difficult", and to try and carry the feeling of doing things right as far as one can. That, and splitting up difficult stuff into manageable chunks.

July 13, 2011 at 11:18 PM ·

My ex-teacher told me 16000 hours so actually 10,000 hours seems like a bargain! I'm not going to be playing professionally, I don't even care if I ever play publically, large or small. The violin is an obsession, it's just between me and the composer. I guess it's like climbing Mt. Everest, because it's there! I've spent hours just trying to fix my bow hold or make a chord sound the way I want it and still can't make it happen. Why keep trying? I've no idea, it's an obsession, because it's there.

July 14, 2011 at 02:33 AM ·

Well, I'm going for the 10K and then I can look and see how high the mountain (OK reality check, hill) is that I climbed.  And as you say, its an obsession: as soon as I reach 10K I'll start on the 20... 

July 14, 2011 at 03:22 AM ·

sure, i would like to see what kind of violinist i would be after  36,000,000 beats @ 60bpm  or equivalent thereof. i might need a heart pacemaker by then though...maybe it could double up as a metronome without the disadvantage needing new batteries or winding action.

July 14, 2011 at 08:15 AM ·

"'The difference between obsessive-compulsive disorder and milder forms of obsession or compulsion seen in otherwise healthy people is that for the sufferer the obsessions or compulsions cause marked distress, are time-consuming, and significantly interfere with the person's normal routine, occupational functioning, usual social activities, and relationships with others."

But it usually should disappear after 10K hours. It is a long road that has no turning.


July 14, 2011 at 09:09 AM ·

 @ Elise,

"Well, since last november I've managed 450 yrs about.  Thats about 6 months". 

I read about "dog years". What sort of creature equates 450 years to 6 months human time or vice-versa ????

July 14, 2011 at 10:00 AM ·

 Lets see if I played for 450 yrs that would mean I started in 1561.  (Isn't that before the violin was invented?)  I probably would have met many of the great composers/players during my studies.  Lets suppose I played on its predecessor - if I was only as good as I am now I think we can be pretty sure I would not get any better.  I would definitely have disproved the 10K hypothesis...

Perhaps it would be best to sell my (now very valuable) old instrument and take up the tin whistle... 

OK, I fixed it...

July 14, 2011 at 11:28 AM ·

 @ Elise,

Yes, I see you fixed your typo error.

As for myself, not even counting student years, I will have spent some 48,000 hours sitting in professional orchestras. Even discounting the time spent watching the clock or marking bowings, there must have been a considerable time spent with brain engaged. By now I should be playing dazzling solos at Carnegie Hall, to thund'rous applause. What went wrong ??

July 14, 2011 at 10:56 PM ·

 Take it out of the music world for a moment: is anyone a 'master' of living after 10000 hours? even if you start counting once you reach (putative) adulthood?


Maybe 10000 AWARE, or MINDFUL hours....

January 16, 2012 at 08:00 PM · Here's my progress update. I just reached my first milestone: 1,000 hrs since Dec 13th 2010; counting all playing time (practise, groups and lessons - but only violin contact time). Thats an average of 2 1/2 hrs a day!

So where am I on the 10K marathon? OK in Dec 2010 I was working on Salut d'amour, Melodie by Kreisler, liebesleid, Mozart 157 quartet.

Of those I eventually performed Melodie and I played 1st violin on the quartet piece (the others were never finished). So if thats the strating point, after 1K hrs I'm planning to perform the Haydn G (so that is a benchmark for finishing pieces) and am working on the Mozart IV, with a reasonable chance I think of getting it to at least a student performance level (a benchmark for my current working level).

It would appear that I am not a prodigy after all. On the other hand, I think thats not bad progress. Whether its on the road to mastery of the instrument by 10K hours is another question.

I'll check back in another 1K. I'll use a benchmark of performance at a starting professional level. Perhaps - but it all depends of course on what you do with the time!

PS note that I have ignored all the naysayers above. Too bad for them that THEY will not be ringing Bell's bell in just another 9K hrs...

