Success = How Many Hours?

Fox’s Fireside article for adult learners

 

What Does It Take to Master Your Craft?

Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours. — Leopold Auer

Mastering music is more than learning technical skills. Practicing is about quality, not quantity. Some days I practice for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes. Practicing is not only playing your instrument, either by yourself or rehearsing with others — it also includes imagining yourself practicing. Your brain forms the same neural connections and muscle memory whether you are imagining the task or actually doing it. — Yo-Yo Ma

If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it. — Louis Armstrong

It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied. — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

 

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How much practice is enough? 2 hours? 4 hours? More or less? What constitutes too much practicing?

To grasp this essential question, a tug-a-war of time vs. attentiveness, Noa Kageyama quotes Arthur Rubinstein, Leopold Auer, Jascha Heifetz, Donald Weilerstein and others in his article “How Many Hours a Day Should I Practice?” He centers around the basic premise that deliberate practice is more efficient, engaging, and builds self-confidence.

When it comes to understanding expertise and expert performance, psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson is perhaps the world’s leading authority. His research is the basis for the “ten-year rule” and “10,000-hour rule” which suggest that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in any given domain — and in the case of musicians, often closer to 25 years in order to attain an elite international level. Note that the real key here is not the amount of practice required (as the exact number of hours is debatable) but the type of practice required to attain an expert level of performance. In other words, just practicing any old way doesn’t cut it.Kageyama

recycle-1000785_1920_johnhainThe famous “10,000 Hour Rule” was described in the book Outliers: The Story of Success written by Malcolm Gladwell, Based on studies in elite performance, Gladwell contended that it’s “an extraordinarily consistent answer in an incredible number of fields… you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.”

Gladwell’s message — “people aren’t born geniuses, they get there through effort” — was seized upon by popular culture.

There is a lot of confusion about the 10,000 rule that I talk about in Outliers. It doesn’t apply to sports. And practice isn’t a SUFFICIENT condition for success. I could play chess for 100 years and I’ll never be a grand-master. The point is simply that natural ability requires a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest. Unfortunately, sometimes complex ideas get oversimplified in translation.Gladwell

View his explanation on YouTube about his “metaphor for the extent of commitment that’s necessary for cognitive-complex fields” (how long mastery takes) here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uB5PUpGzeY.

nikola_tesla_napoleon-sarony-public-domain-via-wikimedia-commonsThe 10,000 hour rule was also cited in a book by Sean Patrick: Nikola Tesla – Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century:

The rule’s premise is that, regardless of whether one has an innate aptitude for an activity or not, mastery of it takes around ten thousand hours of focused, intentional practice. Analyzing the lives of geniuses in a wide range of intellectual, artistic, and athletic pursuits confirms this concept. From Mozart to Bobby Fischer to Bill Gates to the Beatles, their diverse journeys from nothing toward excellence in their respective fields shared a common denominator: the accumulation of ten thousand hours of unwavering “exercise” of their crafts. — Patrick

 

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To be fair, many have taken exception to the 10,000 hour rule, in articles like “The Great Practice Myth: Debunking the 10,000 Hour Rule” by Michael Miller.

According to Ryan Branstetter in his November 2019 “The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Habits of Mind,” creating or reforming “patterns of thinking” and habits may instead take anywhere from 21 days to a year:

Have you ever heard someone tell you that it takes 21 days to form (or break) a habit? Well, scientific studies have found that to be unfounded. When it comes to something easy, such as grabbing a coffee at your local Starbucks on your way to school, it might take only a few days for a habit to form. But if it is a habit that is challenging, studies have shown that the 21-day myth may actually more like 66 days. Or for very challenging habits, it could take up to a year!Branstetter

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How about translating this prescription of 1-10 years to a weekly figure of five hours? With reading being the major focus for any stellar success in a profession, review the blog-post by Michael Simmons in Accelerated Intelligence: “Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Oprah All Use the 5-Hour Rule”

If 10,000 hours isn’t an absolute rule that applies across fields, what does it really take to become world class in the world of work?

…I’ve explored the personal history of many widely-admired business leaders like Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg in order to understand how they apply the principles of deliberate practice.

