Artistry & Expression

10,000 hours to Achieving Mastery

In his book, This is Your Brain on Music, Dr. Daniel Levtin wrote: "… ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over ten years. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people don’t seem to get anywhere when they practice, and why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."

He's not the only one to say this. Australian music teacher Leah Coutts ponders this point in her article AnInteresting Statistic and Unrealistic Goals Leah Coutts is a private piano teacher in Brisbane, Australia.

Blogger Michael Neill, blogged about the "levelling up" timeline to achieving mastery and puts that daunting number into perspective.

A quick Google search reveals that several studies have been conducted on this subject.

I suppose many teachers fall into the 1,000 - 10,000 level and I'd be curious to see which level some professional musicians are at.

There are just so many levels and facets to any art form that I don't think many people would consider themselves an expert at something. That's for others to decide, I suppose.

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.


Jump Ahead or Fake It

For the past couple of weeks, my students have heard me tell them to "jump ahead" or "fake it" (i.e., "make it up) when they do a run-through of their festival songs for me. Those are really a musician's two options on stage when we have a memory lapse. Asking for the book and running off the stage aren't acceptable options. And now, here we are. It's Music Festival Week. Basically, this is a warm-up for my students gearing up for piano exams in June - a chance to air out their repertoire, get valuable feedback and see where the kinks lie.

Things are at the stage where we have to stop psyching ourselves out at weak spots by making them stronger. As Irina Ginzburg, my former piano teacher, said to me many a time, "You have to get it right eleven times out of ten at home to get it right ten times out of ten on stage."

I should add that since perfection on stage is fleeting, delivering a convincing performance becomes more important. A friend of mine told me once that she "faked" the middle of one of her jury songs at university one semester. She knew the beginning and the end. Unfortunately, she caught the chicken pox shortly before her piano jury and was unable to properly learn the middle.She kept in the style of the song and lucked out by having an obscure piece that none of the jury members were familiar with. She delivered such a convincing performance that she garnered a "B".

Back to my students and I. We've been practicing (some harder than others) on our trouble spots and our memory by using the following techniques:

  • hands separately
  • analysing the chords and patterns
  • "eyes closed" practice
  • "eyes open but looking away from the piano" practice
  • playing with distractions
  • drilling beginnings and endings
  • drilling problem spots
  • coming to the piano in between other tasks and starting up partway through one of our songs
  • practicing at "nervous" tempo (for most, it's faster than normal)
  • practice performing
  • practice "faking it" at weak points

Hopefully our hard work will pay off over the next week-and-a-half.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

On Sturm und Drang

"Sturm und drang" - "storm and stress" - these words not only apply to music, but to other aspects of life. Storm and Stress

It's amazing how much "sturm und drang" in one's personal life affects other areas. Things are settling down on the home front. One of my room-mates moved out earlier in the month. Let's just say that things really didn't work out. The house has regained its tranquil feel. I no longer have the urge to play the most dissonant music on the planet at triple fortissimo (although it was great stress relief). Maestro and my remaining room-mate have a spring to their step once again. I've been playing perky songs.

Most of my students are heading into festival/exam season in a pretty good position, with most of their repertoire and technical requirements memorized. Each year, we get better at timing. The main challenge now is to help the students take their music to the next level of musicianship and expression without them peaking too soon before performance day. There are a couple of students who could go either way. If they buckle down now, they will do fine on the exam. If they don't...the road will be very stormy and stressful indeed.

For the first time in APTA Festival history, the organizers are offering a Teacher performance class. I've been humming and hawing whether to learn something new or enter one of my senior student's songs, which I must practice anyway. I've got a few days to decide. With another busy year on the ARMTA Calgary Board ahead of me, I will most likely pick something that will provide enough of a challenge without undue stress.

Thankfully the Calgary Iaido Club has decided to host a seminar on Niten Ichi Ryu instead of both the seminar and the national Iaido Tournament. As exciting as the latter would have been to host, it would have been a challenge for us to make it work for this year.

All in all, life if back to a manageable level of sturm und drang.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Friday Fun Link #31

This is the beginning of crazy season for musicians and music teachers. Between recitals, Christmas gigs and gearing up for exams, it's a non-stop roller coaster. Melodies can also be like a roller coaster. I found this funky link that allows you to shape a melody and hear how it sounds. Happy exploring!

(c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.


Musicianship Musings

Sometimes, the word "musicianship" comes into a music-related conversation. Beginner pianists using the Piano Adventures series are more familiar with the term "artistry" from their Technique & Artistry book. "Artistry" in music and "Musicianship" mean basically the same thing. Ah, but what is artistry? defines it as: a superior skill that you can learn by study and practice and observation; "the art of conversation"; "it's quite an art". I tend to associate "expressiveness" with these words. How well can we as musicians move our audiences? If the song is a happy one, how well can we paint a soundscape to portray that emotion? If the song is dark and mysterious, how well can we communicate that without words?

I feel that musicianship is more important than technique. Yes, technique helps us express ourselves better and helps us deliver a convincing performance; but it's musicianship that pulls on the heartstrings. The emotions we paint are what stays with the audience (and the musician) long after the performance. Most members in an audience won't walk away from a performance thinking "If only she didn't hit that wrong note in bar 25." They remember how the music made them feel.

(c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.