January 16, 2012 at 10:54 PM ·

January 16, 2012 at 11:03 PM · I must be well past 52,000 hours Elise (maybe even 100,000 for all I know) and I'm still a beginner. Just worked out how to use my left hand and bow correctly. Just started on Beethoven Op 18 No 1 (F major) string quartet today as I may be playing it on Saturday. I may have got the hang of it. I last did this at music college in 1960 - just a bit more than a few weeks ago. But as I'm having to also play a nasty Dvorak Op 87 piano quartet which is like a damned concerto I won't get much of a look again at Op 18. My 52,000 - 100,000 hours is just not enough, and I still haven't made it. (I may also have to have the Haydn Rider and Mendellsohn Op 44 No 1 up and ready too - which is a big play - as the choice may not be entirely mine).

So what I'm saying is really that the hours don't matter, it's what you have done with the time that counts. Some people might be leading quartets or a soloist after only 1,000 hours.

It's the same with practising, don't watch the clock, but watch your aims and inputs. Some people can do in one hour what others take five over. And do it better. It's the quality of the work that counts, not the hours you put in.

But having said all that, you appear to be doing quite well, so we just hope the quality of the teaching you get will make it an even better 2012.

January 16, 2012 at 11:15 PM · Speaking from personal experience:

10,000 hrs of less than ideal practice = 20,000+ hrs correcting bad habits + injury.

January 16, 2012 at 11:25 PM · Thanks peter - but the timing DOES help. It makes me keep up a minimum and once you get used to doing an hour every morning and another every night you find you can't live without it.

Within that you have to be smart, as you say. The morning is taken up almost entirely by scales, studies and etudes now (please don't look back at my embarassing posts from a year ago :-\ ). The afternoon is for a bit more technique and then rep. I focus better in the morning and am more dreamy in the afternoon so that works for me. By timing it I get a sense of achievement and direction so it really does work for me. I certainly don't keep working out of blind duty. I always start (that is KEY since almost always I can't stop) but if I don't feel like it I do stop since the one most important factor to playing an instrument is that you enjoy it. And if I feel like spending the day just reading through odd bits of rep - then thats what I do. I mean how else will you learn sightreading?

January 16, 2012 at 11:28 PM · Eric: I got quite far with it. I can play the whole thing except be reliably in tune in the accidentals section (at the bottom of my second page) and nailing the fast runs on the upper part of the third page. However, I think I played it to exhaustion and am taking a break. I will go back though since its a decent performance piece and I don't have much real rep! Good luck with the second comming :)

January 16, 2012 at 11:30 PM · Yixi - you are so right and I suppose that even with the best teachers you can still do damage to yourself in private ... I'm hoping its going to help to do a lot of technique since I think its relatively easy for my teacher to spot errors when you repeat them 20 times in a piece rather than only once.

January 16, 2012 at 11:48 PM · I did those damages to myself way before I found my teachers here in Canada. In fact, I did it mostly during my youth back in China, between teachers. Those days, I loved violin so much and I practiced 5-6 hrs/day for a number of years to my own detriment. Practice doesn't make perfect. It only solidifies good and bad we are doing:)

January 20, 2012 at 05:24 PM · I first saw the reference to the 10,000 hours number in Levitin's 'This Is Your Brain On Music.' If you believe the neuroscientist, it apparently has come about as the consensus of numerous studies. I don't want to risk oversimplifying the book, so I'll just try to state what I thought were the salient take-away points:

1) This is a minimum.

2) It is assumed that they aren't just wasting time doodling.

3) Everything you learn leaves a real, physical mark on your brain.

If you're interested in reading about expertise, the relevant chapter is 'What Makes a Musician?' The whole book is very interesting.

January 20, 2012 at 06:03 PM · "Everything you learn leaves a real, physical mark on your brain."

So that's how I got brain damage ... and I thought it was the whiskey!

I'm starting my 100,000 + hours tomorrow.

January 20, 2012 at 06:35 PM · Oh, noone told you Peter? After you reach 10K its all downhill again.

So I must ask, do you still know which hand to hold the bow in? :P

January 20, 2012 at 08:05 PM · I tend to swap hands a lot, and sometimes my foot does the trick. I also have a foot vibrato. I always think it best to toe the line. 10,000 whores are few too many for me anyway ...

January 20, 2012 at 11:13 PM ·

January 20, 2012 at 11:31 PM · Hmmmm

January 21, 2012 at 12:11 AM · Eric, try it with your left toes -- the toe for tone trick.

