Practice makes it perfect.

October 23, 2006 at 06:00 PM · Result from a recent survey that may interest violinists.

"Evidence crosses a remarkable range of fields. In a study of 20-year-old violinists by Ericsson and colleagues, the best group (judged by conservatory teachers) averaged 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over their lives; the next-best averaged 7,500 hours; and the next, 5,000. It's the same story in surgery, insurance sales, and virtually every sport. More deliberate practice equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance."

"Researchers also note, for example, child prodigies who could speak, read or play music at an unusually early age. But on investigation those cases generally include highly involved parents. And many prodigies do not go on to greatness in their early field, while great performers include many who showed no special early aptitude."

Everyone, Back to practice!


Replies (41)

October 23, 2006 at 06:09 PM · "More deliberate practice equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance."

TRUE! However, this is totally different from Practice makes perfect which is invalid. Good, deliberate practice makes better. Improvement is key. Excellence is the goal. Perfection does not exist.


October 23, 2006 at 06:13 PM · Absolutely.

October 23, 2006 at 06:23 PM · interesting topic,,,here is a link about ericsson's work in NY Times.

October 23, 2006 at 07:29 PM · Correction; Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes greats.

Not just any practice, specific goal oriented PAINFUL practice, and minimum 10 years of it according to this study.


October 23, 2006 at 08:38 PM · Practice doesn't make greats. It makes goods.


October 23, 2006 at 09:06 PM · But I think what the sound bite is missing is that it can't be just any kind of practice. I don't think that anyone who doesn't know how to practice well, in at least a somewhat goal-directed, analytical way, is going to be able to physically or mentally practice that much. They will get bored and lose interest and feel like they are wasting their time (and very well may be right).

Perhaps where "talent" comes in is in the ability to self-observe, to concentrate, and to make that time meaningful so that you can keep at it. Many kids (and adults, for that matter) just aren't able to do that.

October 23, 2006 at 09:23 PM · The thing that bothers me about this is that the people in the study had to have talent to get where they are in the first place. People have natural limits, and sometimes all the practicing in the world will only get you to a certain point. Most people don't have to talent to get into a top music school.

I think a more accurate statement would be that the best way to be successful is through a combination of talent and practice.

October 23, 2006 at 09:32 PM · Let's take a looky: 10 years minus 20 months...hmmm.... So in 8 years and 4 months, I can answer this!. ;)

Honestly, I have seen people who were suppose to be very accomplished whose music simply lacked passion, even though their technical acuity was very notable, including transpositions, modulations and so forth.

On the other hand, I do not consider myself a natural, prodigy or anything else, but intend on playing this screechy scratchy thing well at least in generalist terms.

I think the answer is somewhere in between. Also, I think it depends somewhat on the medium: solo v. group. I probably agree that those who play in the group, are better for having stuck to very structured practice, but, and I've been around too many truly gifted people-- I think simple passion and some other quality plays an important role for those who have so often wow'd me over the years.

Take Yanni for example. Though I'm not a great fan, he has never had any training. Soooo.....


October 23, 2006 at 10:55 PM · That's probably all true except for one part..PRACTICING WELL makes perfect. I could spent 10,000 hours sawing away and accomplish nothing too!


October 23, 2006 at 10:40 PM · Greetings,

these studies have bene going on for many years and they do always produce the same result.

It is great that you have brought one up because it is veyr useful, in my opinion, to examine what kind sof myths they bring to lkight as well as doses of dold water.

For me, this study is basically flawed from the outset if taken at the most simpistic level. Number of hours doe snot equal better. It simplty doesn`t work that way. Other wise I would beat least as good or better than Heifetz Oistrakh and anyone else you care to name.

As the people who know on this list (which includes almost everyone...) it is only perfect practice which makes better. If oyu are playing with somehting les sthan fully ergonmic etc without changing it then you are praciticng to be les scompetent.

However, it cannot even be modified to meet any useful level of argument using this perspective.What I mean by this is, citing a contempoary example, I went to a private soiree the other month of a 16 yera old violnist who is the younger brother of one of the greta vionists of all. Becaus eit was a private event a lot of chatting was going on between presenters, performer and audience. In the discussion a point that raised awe among the aeembled was that this violnist practices at least fourteen hours a day and has been doing something proporptionately crazy for years.Now this guy wa stalented, taught superbly, no flaws here, totally relaxed etc. Clealry he was doing nothing wrong . His playing was, somewhat boring, lacking in depth, understanding , genuine feeling, mechnaical, whatever...just empty.He was/ids not going anywhere. From this I concluded that the next level of improving the equation is:

Perfect practice makes perfect up to the point it is serving a musical end .

