The 10,000 hours principle
You may know about the 10,000 hours principle. This is a theory put forward by author and researcher Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers: The Story of Success.
The theory goes that to achieve excellence or expert status in a given field takes more or less 10,000 hours of practice.
Not everyone accepts this theory. But there are numerous examples of seemingly natural talents who, on closer inspection, have in fact clocked up 10,000 hours or more developing their skills.
This includes virtually everyone from tennis champions and chess grand masters to businessmen and guitarists.
The maths of 10,000 hours of guitar practice
So how long does it actually take to clock up 10,000 hours of guitar practice? The graph below shows this based on how much daily practice you can do (click to enlarge):
If you average 1 hour of practice per day then it will take you 27.4 years to achieve your 10,000 hours of guitar practice. If you can do 4 hours a day it will take you 6.8 years.
The ‘but’ that comes with 10,000 hours of guitar practice
This graph ought to be inspirational, after all, a few hours of daily practice doesn’t sound like much to become a guitar master. There is one crucial detail that needs to be highlighted though.
The 10,000 hours principle does not mean 10,000 hours of noodling or playing through songs and exercises that we can already do; at speeds that don’t challenge you.
It means 10,000 hours of guitar practice that’s deliberate, conscious and highly focussed; in which you are striving to improve some aspect of your guitar playing.
So the message is that you must ensure that you get the most from your guitar practice sessions. Identify what you want to achieve, devise exercises that address specific issues, set targets, and be as focused as a laser when you practise.
The admin of achieving 10,000 hours of guitar practice
Time your guitar practice sessions and keep records of them. Stop the clock if you go for a cup of tea and keep things brutally honest. If you’re serious about working towards 10,000 hours of guitar practice then let’s do it properly.
Keeping records will help keep you motivated. They should inspire you to squeeze even more out of the time you have available, and you should soon see significant improvements in your playing.
Make sure you always know what it is you should be practising so that you really can grab your guitar for another quick 15-minute practice here and there, without having to ponder what to practise next.
My own progress towards 10,000 hours of guitar practice
A few years ago I decided to try to achieve 1000 hours of guitar practice in one year. That’s almost three hours of focussed guitar practice every single day. It was an ambitious challenge.
On my first attempt, I didn’t quite manage it. It actually took me 64 weeks instead of 52 weeks. But I was still fairly happy and it was phenomenally good for me as a guitarist. Then, after a short break I decided to have a second attempt, and this time I did it.
On both occasions I timed myself my practice sessions and kept accurate records. Each week I would put the number of hours of guitar practice I’d done into spreadsheet.
I made a graph which got updated each week. Here it is:
It was obviously very hard work indeed; not least because the rest of my life didn’t stop whist I was doing it! I still had tons of guitar teaching to do, gigs to perform, as well as my usual day-to-day activities.
I can honestly though say that I made more progress as a guitarist in each of those two guitar practice marathons than in almost any 5 year period before that.
Is 10,000 hours of guitar practice guaranteed virtuosity?
I don’t know, because I’m not qualified to judge. But I do know that if we could all clock up 10,000 hours of premium quality guitar practice, we will all be MUCH better guitarists than we were before!
So, in absence of an authoritative answer, as a minimum we can regard 10,000 hours as being a benchmark and a fantastic long-term target to aim for.
I hadn’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s book at the time. But I had read another excellent book that supported the 10,000 hours principle. And this one was actually written by a sportsman that had made it to world-class level.
That book was ‘Bounce – the Science of Success’ by Matthew Syed and I highly recommend it for some inspirational reading.
10,000 hours of guitar practice is a daunting prospect for all of us. But it’s good to have ambitious targets. If you’d like to aim for it, try breaking this target down into a manageable regime and do everything you can to keep your guitar practice sessions on track.
If you can manage to keep it going (and I hope you can) then eventually what might have seemed like an impossible mountain should start to look more like a series of moderate sized hills, waiting, ready to be hiked. I’ve climbed at least two of mine already!
If you’d like more of my thoughts on guitar practice, take a look at my article Practice and spreading yourself too thinly.
If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up to my mailing list for my free guitar practice eBook, which will help you to devise an effective guitar practice regime.
Finally, you can also use my guitar practice calculator to help set and work towards a long term target.
I hope you enjoyed this article on 10,000 hours of guitar practice. If you do decide to take on a challenge like this, or the ones I set myself, I’d love to hear about it. Just message me through my contact page.
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photo credit: FJTUrban (sommelier d mojitos) via photopin cc
About the Author:Stuart Bahn is a professional guitarist and guitar educator in London, England.