January 21, 2012 at 12:23 AM ·

January 21, 2012 at 02:11 AM · To some extent. If you are talking about something David Russell suggested (at about 09:20 to be specific), then yes. But this is a very narrow issue and it won't help our tone production if other basic issues are not dealt with first, such as the contact, sound points, the feeling of the sound by right hand, etc.

January 21, 2012 at 06:24 AM ·

January 21, 2012 at 12:58 PM · Let's look at this calmly!

10,000 hours from 5 to 20 yrs old means an average of 2 hours per day over a 15 year span. From 20 minutes a day for a beginner (with ambitious parents?) to 5-8 hours par day to prepare for a career, the 10,000 figure is realistic.

The most receptive and gifted who reach this level at 15 years old have simply managed an average of 3 hours a day.

In both cases the practice must be of a nature to stimulate (rather than deaden) awareness, physical and mental presence, and the sense of being more alive when playing than when resting..

Those who win talent contests at 11 or 12 often give up when their growing bodies and minds no longer respond as before. Those who survive have the best of all worlds. But early recordings of Heifetz, Menuhin, Sarah Chang, or the outrageously pretty Miss Hahn, are amazing, delightful, irreplaceable, but do no not quite match their later work.

Those clocking up only 5,000 hours will play the same music as the "10Ks", but will need to be "on form" to perform well. The "10Ks" will be able to play even with 'flu or with problems "of the heart"!

5,000 for teachers? Probably, since our main concern is nurturing talent rather than exibiting it. But when I meet a youngster with great potential I push for the 10,000 (over as many years as necessary).

January 21, 2012 at 07:30 PM · Adrian; nice and logical. If you were here I'd talke lessons from you!

Let see so if I do 20 hrs/week, one of which is a lesson then if I have 8,940 to go thats 447 more lessons. If we figure $50/hr thats $22,300, not counting music, hardware repairs....

Eeek! I had BETTER be a virtuoso by then, how else am I going to recover my investment? Maybe I can sue...

January 28, 2012 at 09:30 AM · Elise, I like your witty and useful posts, but I would have to add the cost of the weekly return air fare Paris/Toronto - and I couldn't offer a money-back guarantee!

January 28, 2012 at 10:07 AM · Is that 50 Canadian $ an hour or US? It's cheap in either currency.

Here you would pay £40 - £100 per hour. ($64 - $160 US).

But I will teach you for $50 an hour as long as you pay the London to Canada air fare etc......

January 28, 2012 at 08:15 PM · OK, OK,! Elise, I can't compete with Peter's prices, or his humour, but you can cry on my shoulder!

January 28, 2012 at 08:36 PM · Adrian: Thanks truly, I surely need a SR once in a while. [OK, you can gag now...]

Peter: I'll be in England on the 13-17th July. I might just take you up on the 50$.... :)

September 24, 2012 at 12:17 AM · well, long way from 10K hrs - but I just hit 100,000 minutes since Nov14th, 2010 when I started counting.

thats almost all practise but also includes lessons and playing - basically all hands on violin time.

So I'm keeping up well over 2 hrs/day :) And I definitely feel the paganini-effect taking over :p Actually, things are changing. I feel a lot more fluid on the instrument; shifts to 2,3,5 and even 4 are becomeing natural and I no longer panic when I see something higher than D (on E)! Tone has been the biggest improvement and I often get compliments on my sound. Teachers seem much more impressed with my bow than finger hand - so thats where the next effort is going to have to be (which I think is easier than the other one)....

Next up? 2 K hours I suppose (100,000 minutes is ~1667 hrs....

September 24, 2012 at 07:30 PM · Check out this blog about this!


September 24, 2012 at 07:55 PM · the 10000 h rule is about "deliberate practice" not just fiddling around. The quality of the practice and the challenge, creativity and dedication involved is essential.

Look out for books and articles of Anders Ericsson . I Just found this article, wich might be of interest.

September 24, 2012 at 08:25 PM · I think what I do can be described as 'deliberate practise'. Besides, much of fiddling around - which to me is sight reading or playing from mind - are also integral elements of 'deliberate practise? are they not?.

