You mean I have to practice?

Yes! But it it is not a prison sentence. Maybe you have heard of the 10,000 hour rule (http://gladwell.com/outliers/the-10000-hour-rule/)? After many years of reading a wide variety of biographies of famous musicians, I can hardly believe that it is true. Gladwell’s theory says nothing about prodigies such as Mozart, Mendelssohn and Korngold, who exhibited huge natural talent at an age where they would not have been able to have had practiced that much! These composer/performers worked hard, but there is simply no way they could have practiced 10000 hours by the time they were 6. Gladwell also says very little on the nature of practice, in fact he uses as evidence the fact that the Beatles performed all-night shows in Hamburg! Performance and practice are very different, and for him to associate the two and count them as “practice hours” is simply naive.

So how should we go about mastering our craft? The first thing to do is to stop worrying about how much you practice, and worry more about what you are doing when you practice. Sitting in a room and making noise for an hour will get you nowhere. Practice needs to be purposeful! Do not beat yourself up for not practicing enough, just practice smarter!

How do we practice smarter? First you need to clearly lay out your objectives. What are you trying to achieve? When I ask students this question I sometimes get an answer like “I try to make it sound good.” I would hope so! But what does it mean to sound good? This is where the principle of evenness comes in. Most people’s solitary goal is intonation, but I have heard many players play very well in tune but still sound awful. There are many other factors! Are your bow changes smooth? Is your sound consistent? Are you able to sustain a phrase for longer than one bow length? Are your shifts well hidden when you want them to be and expressive when you want them to be? How about your stamina? Are you playing effectively and efficiently? The list goes on!

To practice smarter, focus on fundamentals, and you will find that 10000 hours are not necessary at all!

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