October 19, 2010

Piano Man

“I’ve figured it out,” Shaggy Hair Boy said to me one day in the car. “If I practice three hours each day, I can be an expert by the time I’m 26.”

He’d been talking to his sister, who told him that the idea of people having “talent” at creative pursuits is largely a myth. Mostly, people acquire talent through the number of hours they practice. More than 10,000 hours of practicing anything will usually make someone an expert.

Shaggy Hair already spends a great deal of time on the piano. He plays it several times every day. In addition to the lesson he takes every week with the wonderful woman who teaches us classical music, he’s got a jazz piano teacher from the local studio, a jazz piano teacher at Snowstorm University, and another musician who teaches his Improv class. He meets with his grandfather to play twice a month too.

But now, every night after my husband, With-a-Why, and I go to bed, Shaggy Hair Boy sits down at the piano and plays for hours. He plays classical music, he plays jazz. He plays some popular tunes and some old standards. From our upstairs bedroom, my husband and I can hear the music floating up the stairs. It’s relaxing to lie in bed and listen to the lovely rhythms.

Last night I fell asleep to the sounds of the “Piano Man” and I woke up with the words in my head: “Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody, and you’ve got us feelin’ all right.”


Lorianne said...

It sounds like your daughter has been reading Malcolm Gladwell!

I'm sure there are some folks who are born prodigies, but even innate talent needs the polish of practice. I'm glad to hear Shaggy Hair Boy is so determined to excel as a pianist. Be grateful he's not a drummer! :-)

Lomagirl said...

I read this 10,000 hours recently, too. (It was probably in an ESOL related book).
It's nice he plays music you can enjoy.
I need to persuade my 7 year old of this- at least a slightly longer practice time every day would be good.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Love it.

Acc. to the 10,000 hours theory, I should be an expert typist.

Phil said...

Isn't it thrilling when your kids start to live an unscripted life, and live it well?

Anonymous said...

I know it isn't the point of the story, but reading such a strong (by which I mean too strong) version of the 10,000 hour claim bothered me. It's certainly not true that the idea of people having talent at creative pursuits is a myth: Consider the examples of prodigies (such as Mozart) who exhibit remarkable talent at an early age. And while such people are exceptional, less extreme examples are not that rare. Some people are undoubtedly more talented at a specific pursuit than others.

That said, both of the following statements are true: (1) It is hard to become an expert without extensive practice and (2) In most fields, 10,000 hours of practice will make you significantly better than even talented people who haven't worked hard at it. And it's certainly true that what we commonly think of as talent is often the result of unseen hours of practice.

Anyway, I'm sorry to be curmudgeonly, but though I believe in the value of hard work, I think we lose something when we deny the existence of (or minimize the importance of) natural talent. I'm sure that's not what Smart Beautiful Wonderful Daughter and Shaggy Hair Boy had in mind, but it bothered me a little. Perhaps it's better than denying the importance of hard work, though. :-)

kathy a. said...

oh, i did not read this as any way denying that some have more talents than others. it would be rare, i think, for someone without both talent and a love of the craft to put in the kind of work to hone skills to his/her own perfection.

kathy a. said...

or in other words, a few months on a reality show does not equal talent or achievement. but a lifetime of playing and practicing -- you may not know the name of that person, but if you heard him or her, light would shine through the work.

Anonymous said...

Kathy, I'm pretty sure that jo(e) -- and her children -- didn't mean that there's no such thing as talent. And as I acknowledged in my previous comment, I agree with the point that what we perceive as talent typically comes from much hard work. (Your description was beautiful: A light really does shine though work after a lifetime of dedicated playing and practicing.)

It's just the one sentence that bothered me, with the scare quotes around 'talent', and the idea that people having talent is largely a myth. The word 'largely' is doing a lot of work in that sentence. :-)

Beautiful Smart Wonderful (and Tired) Daughter said...

Well in the specific case of Mozart, Gladwell argues: (1) He practiced at least three hours a day from the age of three onward, accruing roughly 3,500 hours before the age of six. (2) Most of what he played at a young age included arrangements of works by other composers (i.e. mimicry, but not creation). and (3) His father, who was also a skilled musician, was controlling, handwrote some of Mozart's compositions, and likely did some lying along the way. (Turns out highly-involved parents & teachers play a role in many cases of child prodigies...Shocker.)

Just one theory from a psych of creativity & the arts course I took a few years ago. Not my area of expertise, but has been fairly well-received within the field and supported by much subsequent research. (Much of this research to date has found innate differences only play a significant role when it comes to body height and size, so primarily in sports.) I'd check out some of K. Anders Ericsson's work if you're interested, including his 1993 study on violinists and the role of deliberate practice.

Anonymous said...

I've read the Ericsson, Krampe, Tesch-Romer paper (The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance), and though I'm not an expert, I think it's very good work. I think what they show, though, is not that talent does not exist, but that much of the variation even among expert performers is explained by differences in high-quality, focused practice. However, there's a difference between the necessity of practice to achieve expert performance, and its sufficiency; I believe they demonstrate the former, and not the latter.

On the other hand, given that it's widely believed that innate talent accounts for expert performance (which seems to be untrue), perhaps I'm just quibbling and it's not unfair to say that talent is largely a myth. At the least, what people seem to think we know about talent is not correct. (My memory is hazy, but I think Ericsson et al. have an interesting line in their paper about how the modal belief in the population regarding talent reflects a 19th-century view of inherited and innate ability.)

In any case, I apologize for hijacking this thread. I'll stop, and instead congratulate Shaggy Hair Boy on his dedication and hope to hear him in concert before he turns 26.

holly said...

This post made me smile. It reads perfectly. I want to buy a book full of single page stories like this and read one each night before bed.

jo(e) said...

Holly: I love that you said that -- since that's pretty much the book I'm writing.

Anonymous said...

I love the comments almost more than the post tonight. What a treat to hear from beautiful, smart, wonderful, (and tired) daughter! This is what blogging is all about. The 10,000 hours theory has been going round and round in my circles too!