The 10,000 hour rule – a self evaluation

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Have you heard about the 10,000 hour rule? It is based on an original study by Ericsson et al which found that on average it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a given field. The research has been further expanded by others (Sloboda etc) to show that ability is largely based on effort and not on any preconceived notion of talent.


Personal Evaluation

This got me thinking – Surely I’ve done 10,000 hours practice? I achieved a standard necessary to play professionally at the top level. Over the years I’ve been diligent about my practice and assumed that I’d met 10,000 hours. However upon further investigation the reality proved to be a little different.

I did some calculations from memory on the practice and playing that I did between the ages of 11 (when I started playing) and 22 when I was playing at a professional level regularly – around a 10 year time span. I’ve estimated how many hours I spent practising, playing in groups, having lessons and other associated activities and learning over the given time period.

The Results


You’ll notice that I’ve made a distinction between ‘practice’ and ‘deliberate practice’. The 10,000 hour rule requires deliberate practice, the type that has aims, concentration and results. You’ll notice as a beginner I did equal amounts of unproductive and productive practice. As I developed I did increasing amounts of deliberate practice.

It may not be obvious from the graph but my total amount of deliberate practice over the period was in fact only around 5,000 hours – half of what is required to become an ‘expert’. Whilst I’m probably over the 10,000 hour mark now I was very surprised to find that I’d done so little.

That’s not to say I did not do a lot of playing. If you add in other playing, rehearsals and the like the total becomes nearly 13,000 hours over the 10 year period. Some of these other activities undoubtedly contributed towards my development, despite not being deliberate practice.

Another factor which may not have been considered is the impact of directed learning – lessons. Over the same time period I received 2,500 hours of instrumental and musical tuition. I shall need to re-read the Ericsson study to see if it takes account of external factors such as lessons and group activities.

What does it mean?

So my total musical hours over the 10 years is around 15,500. To put that in some context; the majority of these were during college/university years. During these 6 years I was, on average, musically engaged for 5 hours every single day. 365 days a year for 6 years. This doesn’t account for holidays, breaks, illness etc.

It makes you think doesn’t it. To get to 10,000 hours is a huge commitment which you’ll need to make over probably 15 or more years, day in day out. That’s tough. It’s also why most people don’t make it to expert status.
What’s your story? How many hours did you do? Did you make it to ‘expert’ status? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.

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