But then I think one can go even further.Whereas in sport and many other fields of endeavour the role of the mind, attitude, vizualization, blah blah has become considered normal. In the music world i think we are behind. String players, perhaps becuas eof the tactile beauty of what we do would rather bece ntered in the hands than in the head. Working with the mind foregrounded, so that not one thing we do in our practice is notprepared mentally with clear goals and an image is very hard indeed. There are -very few- players who can do this for more than thirty or forty minutes. When somebody tells me about pracitcing x numbe rof hours and assures me they are concentrating expereicne has taught me this is almost never the case. except, the top players who have learnt this way from the beginnign . And those players often don`t practice for more thna three hours a day. Its just to damn hard.

Nor do we realy have an adequte defintion of what comprises practice. For sure, compared to todays players Heifetz did relatively little practice but this level of player is like an ongoing music machine that is reorganizing and learning stuff at a very depe level while doing other stuff and they can do this because their mentla processe during practice are so opne and all embracing. there is no real cut off point where praciticng stops and `life@ begins. Mutter discusse sthis i her `way they Play Interview.` Mullova also says something similar.

Finally, if one is pracitcing six or eight hours a day (noit syaing there is anythign wrong wit that) and not living life well in terms of broad education and relatiosnhips etc then as a rule, that player will not have very much to express, so that player is not actually `better@ in the sens eof being a thougt provoking musician. Which identified yet anotehr fl;aw in this kind of across the board study. Who is actually better?

It can`t be judged in the same way one knows whoo the current fastest 100 mm sprinter is right now. It is of course, my rabbit.



October 23, 2006 at 11:17 PM · I really believe there has to be some natural capacity. I've seen a lot of kids put in the asme number of minutes, and some would sound just dreadul and not get through more than a measure or two, and others sound pleasing and learn a tune. There are just too many variables for the initial statement to make much sense to me.

October 23, 2006 at 11:28 PM · You have to ask what it is that inspires someone to put in that 10 000 hours of practice.

Usually, it is a sense of achiivement from that practice very early on.

When we know we will get results, putting the hours in doesn't seem such a thankless task.


October 23, 2006 at 11:35 PM · "Mutter discusses this in her `way they Play Interview.` Mullova also says something similar."

Buri, what source are you referring to?

October 23, 2006 at 11:37 PM · the research by ericsson covers many issues. no research is perfect but there are trends or suggestions that may be of help for,,,,more research:)

if we simplify our born traits into 2 aspects (violin and basketball) it is pretty clear pretty soon that most people are more suited for one or the other and a few may be good in both. for those who are put in the violin class and hate every second of it, may be basketball is the answer. for those who can't play ball they'd better discover their violin gene. for those who can excel in both, we leave them alone because we are jealous.

i think to be great in violin you must have "talent" to start with. then you must find that burning desire inside you, that you want to be great in violin, to win violin competitions, to have CDs, to go down history as a great one, then you must convince yourself that the only way to let the talent flourish is to know it all. how? practice. there is limited number of hours in a day and there is unlimited amount of music to learn and try to master. it is pretty obvious what needs to be done and how.

one thing we can take away from e's research is that we often say, oh, he is good because he is talented. his conclusion is that it is not that simple. behind the facade of the talent is hard work. and the cycle feeds itself,,the harder they work, the more talented they become.

October 24, 2006 at 12:22 AM · Greetings,

both are references from the way they play seires. I think they are soemthing like volume 14 so still freely available.



October 24, 2006 at 01:06 AM · The researchers define talent and practice narrowly. I lost the article, but Al posted a link to the article.

According to the researchers what looks like talent in accomplished individuals is a product of what they call "deliberate practice" for at least ten years. In case of violinists, 10,000 hours would mean about 3 hours a day over 10 years. To illustrate deliberate practice, they used golf; just hitting over and over again doesn't count. The golfer has to have a specific goal, hit the ball 80% of the time within x feet, etc.

They don't think Michael Jordan is talented, he's practiced. By talent, they mean a direct innate ability. Not an related but indirect ability like being able to sustain practice, etc. Hope this clarifies.