…Many of these leaders, despite being extremely busy, set aside at least an hour a day (or five hours a week) over their entire career for activities that could be classified as deliberate practice or learning. Simmons

piano-286036_1920_crystalleHere are the “three buckets” (principles) of Simmon’s 5-hour rule:

  1. Read
  2. Reflect
  3. Experiment

Specific to number one above, apparently billionaire entrepreneurs like to read a lot, quantities of time, frequency, and number of sources (quoted in the article):

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By the way, how many books do YOU read a month? What publications do you have sitting on the coffee table or bed stand awaiting to be started/finished? A quick glance at my own collection of recent nonfiction acquisitions includes these titles:

  • Fewer Things Better – The Courage to Focus on What Matters Most by Angela Watson (Due Season Press and Educational Services, 2019)
  • UnSelfie – Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borna (Touchstone, 2016)
  • The 100-Year Life – Living and Working in an Age of Longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott (Bloomsbury, 2016)
  • The Microbiome Solution – A Radical New Way to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out by Robyn Chutkan (Penguin Random House, 2015)
  • The Weekend Effect – The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork by Katrina Onstad (Harper Collins Publishers, 2017)

(You see, I do not exclusively survey the current best-sellers or today’s fads/trends… ideas, insights, and innovations can come from anywhere and any time frame. Now that I am retired, I can “catch-up!”)

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Back to musical preparation. You may have heard that saying “practice makes perfect,” generally debunked in several of my “Fox’s Firesides” for music students. I revise this concept to “perfect practice makes perfect performance” promoting “the ten times rule” in applying focus, problem solving, and repetitive drill. Check these out:

Finally, citing the initial reference in this blog-post by Noa Kageyama, here are five tips for deliberate practice by which we should all abide:

  1. Keep practicing limited to a duration that allows you to stay focused.
  2. Utilize times during the day when you tend to have the most energy.
  3. Write down and keep track of your performance goals and what you discover during your practice sessions.
  4. Work smarter, not harder.
  5. Apply various techniques of problem-solving to practicing.

He also recommends this 6-step general “problem-solving model” as adapted from various problem solving processes online:

  1. problem solving chart
    asq.org

    Define the problem (what do I want this note/phrase to sound like?)

  2. Analyze the problem (what is causing it to sound like this?)
  3. Identify potential solutions (what can I tweak to make it sound more like I want?)
  4. Test the potential solutions to select the most effective one (what tweaks seem to work best?)
  5. Implement the best solution (make these changes permanent)
  6. Monitor implementation (do these changes continue to produce the results I’m looking for?)

More ideas can be researched by reading The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle or The Practice of Practice by Andrew Mason, or visit these links for further study:

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The bottom line? Working “brainlessly” does not promote significant improvement. However, use of sufficient repetition, exploration, problem solving, and mindful and deliberate practice will stimulate your success in the pursuit of anything worthwhile… especially the self-realization of creative self-expression.

PKF

 

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com:

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© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter

How You Act During Public Performances Is a Reflection on Who You Are

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Almost 30 years ago, an article I wrote for the Upper St. Clair High School Choral Boosters was a lighthearted attempt to address a growing need in public performances – one of improving our audiences’ listening habits and knowledge of musical “traditions,” as well as raising their overall consciousness and sensitivity. Although it now seems a little “retro” and “dated” (texting was not invented yet and tabloids were the fiction of Star Trek and other Sci-Fi programs), it “hits the nail squarely on the head,” identifying the ongoing problem of inappropriate audience etiquette for student, amateur, and professional music, dance, and drama productions.

 

“Uninvited Guests at Performances” (1990)

The painter begins his/her creation on a clean white canvas, void of any dirt, smudges, or imperfections, so that the final art form is pure and readily convey to the viewer. In much the same way, a musician or singer relies on “a clean slate” – that is, a quiet and attentive audience in the concert hall without any stray noises or interruptions that will distract from his/her extremely delicate art form of live music. However, unlike the painter (or unless the concert is recorded and distributed at a later date), music represents only a temporary art… the effects lasting only a moment, and then forever lost until the next time the work is performed. That is why a tradition of concert customs have evolved to “set the stage” for clear communication of that really wonderful expression of music.

However, we have noticed in school and professional performances in our area, several new trends have been born from our fast-paced life styles, overworked schedules, television viewing, and Walkman listening habits. Several uninvited guests have been seen at concerts, unintentionally making life miserable for performers and audience members alike. Do you recognize these “characters?”

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First of all, there is Gertrude the Gossip and Theresa Talker who spend the entire performance discussing local events or their personal lives. They usually sit in the center section, first row, in order to have the greatest disruptive effect, even though they would be the first to suggest that you were rude for listening in on their conversation. A close relative, Prentice Postmortem, likes to give a “play-by-play” account of the relative success of the concert, with comments like, “Did you hear that wrong note?” and “I wonder why he was chosen for the solo part?”

