Can you Master the Guitar With 10000 Hours of Practise

Can you master the guitar with 10000 hours of practise?

master the guitar with 10000 hours of practise

Is it possible to master the guitar with 10000 hours of practise?

It is a much touted theory that if you practise at any skill for at least 10000 hours you will master that skill. The theory even suggests that mere practise will also eventually out do those who have an innate talent for that skill but don’t practise it. This would therefore suggest that it is possible to master the guitar with 10000 hours of practise. But is that really possible?  If I sit down and practise for 10000 hours will I give Steve Vai a run for his money?

The 10000 hour theory can be traced back to a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado. In the paper, entitled “The Role of Deliberate Practise in the Acquisition of Expert Performance”, Ericsson highlighted the work of a group of Psychologists in Berlin. The Psychologists studied the practising habits of violin students in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

All violinists in the study group had started playing roughly at the age of 5 but by the time they had reached 8 the patterns of practise had diverged considerably. By the age of 20 the elite performers had averaged 10000 hours of practise each while the less able performers had only achieved 4,000 hours of practise.

Another key finding of the study was that the researchers didn’t see any naturally gifted performers emerge from the group. They had expected that if natural talent plays a role in elite performance then it could be expected that gifted performers would emerge after a lot less practise and certainly at the 4000 hour point.

Ericsson therefore concluded that “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense extended practise for a minimum of 10 years”.

This 10000 practise hours theory would probably have remained the subject of scientific discussion and not reached the wider public consciousness had it not been for Malcolm Gladwells hugely popular book Outliers. In his book Gladwell devoted an entire chapter to the 10000 hour rule and brought it to a wider audience.

But what does 10000 hours of practise actually mean in terms of real life?

Let’s break that down a bit because the concept of 10000 hours is a bit of an intangible figure to grasp. If I was to become an expert guitarist what does 10,000 hours actually mean to me? Well 10000 hours equals just less than 417 days. However, that would mean practising 24 hours a day for 417 days, which is perhaps an unachievable goal!

It would not be unreasonable for some of us to be able to manage an average of 2 hours guitar practise a day. If you were to practise for 2 hours per day you would need 5000 days or roughly 13.7 years to rack up the required 10000 hours. Now I must admit I have been playing guitar for a lot longer than 13.7 years and I can in no way claim to be a master.

And it is here that perhaps the 10000 hour theory crumbles.

The 10000 hour rule was not received well by Ericsson himself who wrote a rebuttal paper in 2012 entitled “The Danger of Delegating Education to Journalists” a rather pointed argument against Gladwell’s book.

In the paper Ericsson wrote “The 10000 hour rule was invented by Malcolm Gladwell who stated that “Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10000 hours”. Gladwell cited our research on expert musicians as a stimulus for his provocative generalisation to a magic number”.

Ericsson went on to point out that the 10000 hours was an average and that many of the elite performers actually accumulated fewer hours of practise. He also went onto state that it is the quality of practise that matters. If the practise is unstructured and aimless then that practise is actually fairly useless irrespective of how many hours you put in.

Does this mean that the 10000 hours theory is dead in the water?  Do we give up on the idea that we can master the guitar with 10000 hours of practise?

Well probably not it is just difficult to prove.  However, any of you that have seen our post on learning to sweep pick in 100 days will know that with structured and dedicated practise complex techniques on the guitar can be mastered.  This begs the question what is the best way to practise the guitar?  Does using a tutor or one of the many online guitar lesson providers give you greater structure and therefore greater potential to master the guitar?  What do you think?  Can you master the guitar with 10000 hours of practise?  Do you think you can ever manage to master the guitar?  As always we would really love to know your thoughts.

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