October 24, 2006 at 01:42 AM · i would have agreed with everything ericsson and ihn have said so far...the golf analogy especially hits home, but, i mean, let's be clear on one issue.

if you tell me MJ is not talented but simply practiced, that is one big experimental error! that is like saying any russian kid who practiced violin would turn out to be like Heifeitz! :)

until tiger came into the scene, MJ is the GOD!

no one in the history of basketball will ever come close,,,,no offense to our violinist friends here, MJ is Heifeitz.

ericsson probably never saw MJ in action, esp the last 5 seconds before the final buzzer, time and again.


October 24, 2006 at 01:53 AM · I wholeheartedly agree with that.............

It is also perfect practice that makes things perfect, not just practice.

October 24, 2006 at 02:05 AM · Buri, since I bought the Simon Fisher books on your advice, I have achieved more with analytical practice and his exercises than I had in years before!

I'll never be able to thank you enough. :)

October 24, 2006 at 02:53 AM · Al,

True - don't forget the great one - Wayne Gretzky. That level of talent is not just the result of practice.


October 24, 2006 at 10:46 AM · Al - I haven't said anything. I just quoted the research result. I am thinking about it and I found the result interesting. I am sure more research will follow. Not having seen their research paper itself, I can't comment whether it is flawed or not. At a first glance, their research seemed thorough. They defined what they are set out to do precisely and had examples to back their claim. It certainly merits my careful consideration. By the way, I hope eventually you'll stop abbreviating my name.

Gennady - Yes, in different terms, but researchers are considering perfect practices only. Not only that practice should be constant over an extended period; roughly same number of hours everyday about 10 years.

Susan - See what proper practice can do for you in a short term? Don't you think just about anything is possible done that way on a long term?

I think what the researchers are saying is that proper practice done in the right way is not just simple practice as we commonly know. It must alter the brain in a tangible way. I am sure more research will be done to probe the brain itself, or I hope.


October 24, 2006 at 03:44 AM · It certainly is encouraging. By my estimate, I've done about 3000 hours of violin practice (not counting reluctant childhood scratchings and a few viola years, which helped with some aspects of technique, but not much else).

So, another 7000 hours of really mindful practice, and by my mid-40s I might really be able to play. Well, it's a goal.

October 24, 2006 at 07:47 AM · It seems that the "greats" in a particular field are often reported to have practice habits that set them apart from their contemporaries. For example you hear of this or that basketball legend that is said to be the first to arrive at the gym and last to leave every day, etc. Are there any examples, however, of exceptional, truly legendary preformers, that practiced much LESS than their contemporaries?

October 24, 2006 at 12:33 PM · Kreisler is a good example of a violinist who did not practice unless he had to. Also the great virtuoso pianist Simon Barere, who was among the fastest pianists in history, if not the fastest, did not practice very much. His son Boris Barere talks about it on a recording called "My Father was Simon Barere."

October 24, 2006 at 01:18 PM · The only example they had was someone with 9 years of practice to reach "greats" instead of their minimum of 10.

Again, I'd like to remind everyone their definition of talent is narrow; perfect golf swing at the first try, or perfect pitch, sense of rhythm, a great bow arm in case of violin. They seem to think those initial talents do not make greats. They conclude it's the long and hard work with or without that initial talent. They do not include the ability to focus on the kind of practice it takes, in their definition of talent. According to their definition, Milstein's "doodle" is practice. It's possible that Kreiseler had similar fooling around just not the kind of structured practice we envision. Or it is possible that the research was simply very flawed except you'd think they should have good data before saying Michael Jordan is a product of hard work not talent unless they are just interested in being sensational. It is an intriguing question; in the genes or in the environment. It seems that the more research is done the blurrier the distiction becomes.


October 24, 2006 at 02:05 PM · agree that talent defined that narrowly is rather meaningless. whereas there are people with born perfect pitch (wink wink), i dare to say that no one in history or future has a perfect golf swing or perfect bow arm motion on the first try. no one. ever. never ever.

i think ericsson's research belongs to social/behavioral science and is weak in the psychology department. yes, people indeed work hard to be great, but why?

and it is difficult to study desire. everyone has an unique please self, parents, teachers, to impress others, to gain fame, to make rent money, to enjoy music, to earn treats,,,

unless we clearly identify that desire, we cannot really work hard and smart.

this is especially true with kidos where practice often becomes a formality. they put in the hours and learn to be bad actors rather than good players.

up to these days, i am still in awe that many kidos practice without getting immediate feedback. and they do not have "talent" to start with...

October 24, 2006 at 02:01 PM · So maybe they are asking the wrong question.

If they define talent so narrowly then I'm not really surprised they get the answer they did. Even people who believe that genetic influences on behavior are significant, as I do, don't believe that those narrow measures like a good bow arm or being able to hit the target on the first try, or absolute pitch, really define "talent."

