Practice Makes Perfect: A Study Shedding Light on Our Natural Abilities

Everyone should hopefully want to be a skilled, respected, and possibly even famous person. It takes dedication to make it there. How much does it take?

Everyone should hopefully want to be a skilled, respected, and possibly even famous person. It takes dedication to make it there. How much time does it take? While people may scoff at Napoleon, his Battle Maxims are truly effective. He spent a long time studying warfare, and it allowed him to nearly conquer the known world in a short time period. Yes, barbaric, but the work of honed and very real skills. What skills do you value in your own life?

The emulation of great figures helps us to achieve success. Very few people do things that are truly original on an hourly basis, and people who urge you to “think outside of the box” are sometimes only complicating your life. Think about it for a moment. Almost every single important skill that you use in your life has been carefully and methodically taught to you. These same skills have been taught to many others. Why, then, do people urge us to “think outside of the box”?

When people think outside of the box, they use their carefully honed skills to craft, design, or imagine something unique. Therefore, a person cannot innovate without a professional set of skills learned over a long period of time. This applies universally. A writer must write daily, and a mechanic must fix machines daily. A violinist must practice and perform as often as he or she washes his or her hands. It is only through the living and breathing of our crafts do we get better.

Just how far does natural ability take a person in life? How much practice at math will this kid need to succeed?

Just how far does natural ability take a person in life? How much practice at math will this kid need to succeed?

There are no such things as “naturals.” Your natural ability to pick up a talent like flute playing or golf has nothing to do with what it takes to become a professional at it. A study was conducted that universally agreed with this result, and I will discuss that study in a moment. The findings of that study are important to understand.

A huge group of orchestral violinists were studied from their youth and beginnings all the way until their first tenured positions in mainstream orchestras.  Scientists studied the practice habits of these violinists, and many skilled youths who were “naturals” were carefully studied. You know, the 12 year old kid who plays Brahms’ Violin Concerto in her sleep. That kind of natural. Ultimately, it was discovered that the road from promising youth to seasoned professional had little or nothing to do with natural ability. Doing what you love is about sheer determination, work ethic, and dedication.

This study of violinists discovered the following three points:

  • 100% of violinists in professional orchestras have practiced over 10,000 hours
  • Promising youths with less than 10,000 hours of practice found no work as professional musicians
  • The average violinist graduating from a university with a bachelor’s degree has put in 5,000 hours of practice

10,000 hours of practice sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t that huge of a number. Remember, a modern American violinist trains from approximately 10 years of age until 20, and then he or she begins to audition for orchestras.

Mozart is perhaps the best-known example of a child prodigy. He transitioned into adulthood as a master of keyboard technique and musical composition. However, anyone who reads his biography will quickly discover that the boy lived and breathed music. He put in 10,000 of practice before he was 12 years old. That is the main difference between him and other less successful childhood prodigies.

Mozart is perhaps the best-known example of a child prodigy.

Orchestral auditions are most often conducted with the violinist playing behind a curtain, so the judges have no idea who is playing. It’s the skill and raw ability that gets one the job, and nothing else. Your connections are meaningless. So, an assessment of raw skill is really what counts in the violin world! Therefore, violin performance is a great way to examine human mastery and perfection. The violin’s sound is all that matters to an orchestral audition board.

10,000 hours means that a person has practiced approximately three hours per day for 10 years straight. You could also do something 6 hours per day for 5 years. That’s a lot of practice, and it’s the minimum amount that it takes to master (or become very good at) a highly complicated skill like violin playing.

Mozart transitioned into adulthood as a master of keyboard technique and musical composition. However, anyone who reads his biography will quickly discover that the boy lived and breathed music. He put in 10,000 hours of practice before he was 12 years old. That is the main difference between him and other less successful childhood prodigies. For instance, child actors often fail to become successful adult actors. How much practice and dedication did they put in? For the arts, stage performance practice  is integral to mastery, too. Performance in an audition lands a person their acting roles, and audiences want to see proper emotions and delivery.

You can apply this number to other activities that you perform. For instance, how long have I been writing? If you enjoy my blog, then you might be pleased to know that I am a professional writer. I have definitely spent at least 10,000 hours writing. That may be why some people find my words engaging. Good! I’m glad! I’m saying this to help you, because you can apply this number to yourself. What  do you do professionally? If you have done it more than 10,000 hours, then you are probably a master at it. If you have put in 5,000 hours and are frustrated, then this knowledge should give you hope. Put in more time, and you will attain higher and higher skill levels. This is the key to success, and it is also a good way to measure your progress. Shoot for the big 10,000 hours.

Now you know how long it takes to become truly successful at something. 10,000 hours. Keep practicing the things that you love to do, and don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something. After 10,000 hours, you can do just about anything.

Ah, and don’t let natural abilities cloud your judgement. They are just a sign that a person loves something, and when a person loves something they can accomplish amazing things.

I myself play the violin, and I have put in about 8.000 hours during the course of my life. I'm good, and I truly know how long it takes to acquire this kind of skill. I also write music. I completely agree with the study mentioned in this blog article.

I myself play the violin, and I have put in about 8.000 hours during the course of my life. I’m good, and I truly know how long it takes to acquire this kind of skill. I also write music. –
I completely agree with the study mentioned in this blog article, and I feel that this study has provided people with an excellent yardstick for success.

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