September 24, 2012 at 08:28 PM · Matthew - that blog was written I think (it has no precise date that I can see - AFTER this topic was started! Perhaps the author got the idea here :)

I'm on track to reach my 10K hrs in 8-13 yrs. I only hope I'm still fit enough to keep it up....

September 24, 2012 at 09:05 PM · I think the term deliberate practice is used for that kind of practice with deals with weaknesses and specific problems to solve them forever. For example: If a shift in a piece one plays is bad, time to get out sevcic shifting exercises.

Also getting always the best possible and demanding teacher to not get too comfortable with the own playing is part of it.

Usually when someone has multiple occasions to play he learns better out of fear... thats the little edge one needs for 10000 hours. I am already past the 10000 hours I think, but I am not a "master" or first class player, because much of that time wasn't that deliberate practiced. And apart from that not only the physical condition but also the education is important. Playing an instrument is easy, but understanding/knowing all the music is much work.

September 24, 2012 at 09:48 PM · Simon says: I think the term deliberate practice is used for that kind of practice with deals with weaknesses and specific problems to solve them forever.

I certainly understand where you're coming from, Simon, although I'd be interested in knowing which rule book you're using. At any rate, there are many different kinds of practice. The kind you mention is vitally important. Other kinds that are equally important are: Practice to become acquainted with new repertoire, practice to learn new repertoire, practice to increase musical and violinistic fluency, practice to learn new techniques, practice to develop expressivity, style, and other components of musical artistry.

There is some very fine discussion about the various types of practice in the Musician's Way by Gerald Klickstein, and also on his blog at http://musiciansway.com

September 24, 2012 at 11:15 PM · expressivity, new repertoire etc. can also be a "specific problem". The books are various, I wrote my Diplomwork about practice. Goeff Colvin "talent is overrated" introduces the term "deliberate practice" and defines it in a more general but essential way. One has to think of own ways to apply the principles. Everyone has its own places to work on.

Generally speaking deliberate practice is practice in the right state between comfort zone and mental overload.

The book of Klickstein is outstanding. He brings lots of knowledge together and applies it to the "musicians way". Anders Ericsson is more general, speaking about excellent performance.

September 24, 2012 at 11:47 PM · 10,000 hours of practicing anything will make you pretty darn good at it no matter how old you are. If you never swung a baseball bat in your life and practiced 10,000 hours doing it you we be quite a solid hitter at the end. You would never play for the Yankees, but you would clean up at beer league softball.

I think it's pretty clear the OP was saying she would be Hillary Hahn as a joke. That doesn't mean at 10,000 hours of practice she won't be a really good violinist and sound very good on the instrument.

Just because you're learning as an adult doesn't mean you're destined to screech yourself through Suzuki book 2 for the rest of your life. You can become quite proficient at the instrument.

September 25, 2012 at 01:12 AM · Indeed Raymond - I now play in a quartet (1st as well as second), a community orchestra and have soloed at two weddings and played an (rep entry level) concerto at my own birthday party (er, no cash was tendered :D ).

Best of all I have been accepted by an excellent and accomplished violinist teacher who seems almost as driven and enthusiastic about my progress as I am. I'm very proud of my achievements thus far and am confident that I have a lot of capacity to learn more to the point I hope where I could be a reliable chamber musician and sometime soloist. Will I be Hillary Hahn? Of course not - but neither will 99.9% of the teenager prospects who decide to get serious today.

Would I have been if I had stayed with the violin? Now there's the 10,000 ($) question. I was no prodigy as a child but there again I was quite accomplished - and all with narry a private lesson either....

September 25, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Elise, much respect (or is it envy?) for your being able to pull off reaching that average of 2 hours a day!

September 25, 2012 at 12:51 PM · Jean - I simply make it a priority*. And I am fortunate to have a job with a lot of flexibility (I just spent 2 hrs writing over breakfast and can now go practise).

[*that assumes you don't have small kids, in which case 5 minutes a day is a miracle]

September 25, 2012 at 02:29 PM · One thing I do do is to take my violin everywhere - and I play it whenever there is an opportunity including waiting rooms, cafes and airport terminals :D

virtually everyone - excepting, interestingly some of my extended family - is appreciative, supportive and even grateful. [The experience of a badge decorated, gun toting, airport security guard running up and - thanking me for playing one of his favorite classical guitar pieces was no to be missed (though a little traumatic at the time).]

