The 10,000-hour Red Herring

You’ve all heard it by now: all the talk and focus on the 10,000 hour “rule,” from people like Malcolm Gladwell, and the researcher who originally published the study with the finding, Anders Ericsson, whose theories are not without opposition in the academic world. If you haven’t heard of this finding by researchers Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Romer yet, it goes like this: it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach expert-level performance, whether it’s in sports, music, chess, or x-ray diagnostics. But the 10,000-hour rule is a red herring for several reasons.

Sir Kenneth Robinson, animated

Now and then I run across something that is only indirectly related to practice, but which I feel compelled to share. Here is a talk by Sir Kenneth Robinson that you should listen to and watch, wonderfully animated by the good folks at RSAnimate. Hope you find it enjoyable and stimulating. Have fun, and good…

Book Review: “Free Play,” by Stephen Nachmanovich

Free Play doesn’t deal directly with music practice, but it is nevertheless an important book for anyone interested in music (or other arts, or life). I strongly believe that improvisation benefits practice. To me, improvising is an essential musical skill, one possessed by musical greats (Hussein, Bach, Shankar, Beethoven, Duke, Mozart, etc.), and is practiced in musical traditions all over the world, as well as by young children who haven’t developed some of the fear associated with improvisation in those overly focused on the written notes. Remember when you drew letters over and over as a young child, taking great care (or not) with the shapes? Now imagine that despite all that practice time forming letters and sounding out words, that you never (ever) spoke extemporaneously. Crazy, right? To me, that’s about the same as practicing scales over and over until they’re memorized, but then never using that tonal material to improvise. Crazy talk! At the end of this review is a link to an mp3 of my improv group Meh! playing an improvised story with Nachmanovich.

When is Not-Practicing Practice?

A new piece of research shows that the “inherently unpleasant” idea about deliberate music practice may not be entirely true. In fact, we may continue to learn when we’re doing something completely different from that which we’re practicing.

Book Review: The Musician’s Way, by Gerald Klickstein

I’ve read (and re-read in many cases) most books out there on practice and this is one of the best, hands down. Klickstein is a classical guitarist who performs throughout the U.S. and internationally and is a professor at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

My favorite 2 aspects of the book are…

It IS about you…

Have you ever been out in the world, going somewhere, sure of the direction you’re headed when in a flash you realize that you’re actually headed in the opposite direction? It’s such an odd and sudden shift of perspective, as if the entire world suddenly snaps to a new orientation. But it’s not the world that shifts, it’s you. Every now and then I get that same feeling from something I read. It could be the first time I read a new author (Bradbury, O’Connor, Vonnegut), or some piece of research, like a study by Carol Dweck, the subject of this post.

Your Plastic Brain (redux)

Learning changes your brain structure. My neurons underwent some serious alteration this weekend, all naturally induced, thank you very much. One of the world’s foremost grand masters of the djembe, Mamady Keita (vid to follow), was in Chicago to give beginning-, intermediate-, and advanced drum workshops. I’ve never had a djembe lesson before. I signed up for the beginner session and would learn very quickly what “beginner” actually meant to this crowd. Good thing I didn’t know that Keita’s definition of “beginner” is most people’s definition of, “I know what I’m doing.” If I’d known this, my stomach would’ve been in even more of a knot about showing up with little to no real djembe experience. Nothing like a good challenge to get you to really pay attention.

Twisted views of Creativity and Genius

Our fascination with excellence and those who manifest excellence leads us to some odd conclusions and slightly twisted relationships with the concepts; relationships that aren’t all that healthy, though they won’t cause congestive heart failure or flabby thighs. What I’m talking about is that tendency–which I believe we all have to some extent or other–to…

Book Review: Talent is Overrated

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book. ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero, statesman, orator and writer (106-43 BCE) Wear the old coat and buy the new book. ~ Austin Phelps Book Review Colvin, Geoff (2008). Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World Class Performers from Everybody Else. Portfolio/Penguin:…