The 10,000-hour rule and how true it really is

February 16, 2017


In my soon-to-be-published ebook Music Practice Decoded. The Psychology of Getting Brilliant in Music I write about the famous 10,000-hour rule, deliberate practice, and recent research on this subject.


In 1993, Anders Ericsson and his colleagues presented data from several studies of people who had achieved mastery in various fields, including music. Ten thousand hours seemed the necessary amount of training time so as to reach the level of expert performance in any skill. Defined was not only the mere quantity of practice, but also its quality – in other words not just the number of hours spent on playing the instrument, but rather what is called 'deliberate practice'.

Sometimes also referred to as 'deep practice', it is goal-oriented, effortful, and structured. It seems to be the kind of practice most common among advanced classical music students, although it should be noted that many excellent non-classical musicians seem to refrain from practicing this way.




Since Ericsson first published results of the research on deliberate practice, the phenomenon of the 10,000-hour rule has inspired numerous books whose aim was to convince readers they can become experts in nearly whatever they want if they start working hard. Having for the motto “Practice, practice, practice,” they either present deliberate practice as the sole means necessary to achieve mastery in anything or overemphasize its role in becoming an expert, showing other elements as supplements without greater meaning for ultimate outcome if one does not invest the mentioned amount of time in proper training.


However, research shows that there can be considerable differences in the time spent on deliberate practice between individuals who perform at the same level. David Hambrick and his colleagues have tested the 10,000-hour rule in music and chess – the two most studied domains in expertise research. They found that “[o]n average across studies, deliberate practice explained about 30% of the reliable variance in music performance, leaving about 70% unexplained (…),” (1) which means that other factors, for example the individual's intelligence, personality, or the age at which one started learning a complex skill are likely to contribute considerably to the level of skill attained. Further research in this area is still required . What is clear though, is the fact that deliberate practice does not suffice to explain why somebody becomes an expert and somebody else does not.


(1) Hambrick, D. Z., Oswald, F. L., Altmann, E. M., Meinz, E. J., Gobet, F., Campitelli, G., Deliberate practice: Is that all it takes to become an expert?, in: Intelligence, Vol. 45 (Acquire Expertise: Ability, Practice and Other Influences), July - August 2014, 40


More about practice and how you can make it way better in my ebook - pre-orders and a free sample available in March!


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