DELIBERATE PRACTICE: THE CASE OF THE MUSICIAN

One excellent example of deliberate practice is solitary practice, which successful students use to increase their mastery of new music pieces and techniques. Music teachers typically evaluate students’ current performance at weekly lessons to assess improvement, diagnose weaknesses, and help the student overcome problems by assigning focused practice techniques.

We were able to compare several groups of musicians representing different levels of achievement based on their daily diaries and retrospective estimates of time use. Even among these expert groups, the most accomplished musicians had spent more time in activities classified as deliberate practice during their development, and skill differences were reliably observable even before their admittance to the academy at around age 18.

By the age of 20, the best musicians had spent over 10,000 hours practicing, which is 2,500 and 5,000 hours more than two less accomplished groups, respectively, and 8,000 hours more than amateur pianists of the same age (Krampe & Ericsson, 1996).  In sum, to attain the highest level of performance, all individuals, even the most “talented,” devote years, typically over a decade, to engaging in thousands of hours of practice, typically over 10,000.

This massive amount of concentration and deliberate practice focused toward mastery in a domain is an achievement in itself – and one that very few individuals can claim. During this extended period of deliberate practice, complex adaptations and acquired mechanisms gradually emerge, and their development is the primary cause of improved performance.

Excerpt from Davidson, J., & Sternberg, R. (Eds.). (2003). The Psychology of Problem Solving. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

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