Saturday, December 27, 2008

Practice, Practice, Practice!

This is an article written by Steve Kirtley from Fiddler Magazine, Summer 1995:

You've probably heard the old joke about the lady who went to New York city to attend a concert but got lost on her way to Carnegie Hall. She saw a man walking down the street carrying a violin case. She thought a musician would certainly be able to giver her directions, so she asked "Young man, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?" He looked up, evidently startled, and without thinking replied, "Lady, it takes practice, practice, practice."

Whatever your musical goals are, it is true that practice is indispensable. You can't become a skilled musician by just wishing, thinking about it, or watching others. You have to actually pick up an instrument and play.

This brings me to "Kirtley's 1,000 Hour Theorem," which states that "It takes 1,000 hours to learn a new skill (more or less); you can stretch it out over a long period of time or do it all at once."

Kirtley's Theorem applies to any skill: playing tennis, flying an airplane, or playing the fiddle. In none of these activities could you ever say you've learned all there is to learn, but for purposes of this discussion let's say that it takes 1,000 hours to get to "a certain level of competence." So then, the question becomes: how long does it take to put in 1,000 hours of practice time? If you practice one hour per week, like I sometimes do, it will take nearly 20 years. That doesn't sound so good. What if I practice an hour a day? That cuts it down to under 3 years, a tremendous difference! But, let's say I'm really serious, and I want to be the intergalactic fiddle champion as soon as possible. If I put in 10 hours a day I'll have logged 1,000 hours in just over 3 months! The point, of course, is that you have a great deal of control over your progress by varying your practice time.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the number of hours of practice is the only factor in learning. It's also important to practice the right skills. A good teacher can help you learn much faster. Exposure to good role models can make a difference, and probably lots of other things. But, all these are worthless without practice.

But, you're saying to yourself, what about talent? Isn't that an important factor? It's true that some individuals have more natural talent than others, but I think that a definition of talent would have to be a lot like Thomas Edison's definition of invention: "One percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration." I think you'll find that the musicians who seem to have lots of talent are the ones who have done lots of "practice, practice, practice."

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