This week, I have been observing our students in a myriad of performance situations: playing recitals; performing year-end performance juries; taking final exams. The practice rooms and libraries are filled. The stress level is high. Everyone is pressed for time, trying to squeeze in one more precious hour.
Recent research and a popular book have theorized that it takes 10,000 hours for a human to become proficient and considered an expert at something. It seems so easy: Put in the Time, Collect the Dime. I think most adults can see some truth in this theory based on their own experiences. Driving a car is a great example. While we are learning, we are cognizant of every movement, every decision, every possibility. After time, we become very natural at it. It almost becomes a reflexive action. (For example, when’s the last time you thought about—really concentrated on—operating the turn signal?)
What makes it interesting is that it could apply to anything, from knitting to playing the violin. The implications for an art form are obvious and the research pointers are fairly sound. However my question is: Is it enough to make good art?
There is certainly something to be said for putting in the time. Repetition breeds confidence, and in the case of music, there are time honored traditions for putting in the right kind of practice. This is why etude books and good teachers are invaluable. But to reduce music making to craft status is missing the boat. A true artist looks beyond the technique (which can be learned) to a deeper core of understanding (which is more intuitive). Certainly good technique must come first. But deftness merely functions as the key to unlocking the real doors that lie ahead.
Art reaches beyond good craftsmanship. Seasoned musicians transform it into artistry. A Bach Cello Suite can be played perfectly, without mentionable flaw and still not quite be ready. This is why I still make suggestions to already excellent students—and why I reflect deeply when my colleagues make suggestions to me about my performances. While I am secure with the craft element of my art (always subject to tweaks, of course), it is the deeper wisdom that continues to amaze me.
“Cherish wisdom as a means of travelling from youth to old age, for it is more lasting than any other possession.”—Bias of Priene, 6th century B.C.
The “Aha!” moments still come after practicing, studying, rehearsal and performance. They will continually come if we remain open, alive and inquisitive. And that goes far beyond the nuts and bolts of our profession. Far beyond our 10,000 hours spent achieving. It reaches to the very core of life itself—if we allow it.
Note: the 10,000 Hours Theory is a theme of Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers, and is well supported by the research of Anders Ericsson. 22,000 Days is a title of a Moody Blues song from the 80s. “It’s not a lot. It’s all you got. 22,000 Days.” That’s about 60 years worth of getting anything truly worthwhile accomplished—get to it!
Copyright, 2013, Robert Baldwin.