Reinventing the Wheel

A quick search on Amazon reveals at least half a dozen books based on the currently fashionable idea that 10,000 hours of practice are required to master any human activity. I’ve lost track of who did the original research, but it’s a seductive concept – in my head, I could have been Ryan Giggs, and this theory confirms that this would have been so if only I had put in the hours.

The author of one of these books – I think it was Matthew Syed, but I could be wrong – was being interviewed on the radio recently. The interviewer put it to him that even 10,000 hours of practice wouldn’t be enough to make a world-class basketball player out of someone who was 5 feet tall. Ah, he responded, well there are certain activities where a fundamental physical criterion must be fulfilled, or something along those lines. I was always taught that a non-falsifiable hypothesis was the sign of an unscientific theory, and there can in practice be few activites where certain inherent attributes (i.e. nature rather than nurture) are not at least an advantage.

However, the assertion that a very large number of practice hours are required in order to produce world-class attainment is not a new one. The old bel canto masters – Caccini, Tosi, Mancini, Garcia – used to assert that it takes at least 10 years to train a singer. 3 hours’ singing a day approximately gives you 20 a week, or 1000 a year – or, to put it another way: 10,000 hours.


About Paul Carey Jones

Paul Carey Jones is a Welsh opera singer. He should be writing about the current state of the classical music business but might well digress into science, politics, football or cheese. He has recently started a series of irregular posts along the broad theme of "Things they don't teach you at music college." Any suggestions or requests on this theme will be treated with feigned or genuine interest. You can contact him via comments here or at:
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