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"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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May 21, 2009 | 10,000 hours? Discipline... in moderation.

Best selling author Malcolm Gladwell author of "The Tipping Point" and "Blink," released a new book last year, "Outliers: The Story of Success." Gladwell has some fascinating theories on what it takes to become an "Outlier" the high achiever, the best, the brightest, and the most successful of people. One of them is his take on the 10,000 hours phenomenon which is especially relevant to the topic of prodigies.

He explains that in the early 1990's psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues conducted an experiment at Berlin's "Academy of Music," where the school's violinists were divided into three groups:
1.) Stars
2.) Good performers
3.) Those who were unlikely to ever play professionally and would probably become music teachers.

These were all asked the question: "Over the course of the years, ever since you picked up a violin, how many hours have you practiced."

"All of the violinists had started playing at around age five, and they all played about two or three hours a week during the first few years. However, around the age of eight, an important difference began to emerge in the amount of hours they each practiced. By age 20, the stars in the group had all totaled 10,000 hours of practice over the course of their lives; the "good" students had totaled 8,000 hours; and the future music teachers just over 4,000 hours.

What the research suggested was that once you have enough talent to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. In addition, other studies have also shown that excellence at a complex task requires a minimum level of practice, and experts have settled on 10,000 hours as the magic number for true expertise. This is true even of people we think of as prodigies, such as Mozart."

Neurologist Daniel Levitin reports, "In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years... 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."

So where does that leave you? Don't have 10 years to practice three hours a day? Most of us in the bifocal crowd certainly don't have, unless independently wealthy. We just have to accept the fact that we aren't likely to become the next Chris Thile or Mike Marshall. That doesn't mean we can't have fun or even get better, but we need to be realistic in our outcome.

We may never be a Tiger Woods, but we can still enjoy golf. A little discipline in moderation can make us better through practice and coaching. We'll probably enjoy ourselves playing the sport as we work to get more efficient and effective. We can't however, afford to be frustrated with unrealistic goals. Balance finger-building exercises with literature, jamming, and listening, and our mandolinning will get reasonably better.

Practice scales musically. Adding some dynamics to the most remedial patterns can make them aesthetically more pleasing. After all, if you can't play scales musically, it's not likely you can play music musically! You likely don't have the time for three ours a day the next ten years; maybe even 30 minutes is a struggle. Still, make the most of practice time and enjoy yourself along the way.

Gladwell has some other interesting observations about achievers. It's a good read; if you're a regular reader here at JazzMando, you're probably the type that would enjoy this book.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Why Play?
Practice Regime; A Balanced Diet
The Joy of Mandolinning
Are you improving?
January Fitness

Posted by Ted at May 21, 2009 7:55 AM

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