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10,000 Hours

Unfortunately with all the travel this year, my holiday reading list was short. Lucky for me, however, I chose well. While casually browsing through my favorite bookstore before the holidays, as an impulse buy I picked up This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of Human Obsession. Good move on my part: I really liked it.

The book takes a both a long and short lens view of many aspects of music. Not having taken any formal music classes (either in school or otherwise), I really enjoyed how the book broke down the various elements of music into their individual related components. Likewise, the discussions on the actual measured neural responses the brain has to music and how some of the simplest human actions (like tapping your foot to a beat) are incredibly difficult to artificially re-create were really good.

But I have to say my favorite part of the book was the chapter on what makes a musician. According to the book, to become an expert in anything (music, chess, sports, computer science, writing, etc.), it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. 10,000 hours. If you apply that to your job, that means you need to work for five years (40 hour weeks) to become an expert at what you do. For new parents out there, that means you won't become an expert in child rearing until your kid is over 1 year old (presuming raising a kid is a 24 hour job).

There are obviously other factors besides practice that go into becoming a virtuoso. For instance, genetics plays a part, but not in the way you think. Music he says, does not "run in a family." Rather, parents that are more involved musically are going to provide their children an environment that allows for the development of musical skills. Similar to how parents who speak a foreign language are going to most likely provide an environment where their children speak that language as well - but no one says that speaking Japanese runs in the family.

There are other non- practice drivers as well. For instance, people with large hands are probably going to be lousy violinists, regardless of practice, but are well suited for piano. Likewise, a person's vocal chords may provide a natural sound that is more euphonious. So people maybe genetically or environmentally better positioned for a particular endeavor - but mastering it still comes down to practice.

10,000 hours to be an expert, eh? I'm going to keep that in mind next time I go to check out an industry conference panel....;)


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