Vintage Confessions: 10,000 Hours

Hola Internet,

I’m back with another Vintage Confession. This time, I’m exploring the idea of developing good practice habits. I wrote this one in 2013, and I still think it rings true. Check it out!

10,000 Hours

So I was talking with a moderately wise individual this weekend about this concept of 10,000 hours. (For those wondering, this individual is my dad who really is a very wise individual but doesn’t need the ego boost. If you’re reading this, love you Dad.) Basically, this concept of 10,000 hours is that people who are experts in creative fields have put in a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice in their specific field. Whether it be music, dance, writing, or any other thing that demands practice in order to be successful, once you reach this goal of 10,000 hours, it could be said that you are an expert in your field.

However, the quality of those 10,000 hours is just as important if not more important than the amount of time. You could put in 10,000 mediocre hours and you’ll end up as a mediocre expert. Or you can choose to put in 10,000 quality hours and while you may at first start out at a mediocre level, you will still be able to grow and increase so that by the time you have amassed 10,000 hours, you have a higher quality of expertise.

In this Wikipedia article we looked at about the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell and he discusses this idea of 10,000 hours. In his book he used the Beatles as an example of a group that put in 10,000 hours. He noted that from 1960 to 1964, the Beatles played over 1,000 times in Hamberg, Germany. By the time they were really able to take off in the time following 1964, they had put in approximately 10,000 hours of playing time. It was this period of time, Gladwell suggests, that the Beatles were really able to become ‘The Beatles’. I mean face it, as respected and influential the Beatles were, they weren’t always the Beatles. It is this 10,000 hours that really helped to set them apart and really give them the tools that they needed to help them become the best!

Yet another interesting facet to this 10,000 hours diamond is spreading out these 10,000 hours across a variety of different areas. For example, if you are a singer/songwriter, you could choose to put in 10,000 hours in songwriting. You could write almost every single second of every single day and eventually have put in your 10,000. However, if you don’t put in a portion of those hours towards performing, your live show could be weaker. Whereas if you put say 5,000 into songwriting and 5,000 in to performing, you’ll have 10,000 hours but you’ll be stronger for the wear in multiple areas.

I think about this idea in terms of myself. I’ve been writing songs — mostly crappy ones but songs nonetheless — since about 12-13. I’ve been performing regularly for the last five years, taking voice lessons for about two years or so and I’m now beginning to develop my music theory knowledge among other areas. However, there are times when I wonder whether or not I have plateaued in my musical endeavors. I don’t write as regularly as I would like, I’m kind of locked into one specific style of performance, and I’m still not sure what specific genre I’m best at.

Yet after looking at this 10,000 hours concept, I realized that I haven’t plateaued. I mean I still haven’t really done a whole lot! Instead I think that I’m in the thick of putting in my 10,000 hours. And now, it’s coming down to deciding to put in quality hours. I’ve put in lots of time but I wonder whether or not that time as truly been productive as it could have been. Music is going from being a cutesy little party trick to really being well, work. While it’s work I enjoy, when it comes down to it it’s still work. I have to want it so bad that I’m willing to put blood, sweat and tears into this thing to really see what I’m capable of. And at the end of the day, even if I put in that time but instead of becoming a professional musician, I decide instead to do something else I still can know that I have done my best and really got to know what I was capable of. I won’t have to be 40 years old, married with kids and singing my ‘shoulda, coulda woulda’s’. (Not that there is anything wrong with that…) I can know that I did my best and gave it my all and that I instead chose to do something else with my life.

We live in a time where we can do anything and everything almost immediately. I can open up GarageBand right now and create a usable workable hip hop track with some Apple Loops and headphones. I can go on YouTube and find a tutorial on how to play the latest Alicia Keys song or I can go to Netflix and immediately start streaming a movie. There are some good things to this ability to gain access to things and get your art out there. In my last post, I talked about JacksGap and how they are able to create films, upload them to YouTube and receive an immediate response and get their message out there without being dependent on big media. However, the fact that we can get things out instantaneously can also work against us. We can’t be so focused on getting stuff out that we forget to develop the skills necessary to really sustain ourselves. Talent can only get you so far. You have to be willing to work at something to really get the maximum potential.

Live Music Producer Tom Jackson put it this way (and I’m not directly quoting it here): it’s easy to go from bad to good, what’s hard is going from good to great. I think what takes you from good to great is those 10,000 hours of practice beyond our comfort zone. This discipline is what separates the struggling musicians from the Beyonces, the P!nks, the Paramores, the Rolling Stones, etc. 10,000 while it may seem like a lot, it’s only a small fraction of the totality in your life. So take even just a few minutes to do something you enjoy. If it’s reading, read for 10 minutes. If it’s writing, write for just 20 minutes a day. If it’s playing piano, play piano for 30 minutes. Even if your goal is not to become an expert, putting in that time makes it easier for you to grow and succeed even if you aren’t a professional.

As a tool to remember this idea, I think of the immortal words of former NBA player Allen Iverson. We talkin’ bout practice. We ain’t even talkin’ bout the game. We talkin’ bout practice.

And on that note,
Until next time
— The Songwriter

See Dad, I do really remember the things you tell me. =)

Peace & Harmonies

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