Sunday, July 22, 2012

Levitin: 10,000 Hours to Mastery

Academy/Beck: One of the many things I appreciated in the first book was your discussion of the "10,000-hour" rule. Can you please review that?

Levitin: Yes, of course. It's not a rule so much as it is an empirical finding. But in the final analysis, it comes down to that in order to be a world-class expert in anything, be it audiology, drama, music, art, gymnastics, whatever, one needs to have a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. Unfortunately, it doesn't mean that if you put in 10,000 hours that you will become an expert, but there aren't any cases where someone has achieved world-class mastery without it! So the time spent at the activity is indeed the most important and influential factor. We find this with music all the time. Some people may have a biological or genetic head-start in music. In fact, we know that people, and children in particular, may all start at different levels when they get interested in music, but without 10,000 hours of practice, they probably won't achieve world-class status, regardless of their innate ability. So on a pragmatic level, it takes about three hours a day over 10 years to acquire 10,000 hours. Of course, this is consistent with what we know about how brains learn new tasks and skills. In other words, learning requires the assimilation and consolidation of knowledge within neural tissue. As the experience is repeated and enriched through practice and skill development, the stronger the memory and learning of that experience becomes. _Daniel Levitin Interview (PDF)

Daniel Levitin's "10,000 Hour Rule" is reminiscent of K. Anders Ericsson (PDF)'s maxim that 10 years of smart practise is required for world class mastery of a subject, or complex skill, by a top prodigy -- and between 15 and 25 years are required for those who are "mere elites."

Always keep in mind that practise alone is not enough -- one needs to indulge in "smart practise."
Practice is, of course, the crucial element to be a great performer. But smart practice will take you to the same place faster. It is important to distinguish practice from playing though. Playing in orchestra, chamber music and any other kind of rehearsal is not considered practice. You still perfect things as an ensemble but your technique as an individual musician is not being worked at is best potential.

Music performance is a preparation of many hours in the practice room for that one day, for the moment where everything comes alive through you and your talents- that is why having a plan beforehand is essential. You can repeat things for 8 hours and not come up with the greatest results- it happens especially when you are under pressure.

...You can practice as much as 4-5 hours a day but know that resting is extremely necessary and that there are other ways to grow as a musician and learn your music like: listening to a recording with the score in hand, make an analysis of the piece, find out some of the hit points or key places where music changes suddenly, etc. You can also read about the composer and the time the piece was created. All of the above will be reflected in you music making. _Tips for Classical Musicians
The musician's experience above provides a crucial lesson: Time is required to achieve mastery. You cannot fruitfully compress 15 years of training into 5 years. You must put in the time, but you must also pace yourself so as to allow your brain to create the proper circuitry.

This brings us to an important point: When should a child begin training toward mastery in music, chess, athletics, foreign language, or other complex skills?

The earlier a child starts on the road to mastery, the sooner he can arrive at his destiny. But it isn't quite that simple.

If you give the child a sufficiently stimulus-rich early environment, and pay close enough attention to the child, he or she is likely to tell you when they are ready for a trial beginning. Over a period of time, it should become clear whether the child is ready to embark on the voyage to mastery for this particular skill -- or whether this area of training is a "false start" or "red herring" which may keep the child from finding a path to mastery better suited for him or her.

Remember the concept of the "critical developmental window?" The concept of the critical period is important, but different children may pass through a particular critical period at different times.

Daniel Levitin looked at the concept of "absolute pitch," or perfect pitch -- an auditory sense important to composers and elite musicians. He found that different persons who possessed perfect pitch began formal musical training at different ages.
It is not possible for every young music student to acquire AP sense. But apparently most of those who do acquire that skill, begin training at a relatively young age.

In reality, most of our children will not grow to be world class golfers, chess masters, or musical prodigies. Most of them will not win Nobel Prizes or Fields Medals in advanced mathematics. In the same way, most children will not make world changing discoveries, nor become mega-billionaire tycoons.

But we do want our children to grow up to be competent across a range of skills, and to be masters of themselves, experiencing a deep sense of confidence, fulfillment, and satisfaction in the living of their lives. We want them to be able to support themselves financially, to raise a family if they wish, and to be able to pass along lessons of competence and mastery to their progeny and those whom they mentor.

And we want them to be dangerous to the status quo of global incompetence and decay which seems to slip in unannounced at any opportunity. Children are not born competent in the skills and complexities of adult human life.

It takes many years and thousands of hours of smart practise to achieve that.

More: An interesting blog riff on the 10,000 hour to mastery concept (including comments)

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