I have been asking for several years from students, parents and friends about ‘Is the natural talent the most important thing in learning piano?’. For many outsiders, they do believe that playing piano well must be due to one’s natural talent. This is the biggest misconception in the world. In fact, adequate practice with correct method and direction is much more important, and to an extent, the natural talent is not important, suggested by the psychologists.
In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. How does Gladwell arrive at this conclusion? And, if the conclusion is true, how can we leverage this idea to achieve greatness in our professions?
Gladwell studied the lives of extremely successful people to find out how they achieved success. This article will review a few examples from Gladwell’s research, and conclude with some thoughts for moving forward.
Violins in Berlin
In the early 1990s, a team of psychologists in Berlin, Germany studied violin students. Specifically, they studied their practice habits in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. All of the subjects were asked this question: “Over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?”
All of the violinists had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age twenty, the elite performers averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only 4,000 hours of practice.
The elite had more than double the practice hours of the less capable performers.
Natural Talent: Not Important
One fascinating point of the study: No “naturally gifted” performers emerged. If natural talent had played a role, we would expect some of the “naturals” to float to the top of the elite level with fewer practice hours than everyone else. But the data showed otherwise. The psychologists found a direct statistical relationship between hours of practice and achievement. No shortcuts. No naturals.
Practice Makes Improvement
In 1960, while they were still an unknown high school rock band, the Beatles went to Hamburg, Germany to play in the local clubs.
The group was underpaid. The acoustics were terrible. The audiences were unappreciative. So what did the Beatles get out of the Hamburg experience? Hours of playing time. Non-stop hours of playing time that forced them to get better.
As the Beatles grew in skill, audiences demanded more performances – more playing time. By 1962 they were playing eight hours per night, seven nights per week. By 1964, the year they burst on the international scene, the Beatles had played over 1,200 concerts together. By way of comparison, most bands today don’t play 1,200 times in their entire career.
Falling in Love With Practice
The elite don’t just work harder than everybody else. At some point the elites fall in love with practice to the point where they want to do little else.
The elite software developer is the programmer who spends all day pounding code at work, and after leaving work she writes open source software on her own time.
The elite football player is the guy who spends all day on the practice field with his teammates, and after practice he goes home to watch game films.
The elite physician listens to medical podcasts in the car during a long commute.
The elites are in love with what they do, and at some point it no longer feels like work.
Business is tough, especially now. Yet even in the midst of a challenging economy, there are individuals and companies that prosper beyond all expectations. Practice plays a major role in success.
Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. Through interviews and statistical analysis, Gladwell determines why some people and organizations achieve success far beyond their peers.