The other issue that isn't really addressed is cause/effect. Are the long practice hours and hard work the cause of the good performance, or is the ability to perform at a high level the reason that the players are able to tolerate (or even enjoy) the long hours in the first place?

The reason I think this matters is because of the tempting conclusions: if you believe that innate factors don't matter at all and you can overcome everything by hard work and practice, then the only reason you aren't Heifetz is because you didn't try hard enough, didn't practice long enough. And so under that belief system, you should just go back and throw more time at it, pain and suffering be dam*ed. I think this path, taken to extremes, leads to madness.

I haven't read this particular study, but I came across the 10,000 hours figure a number of years ago in the book _Emotional Intelligence_. However, there it was presented in the context of joy rather than of pain and suffering. In that author's presentation, people who practiced this much did so in part because it helped them achieve a state of "flow," a state of deep concentration accompanied by a feeling of joy. The mastery of their skill and the joy went hand in hand.

I think that feeling of flow and deep joy should be the goal of sustained practice--if you're not feeling it, or at least like it's in reach some day and will be worth the effort, you should listen to that still, small inner voice, and change your approach until you do feel/see/sense it. This might mean that you change instruments, or pieces, or teachers. Or that you quit for a while. Or something else.

But instead of focusing on joy, research like this is often quoted at ordinary mortals to get them suck it up and torture themselves some more for even longer hours because of a perception that it's somehow good for them or builds character. Bleah.

No, practicing isn't all a romp in the park and people shouldn't give up at the first sign of challenge, but I also don't believe that suffering and self-sacrifice are a necessary path to worthwhile art.

October 24, 2006 at 03:13 PM · Kreisler didn't practice unless he had to when he already made it. That applies to most greats. Most soloists on the circuit nowadays average about 1.5 hours a day to my estimation. I have no info though on how much Kreisler practiced when he was 10 years old...


October 24, 2006 at 04:09 PM · Practice discussed in the research is what it takes to become greats not for maintaining it. They emphasize focus, constancy - everyday, and extended period of practice. Just as tennis players right arms get longer, I am assuming something must happen in the brains after sustained practices. Once that happens, it's one's own, practically as good as born with it. I find it interesting.


October 25, 2006 at 04:04 PM · I think that studies have an easier time quantifying hours of practice rather than the quality of what's going on during practicing, which is so important. Everybody is different. But I feel that in varying proportions you need both talent and work. Just having talent, is like discovering that you have oil or gold under your property. If you don't drill, refine and sell it, etc. you might as well not have it. But if there's nothing under your property but rocks...

October 25, 2006 at 05:02 PM · This study seems to me to be methodologically deficient in that it only measures the effect of practice time, not the effect of talent. It may not be possible to select for talent, and measure different practice hours in different classes of talent (e.g., what indicia of talent would one use). Nevertheless, it is nice to think that good effects from good practice is something within one's control.

October 25, 2006 at 09:05 PM · Well,

Some people have a talent for practising. (g)

-But seriously, that basically what Karen Allendoerfer and Daniel B are saying, above. Truly great artists and athletes tend to have a pre-disposition for practising correctly.

As for the ten-year thing, well maybe. It is generally accepted in physiology that is take about 7 years for a muscle-group to fully work-change, wether it's a singer developing diaphram control, or a cyclist developing a split-calf. there's lots of debate & wiggle-room with on that subject, so I could see 10 years as being a reasonable assessment, esp since you must also develop your ear & your musicality.

October 26, 2006 at 12:14 AM · As long as you know what to accomplish in your practicing, then the amount really makes a different because you are fixing problems in your playing. Otherwise you're not becoming a better player if you practice more. So yea that statement, "practice makes perfect" isn't necessarily true.

October 26, 2006 at 02:14 PM · Hi,

Allan, it is not just that. It is also that within the confines of working well, the greats also have a grasp of things on a higher, more complete level than most. It's hard to explain. It is the combination of lots of good work with lots of quality.


October 26, 2006 at 02:30 PM · Allan said:

"or a cyclist developing a split-calf"

1. What does that have to do with cycling?

2. You are confusing cycling and bodybuilding.

3. WTF.

Now, not directed to anyone in particular:

The problem with the "practicing is more important than raw talent" hypothesis is that it isn't true.

Take two boys, both with interest in something, be it violin, hockey, or gameboy. Give them exaclty the same number of minutes to work on it. Guess what? We all know that one boy will outshine the rest after a year. It is just the way it is.