Then we have several distinguished visitors from the Planet Hypertension, including the “frequent flyers” Leroy the Seat Leaper and Hortence Half-a-Concert and a host of others. Everyone has witnessed spectacular events created by these adults, who have developed the most advanced technique of choosing only the softest or most sensitive moment in the music to jump up and change seats, run down the aisle towards the bathroom or parking lot, or go get something to eat. Somehow, they feel they are being helpful or considerate of the musicians or actors on the stage when they stand up to leave before or during a particular song, often right after their son/daughter performs. Of course, some music directors themselves are contributing to the situation, selling 12-ounce cans of pop and sugar candy at intermission, which are known elements of improving (?) the biochemistry and behavior of young children staying up past their bedtime.

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To add a touch of “color” from a very large pallet of noises, several other guests in the audience feel it is necessary to “perform” along with the singers and instrumentalists. If you sit near the recording or PA microphones or cable TV cameras, you will usually find the boisterous Cyril Cellophane unwrapping candy specially designed to “rattle” everyone’s nerves, along with his friends Velda Velcro and Hildegarde Hum-along, not to mention Winslow WatchBeeper. One of the finest (?) musical moments ever experienced at Upper St. Clair High School was the cacophony of buzzers, chimes, Looney-Tunes™ alarms, and chirps during the slow movements of Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio in the 1987 USCHS Holiday Choral Festival. Performers and conductors have always appreciated the opportunity of setting the exact hour of an ongoing concert using the hourly signals of digital watches in the audience.

And don’t forget those long-time veterans Clem the Clapper, Shouting Sherwood, and Wardella Whistler, who store up their applause for inappropriate moments like between movements, or after the Hallelujah Chorus or Star-Spangled Banner, but leave early so that they missed the curtain calls.

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All sarcasm and joking aside, performers do appreciate the faithful support of the community. Without the public, lavish Broadway musical productions and extensive choral and instrumental concerts could not be featured. Our talented and hard-working students/musicians/singers/dancers/actors need and deserve large audiences in order to exhibit their craft. The “final exam” of every music ensemble and theater company is the public performance. And, nothing is more demoralizing then spending three months in rehearsal and then performing for only a handful of parents and well-wishers!

However, occasionally it is our job as music lovers to remind everyone the need for concert customs which just add up to good manners. With the bad habits of MTV™ and Muzak™ that music education researchers say may have bred insensitivity and inattentiveness in the indiscriminate consumption of music, we have to focus on providing that “clean slate” – a calm, orderly, and quiet atmosphere of an alert, well-informed audience!

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Yes, “manners matter!” I can still hear my mother scold us, “Don’t be rude. Do you think you were you raised in a barn?”

On the subject of “audience do’s and don’ts,” we will leave the “last word” to http://www.fanfaire.com/rules.html. The following are considered their updated and succinct “Golden Rules” of Audience Etiquette:

  1. Go easy with the atomizer; many people are highly allergic to perfume and cologne.
  2. If you bring a child, make sure etiquette is part of the experience. Children love learning new things.
  3. Unwrap all candies and cough-drops before the curtain goes up or the concert begins.
  4. Make sure beepers, cellphones, and watch alarms are OFF. And don’t jangle the bangles.
  5. The overture is part of the performance. Please cease talking at this point.
  6. Note to lovebirds: When you lean your heads together, you block the view of the person behind you. Leaning forward also blocks the view.
  7. THOU SHALT NOT TALK, or hum, or sing along, or beat time with a body part.
  8. Force yourself to wait for a pause or intermission before rifling through a purse, backpack, or shopping bag.
  9. Yes, the parking lot gets busy and public transportation is tricky. But, leaving while the show is in progress is discourteous.
  10. The old standby: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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Here are several things to add to their guidelines – NO TEXTING, not even turning on your smartphone or iPad for a moment to look at the time or your messages. The light from the screen is very distracting to everyone in the auditorium and the performers on the stage! In addition, flash photography is generally prohibited, and may even be dangerous to the performers (can cause accidents!). Finally, any audio/video recording of the event may be an infringement of copyright law. (Don’t do it!)

In conclusion (from fanfare.com): “Remember, part of one’s pact as an audience member is to take seriously the pleasure of others, a responsibility fulfilled by quietly attentive (or silently inattentive) and self-contained behavior. After all, you can be as demonstrative as you want during bows and curtain calls.”

Here are more links to explore for teachers, practitioners, and supporters of music:

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The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of “Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter.”

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

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© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “fireplace” by joseclaudioguima, “angry” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, “lolly” by yossigee, “grandstand” by cocoparisienne, and “smartphone” by SplitShire.