September 25, 2012 at 03:34 PM · Yay, Elise!! Go for it!!!

September 25, 2012 at 03:42 PM · thanks Roy - with support like yours how can I fail :))))

September 25, 2012 at 04:00 PM · thanks Roy - with support like yours how can I fail :))))

But I over-estimated above for two factors.

First, I forgot to factor in my childhood 'time' (which I estimated at 1K above). That means i have about 7.3K to go. And, second, my actual practise rate is At 145 min/day thats only 8.25 yrs!!

Look out Hillary!

Now I had better stop calculating and get back to work....

September 25, 2012 at 04:24 PM · Elise, you have definitely inspired me today. I think I may just try tracking my practice time and see if I can get in 10,000 hours too. Of course I'm way behind you since I've only been playing four months, but it's good to have goals. :-)

I may never be brave enough to play in the airport though. Good on you!

September 25, 2012 at 08:53 PM · Seriously though, Simon raises an important issue: Exactly what kinds of activity count as practice. I spend a lot of hours playing the violin. Perhaps a third of them would meet a rigorous definition of practice. However almost all of them contribute to my development as a violinist and an artist. Maybe we should refine our vocabulary and talk about "development" time which includes practice time as a subset.

Is the time spent in school orchestra part of development time? Or youth orchestra? Every week I see my students growing as a result of these activities. Did the hours I spent playing in the Pittsburgh Symphony contribute to my violinistic development? You better believe it! What about time spent reading string quartets? And what about the many, many hours I spent practicing and playing jazz violin? And so on and so forth.

September 25, 2012 at 10:36 PM · I have a simple rule for myself wich I try to follow when I got time and energy. It's the rule of the most resistance. Whereever I feel resistance, may it be in sight reading, scales, knowledge of mozarts string quartets, rhythm, sound... etc. there I want to work on to get the reward.

About practice "time" I remember that Hilary Hahn wrote in the strad, that even when she doesn't actually practice her mind is always working on something from her music.

One can imagine why she was so good so early, she doesn't really stop practicing. Thinking about music is part of herself, due to training or inborn is the question, but I think the answer is "both".

Relevant for us mortals is, that not the time on the violin is of the most importance but the dedication throughout our whole life. I wouldn't expect from a beginner, to always think about a phrasing or fingering of a certain passage, but if you are really into the music, it will come by itself. The more intense you workon things and the more you THINK about them, the more complex they get and the better you can learn them.

Milstein also always passed the word of his later teacher Leopold Auer, whos famous quote is: "If you practice with your fingers alone, you will need many hours for things you can do with your head in half an hour." (Or similar to that)

Or to put it in a Zen-style message: "It's not about a daily MORE but about a daily LESS".

Wich leads to the question of sacrifice, wich is the same with amateurs as it is with growing professional musicians. Finding the balance is most important and learning to use your time effective and practice also with the mind can give you some additional free time with your friends and family... and more pleasure and success.

In the end everything will culmulate in your music, every second of lazyness will be heard. But also all the feelings will be heard if they are there to be let out. Knowing how to create atmosphere and emotions with music and sound to me is much more important than having a perfect technique like a machine. Technique is impressive but more touching to me is a simple beautiful melody.

September 26, 2012 at 02:21 AM · Since I'm not actually sure what constitutes practise and what passing time I simply count every minute where I am actually playing the violin - and yes, the minutes between when I'm with it but not actually with bow-on-string too (such as listening to the conductor; marking fingerings in my studio etc). The extra time is surely countered by valuable learning where I'm listening to youtube or recordings etc.

September 26, 2012 at 09:19 AM · Elise how do you go about practicing in waiting rooms, airport terminals, and such? I don't think people would really appreciate if you did a son file exercise, or practice scales for 30 minutes? Or work repetitively on difficult passages in pieces, work on sound? I don't see myself doing any of such things in an airport terminal. What I see one can do is just play pieces that you already have under the sleeve. It will certainly be better than not playing at all that day. Every time I am in the States I will be on the lookout now for Elise in any airport terminal!

