The 10,000 Hour Rule

For almost a generation, psychologists around the world have been engaged in a spirited debate over a question that most people would consider to have been settled years ago.  The question is this: is there such a thing as natural born talent?  Most people would answer yes, but the problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation begins to reveal itself.

In a study carried out in the early 1990s at the Berlin Academy of Music, psychologist K. Anders Ericsson discovered that the best musicians were the ones who practiced the most.  In fact, both Ericsson and his colleagues couldn’t find any “natural talent” musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while only practicing a fraction of the time that their peers did. 

The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise.  In fact, researches have settled on what they believe to be the magic number to become an expert in anything: 10,000 hours.

As neurologist Daniel Levitin explains, “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concerts pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number (10,000 hours) comes up time and time again.  Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of there practice sessions than others do.  But no one has found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time.  It seems to take the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”


Of course, the first thing you hear from the naysayers is, “What about guys like Mozart?”  But the same is true for even people we think of as prodigies.  Psychologist Michael Howe expands on this in his book Genius Explained:

“By the standards of mature composers, Mozart’s early works are not outstanding.  The earliest pieces were all probably written down by his father, and perhaps improved in the process.  Many of Wolfgang’s childhood compositions, such as the first seven of his concertos for piano and orchestra are largely arrangements of works by other composers.  Of those concertos that only contain music original to Mozart, the earliest that is now regarded as a masterwork (No. 9, K. 271) was not composed until he was twenty-one: by the that time Mozart had already been composing concertos for ten years.”

The 10,000 Hour Rule is based on the premise that it will take you approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at a specific skill. For example, it would take ten years of practicing three hours a day to become an expert in your subject.  It would take approximately five years of full time employment to become proficient in your field.  As a New Year’s resolution, simply calculate how many hours you have already achieved and calculate how far you need to go to accomplish your goal.  Remember to enjoy the process!  You should be aiming for 10,000 hours.   The 10,000 Rule was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.



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10 Responses to The 10,000 Hour Rule

  1. Nic Miles says:

    Very interesting Joe but I simply know too many people who’ve demonstrated without doubt they have a natural talent and not just in music, in many other walks of life. Practice makes perfect but I don’t think anyone can honestly put a number on it, I mean isn’t it also about quality not just quantity, personally I think it’s the frequency that is more important, 30 mins every day is better than practising for the same duration say only twice a week, but hey like I said only my opinion.

    • Joe Hubbard says:

      There is no doubt that many people appear to possess some degree of natural talent, but the real question is proving that scientifically. Environment plays a huge part in all of this such as, what were the circumstances of the person in question while they were growing up? Were they nurtured at a young age and surrounded by positive influence relating to their given skill set? So many circumstances are involved and even though scientists and behaviour psychologists have carried out case study after case study, people still want to believe in the abstract rather than to assume responsibility for themselves.

      As far as the numbers are concerned, they are approximate, but remember we are talking about becoming an expert (10 years sounds about right in anything)- not a novice. People have different paths and many do not want to take the path of the expert and that’s okay. I have been a teacher for over 30 years and taught hundreds of bass players all over the world. One of the main hang ups people have is they often think mastery is something only reserved for the elite players; psychologically they will put it out of their reach. My job has always been to educate people in the understanding that they can achieve whatever it is that they want- it’s all up to them if they put in the work and that’s the truth. I have taken players who literally had no talent or visible potential and turned them into great players; many who have become pros. Well, actually they did that themselves, I’m only the conduit. I will never tell anybody how they have to play, but rather show them what they need to know in order for them to become good bass players.

      Best- Joe

  2. Marco Topo says:

    Nobody I have know personally and not… have been born enlightened, in fact it takes many hours of sitting in meditation with some kind of discipline to arrive at such levels. Master Ueshiba became enlightened through the diligent practice of martial arts and the Bushido lifestyle. I believe the amount of hours invested in learning any art, is what reveals true mastery.