So, practice more and you get better, but the better boy who practices as much as you will get better still.

October 26, 2006 at 02:51 PM · a kid with no special "gift" vs a kid with special "gift", how would they fare in one year?

it depends on the level and quality of nurture.

if put in the same environment, the gifted one will probably outshine.

however, that is rarely the case for circumstantial reasons, which opens up the possibility and actually the probability that the less gifted has a good chance to overtake the gifted one with the proper training and guidance. this is in fact a scenerio we see all the time. that is why we love to root for the underdogs because we know it can happen.

further, it is much more common to find an average kid that is coachable than kids on the two extremes. thus, the chance of having ANY kid to become very good in something is surprisingly high, on condition that the most important factor is met:

having competent, interested adults who inspire and guide. now that is a tall order.

many adults are not knowledgable enough to be inspirational nor expert in providing guidance, too busy with career, too tired from work, thus we see what we see,,,levels of achievement in kids in a pyramid formation.

to go somewhere far, without a good system in place, even great teachers won't cut it.

October 26, 2006 at 03:17 PM · Kids interests and motivations change as they grow. Latent talent goes untapped on account of changing interests. Parents who support an interest exhibited by a child givethat child the support he needs. But this does not give the mediocre but interested child a fighting chance. At least not in athletics, where you just won't cut the mustard if you are not exceptional. Been there and done that personally. I know what it is like in the athletic end. And in the orchestra, where I was perhaps reasonably talented but not supported and not highly motivated, I might have gone farther with appropriate motivation. But watching the others in the orchestra, it was clear that some just were not going to "get there" no matter how hard they tried.

It is art, after all.

But the theory really doesn't matter from a practical standpoint. As a parent we have choices:

We can either

A: give support to the child to some area they show talent in, and hold them to it

B: give support to whatever interest crosses the childs fancy at the moment

C: set up a rigid framework of support based on our expectations independent of the child's interests. (Like "traditional" arranged marriages etc).

Or we can weave a combination.

For instance a child might find strong interest early on, progress to a certain point, and then stagnate in motivation on account of other interests developing. The parent can either drop the violin support, ostensibly because the child "wants " that to happen, or the parent can continue to insist on the violin as a tool for personal development.

No easy answers to this in the real world I'm afraid. I live it every day :-)

October 26, 2006 at 03:12 PM · Bilbo, WTF yourself. I was a cat-1 cyclist, national team alternate, and have a masters in exercise physiolgy. Many cyclists develop split-calves, though it's more common in black athletes than white.

What exactly is your problem?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program....

You also wrote: "So, practice more and you get better, but the better boy who practices as much as you will get better still." Not necessarily true. The one who practices more correctly, and with the proper focus, is likely the one who will be "better" in a year. There are plenty of inately talented people who practice hard for years but never achieve full potential. Others with less raw talent, but possessing a "talent" and aptitude for correct practice, become better.

October 26, 2006 at 03:25 PM · Allan, I'm glad you were Cat-1. But the "split calf" is not a goal or even a requirement or indicator of having achieved effective conditioning. Some of the guys I raced against looked pretty scrawny but that didn't stop them from beating me.

Let's see Allan, what's my problem? I don't have one, you do. You are an "expert" in woodworking, acoustics, and bike racing, and yet what you say is often completely erroneous.

Dumbass, you are quibbling on the practice thing. The whole point of what I said is that starting from an uneven beginning, and applying the same practice, you don't turn the tables. I think it is pretty obvious if you read my posts above that I agree with you that the amount/quality of practice, support etc affects the outcome!



October 26, 2006 at 03:31 PM · lol, i am feeling love on the commune:)

October 27, 2006 at 05:56 PM · I read this article earlier this week and copied it. If anything it does make a point about the kind of practice that produces results. I am no expert just a Mom of a 10 year old who studies the violin and a 2 year old who "thinks" he can play the violin(lol). I do think that some of us are born with more aptitude in certain areas, but to become standouts like the Jordans, Woods, Heifetzs there must be a ton of variables. Jordan didn't even make his Jr High Basketball team, (did that cause him to go nuts developing what we witness?) What if Tiger Woods Dad had taken zero interest in teaching his baby (and Tiger was a Baby) golf. Then there is Heifetz. What if his teacher didn't have a clue how to teach? Would he have been so incredibly talented that he would have just figured out the right way on his own? Are there examples of people who were so talented that from the very beginning they put in 2% and reaped 1000%

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