September 26, 2012 at 11:18 AM · Aiports etc are definitely performance practise opportunities - its amazingly low stress since you're playing for yourself and others happen to hear. I've been astonished by the positive responses thus far. A few weeks ago I had an hour to kill before a lesson and went for coffee - I was alone in the back room so I started to play - when I came out the old guys who had been sitting on the patio were all inside - and were very kind and appreciative indeed. Its actually pretty special to be close to a musician and I think people appreciate the intimacy of a piece played that is more shared than performed.

January 16, 2013 at 05:31 PM · A milestone I guess: I just reached 2K hrs of playing in my log book (I think it dates back to nov 2010 - and am keeping up over 1K a year. Obviously this violin bug is not backing off!

I was hoping that suddenly things would be easy to play -but thats not really the outcome. Its more like everything is more approachable. I still have to work at pieces but seem to reach a higher level with them much faster. And yes, there are pieces I can attempt now that were impossible a year ago (I'm having fun with Glazunov's Meditation, Bach (P2) Giga, Beethoven romances (still)). I don't feel entirely intimidted playing first violin in our community orchestra - and the quartet actually called me up once to see if I wanted to play! :D

And its not practise in the dark either - I take an hour lesson a week with a very accomplished violinist who has no reservations about keeping me on track and fixing all my multitudinous technical defects (er, intonation, rhythm).

So on to the third K...

January 16, 2013 at 05:39 PM · Congrats on the progress, and kudos on your discipline. If you are going to catch a bug, violin is a good one :-)

January 16, 2013 at 06:49 PM · thanks Smiley :) This year will be more of the same - but its time to try to get out and perform. I need to build some confidence...

January 16, 2013 at 09:12 PM · 2K hours, how many $?

January 16, 2013 at 10:01 PM · Fortunately, there is no fee for my basement which is wmost of these hours were consumed.

For lessons? I would guestimate about $4K - but then there are orchestra fees and trips to festivals and courses - and then the cost of music, supplies (strings) and all the usual stuff.

I guess it adds up! But its what I choose to do with my life now so what the heck.... Certainly I could do it much cheaper but I probably would have gone much furthe astray by now.

January 17, 2013 at 12:08 AM · Don't forget about the cost of the new fiddle.

July 1, 2013 at 03:13 PM · Still chugging..

I just reached 2,500 hrs. And things are evolving. Probably the most important improvement is that I'm learning how to mentally rely on my sound output rather than the mental image of my actual playing. I hope that makes sense. This has required improvement in the ear so that I have more confidence in the sound than in the finger placement.

I'd guess that thats something those of you who've played from childhood would not comprehend - but I'm guessing that returners and late starters will relate!

Next update at 3K when I hope to have achieved a real violinistic goal... ;)

July 2, 2013 at 02:48 AM · Go Elise, go!

July 2, 2013 at 02:59 AM · Makes sense to me. There is kind of a crossover point where you stop thinking about how things look and start relying more on how they feel and ultimately how they sound. The difference for late-starters and returners is that you know it is happening.

July 2, 2013 at 08:02 AM · Thanks Rocky - I bet you are beyond your 20K by now.

Its amazing to go back to some of the stuff I struggled with early on and zip through it and mostly in tune.

The other thing you learn is that being in tune is learned - not just being able to play it but also being able to hear it. Not only that but it does not come for every note at the same time - some notes are easy, in particular those with resonance (or the opposite) while others are just nasty - C# for example. Stinker of a note. Same is true for hearing in different octaves: being in tune in the gerbil zone is a totally different game from safe in first position....

July 4, 2013 at 03:42 AM · Elise, do keep us informed. I'll be curious to see when you cross the 10,000 hour threshold if you have anything to add to where you were at 9500 hours? I suspect "mastery" is relative to our own aptitude, and at 10,000 hours you will be at a point where improving noticeably is harder to do from a technical standpoint. Is Tiger Woods any better at golf then he was 5 years ago? Of course the advantage for musicians over athletes is that an athletes body breaks down and their skill wanes rapidly. Musicians can continue much longer, which can allow wisdom that comes with age to inform our performances (ie: Gould's 80's recording of Goldberg Variations vs. his earlier one).

July 4, 2013 at 03:52 AM · we're at the end of topic II on this - and I'm only up to 25K.

Look out for chapter III. Hopefully I'll be able to add a real milestone to the hr count journey.

till then

.... o




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