  3. martyn price says:

    Genius is one percent inspiration ninety nine percent persperation!
    so your talent will take you so far, the rest is hard work.
    Practice is vital and also what you practice.
    You need to organise the time you spend on practise ie. 15min on timing
    with metronome and maybe 10 min on something else etc.
    as joe said to me once if you put the wrong ingredients into a cake the end
    result is not very good!
    If you study with joe you he’ll blow your mind! Everything becomes clear and will
    understand the role of the bass in music you’ll be able to write and arrange your
    own compositions if you want to- basically he’ll sort you out to be a good musician/bass player. He’ll explain to you about energy ie. if you go and watch your favourite bass player perform for example, the next day you will pick up your bass and play for hours, this is energy passed on from one bass player to another. All great bass players also have great attributes by this i mean- what attributes to making you a great player? Timing-finger technique -feel-etc. joe will teach all this and more much more but at the end of the day you have to PRACTICE and put in the time and effort!
    Oh, i recently had a message from Jeff Berlin praising my music!
    As i said, joe is an amazing teacher and bassist and will bring the best out of you because he wants you to succeed.

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  5. KC says:

    “The 10,000 Hour Rule is based on the premise that it will take you approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at a specific skill.”

    “…no one has found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time.”

    There’s a chasm of difference between “expert” and “world-class”.

    For example, the difference between world-class guitarist Joe Pass and everyone else it well documented.

    Talent, intelligence, natural skills/affinity (physical/mental) are the difference.

    Take sports: even if I put in 20,000 hours, I’ll never be able to compete with Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers or cyclist Lance Armstrong. I’ll be as good as I can be but that’s it. It’s a fact that we all fall on the normal distribution curve somewhere. Finding where you are on the curve, IMO, takes a lot less than 10,000 hours.

    Put another way, if 10,000 hours is the true barrier, the world be overrun with world class hit song writers, pro and Olympic caliber athletes, military snipers, and other elite individuals.

    • Joe Hubbard says:

      So what you are saying is that you yourself haven’t put in the required time that it takes to become an expert in your field, but you are making assumptions that it wouldn’t matter even if you tried based on your own comparrisons to other world class achievers? What clinical case studies are you basing this conclusion on? If you have any clinical data to share, please do.

    • Mike Nash says:

      I don’t see myself as ever being a great artist (painter); I just don’t think I have the creativity to acheive that. However, I know that the situation CAN be changed.

      I am aware that to be creative as a painter, you need to learn about your tools, how they work, what colours work well together and which ones clash, brushes etc., in otherwords, you need to learn what is possible in order to increase your creative abilities. If I was to spend the hours learning from an expert (resulting in quicker and more accurate progress) or by my own experimentation (resulting in much slower progress) I could become a very accomplished artist.

      As an example, this weekend (12th Mar 2016) I sat in on a Masterclass by Michael Manring at the London Bass Show and learned a huge lesson!

      Before this Masterclass, I had never even listened to him playing. The things he was doing with that bass just blew me away! I had no idea that it was even possible to produce such sounds on a bass, and use the hands & fingers in the way he did to produce them. Because I didn’t have that knowledge, it would not even be in my creative arsenal; however, if he or someone else taught me what was possible AND showed me some ways in which to apply the new skills, my creative abilities would expand manyfold.

      Many watching Michael’s performance might have gone away thinking that it was all natural ability and they should sell their bass, but they would be wrong. He has spent hour after hour, year after year, experimenting with the bass, trying things that most of us wouldn’t even bother doing. Once he discovered new things, he spent hours practicing and perfecting them; learning how he can apply them to his music. Others too can learn those very same skills & knowledge, but much quicker, IF they show wisdom and learn from someone who already truly knows these things.

      Unfortunately, some who have a measure of ‘natural ability’ feel they don’t need anyone else’s help. We all have to make our own decisions, but for me, I don’t want to waste any more time unnecessarily, so I will be taking expert help.

  6. Chris says:

    KC has a valid point, at least insofar as the endpoint of achievement or quality of performance at the chosen skill will most assuredly _not_ be the same for different individuals, even after the requisite 10,000 hours of practise.

    It is probably fair to say, however, that if you do put in about 10,000 hours of genuine practise, at anything, you will be almost guaranteed of achieving a level of skill and performance well towards the upper end of the bell curve. For the statistically minded, let’s say that after 10,000 hours you should find yourself at least 2 standard deviations above the mean, with a 95% confidence interval. 😉

    Now I’m off to subscribe to Joe’s newsletter and check out his eBook… 🙂

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