10,000 hours of practice.

Mike Davis

Corporate Member
This week, the journal Royal Society Open Science published a replication of an influential 1993 study on violin players at a music school in the journal Psychological Review.

The original finding was simple, and compelling: The very best, expert players — those who were considered elite — were the ones who had practiced the most. The conclusions implied that deliberate practice was the most important ingredient needed to achieve elite status, more important than inborn characteristics like genetics, or personality.

Perhaps you’ve heard of this. The idea was then popularized in the book Outliers by journalist Malcolm Gladwell. He dubbed it the “10,000-hour rule.” “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness,” Gladwell wrote, drawing on anecdotes from famous success-havers (like Bill Gates and the Beatles), but also on the 1993 paper (which according to Google Scholar has been cited more than 9,800 times).

The replication — conducted by Brooke Macnamara and Megha Maitra of Case Western Reserve University — included a somewhat larger sample size and tighter study controls, and was preregistered (meaning that the scientists locked their methods and analysis plans in place before they collected any data, preventing them from retroactively changing their premise to fit their findings).

It finds that practice does matter for performance, but not nearly as much as the original article claimed, and surprisingly, it works differently for elite performers.

“In fact, the majority of the best violinists had accumulated less practice alone than the average amount of the good violinists,” the authors write. Practice still mattered: It accounted for 26 percent of the difference between good violinists and the less accomplished students. But the original study claimed that practice accounted for 48 percent of the difference.
This isn’t exactly a massive revelation. (Also, it’s always been a bit of a stretch to extrapolate findings from a study on violin students to other areas.) Studies have been chipping away at the “10,000-hour rule” for years. (See Slate for a write-up of some of these studies.)

A 2016 meta-analysis — also co-authored by Macnamara — in Perspectives in Psychological Science looked at 33 studies on the relationship between deliberate practice and athletic achievement and found that practice just doesn’t matter that much. More precisely, the analysis found, practice can account for 18 percent of the difference in athletic success. Put another way, if we compare batting averages between two baseball players, the amount of time the players spent in the batting cage would only account for 18 percent of the reason one player’s average is better than the other.
Which isn’t nothing. But it also means that a great many other factors — like genetics, personality, life history, etc. — makes up the majority of the difference.

“Almost across the board, practice should improve one’s performance,” Macnamara told me in 2016.

Practice matters, yes. But at the same time, it’s unlikely to bridge the gap between natural superstars and your average player.


Corporate Member
". . . genetics, personality, life history, etc. — make up the majority of the difference."

So, someone needs to isolate the "sharpening gene". Then we will be able to get a sharpening vaccination and skip all the practicing! I'll sign up for that! ;)


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Unfortunately the conclusion is flawed and that based on the premise.

1. A "Natural" superstar may gain something from practice.
2. a below average "learner" may never gain the acumen needed to become proficient.
But, an average skill person in his or her trade or learning will increase in skill and likely become proficient by doing and creating (good) habits.
An above average learner WILL increase his or her skills and seemingly become a "superstar" through practice and the 10,000 hour rule DOES apply. (while there is poor interpretation of the study and like most things is not infallible, if you re-read Malcom's book it is clear the influence and or impact the 10,000 hour rule has on becoming proficient)

Mike Davis

Corporate Member
Practicing bad habits or wrong technique just makes you really good at messing up.

But good instruction and properly supervised practice of good technique will improve even the least proficient.

The 10,000 hour rule is flawed. The practice needed to become proficient varies wildly even among 'average' people.


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And along with all of that you haven’t touched of the desire, I mean the true desire to learn, retain and perform any given task. No matter the level of instruction and no matter the time of practice. oh and yes there is good practice and bad practice. It could be the student had great instruction and did nothing to retain the knowledge ie PRACTICE, and in doing so miss interpreted the instruction and created a bad practice. 10000hrs, that’s kind of like a trainer friend of mine told me if do a particular exercise 10000 times a day I’d live forever. I wouldn’t do anything else but that exercise but I would do it forever.


New User
You can be a genius at tennis strategy but reacting to a ball coming at you at 80 mph is a different thing :) Practice is important to allow you to get past the mechanics and EXPRESS the genius .


Mike Davis

Corporate Member
The article, the study, not I ever said that practice is not needed, just the opposite. But, you can’t put a minimum nor a limit on practice and say that alone will make you an expert. Which is what many think is the rule. I have heard many times that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to make an expert.

The truth is that everybody needs practice but some people need a lot more, some people need less, and some people will never make it no matter what.


Corporate Member
Talent without focused, disciplined work is nothing. The key is not just practice, but focused, organized with a goal


Corporate Member
Respectfully, I beg to differ. Talent is everything! Without it, you can practice with focus and with a goal in mind until the cows come home but you'll never be an elite player, violinist, composer, etc. Mike said it much better than I can: "The truth is that everybody needs practice but some people need a lot more, some people need less, and some people will never make it no matter what."

In my opinion, most of these studies have a fatal flaw. As humans, we tend to study what we can measure. We end up with data that gives us percentages, but these percentages often have little or no relevance to what we're studying. Those things that we can't measure, like talent, are often just ignored or, worse yet, belittled. I'd bet that almost everyone at NCWW has, at one time or another, said, "Why didn't I think of that?" You didn't think of that because you're not wired that way. Mozart wrote his first symphony at age 9. Who among us can understand that? How do you measure that? It would take practicing three hours a day for 9 years to reach 10,000 hours. I somehow doubt Mozart put in that much time.

For me, I'll leave the guesswork to others and sit back and enjoy the music.

Mike Davis

Corporate Member
Does it take 10,000 hours to get a black belt in any martial art?

The black belt is your license to learn. You begin at black belt.
When you earn the black belt you show that you are serious
and worthy of the master’s time.

I am a beginner. I began late in life. I would like to start learning.


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Awwww, the curse of generalizing findings. If you are not talking about violin players, the generalization is vague to say the least. When others want to adapt my (dissertation) survey for their work, I always advise them to (re)validate the survey for their sample.

I heard someone apply the Gladwell rule to automotive workers this past weekend to develop algorithms for determining costs of attrition. I tried to politely infer that their results were skewed but they held fast that the #of hours to master manufacturing line work would not impact the attrition costs, specifically training replacements. I found that somewhat more entertaining than meaningful.

Apparently the automobile industry is in a good bit of turmoil presently.

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