Episode 37 of the Bite-Size Guitar Podcast looks at the 10,000 hour rule – something you may have heard people mention when talking about practicing guitar.
This episode looks at why you should ignore the 10,000 hour rule and why practicing guitar with that rule in mind is probably the wrong approach to becoming a better guitarist.
Listen to the podcast using the below player or search for Bite-Size Guitar Podcast in any podcast app.
Ask a Question
If you have a question about this episode or any other question about learning or playing guitar, ask it here and I’ll answer it in a future episode.
Use your Android/PC/Mac (iOS doesn’t work) to record your question below and send it to me to be included in a future episode.
Tips for asking a question for the podcast:
- Introduce yourself at the start (eg: Hi, I’m Aaron from Australia …)
- Try to record in a quiet environment to avoid background noise
- You have up to 90 seconds to record, so take your time providing any details you want
If you want to send me a question in text instead of voice, you can send it here.
Check out these resources to learn more about the 10,000 hour rule and to get more out of your practice:
- The 1993 Study that inspired the 10,000 hour rule
- Article explaining why the 10,000 hour rule is a myth
- How Long to Practice Guitar
- How to Plan Your Guitar Practice Routine
- Episode 4: Mindless vs Deliberate Practice
Podcast Episode 37 Transcript
Hi, I’m Aaron from guitargearfinder.com and this is episode 37 of the Bite-Size Guitar podcast.
In this episode, I’ll talk about something that you might hear from time to time when people talk about practicing guitar.
What is the 10,000 Hour Rule
You might have heard about the 10,000 hour rule. It’s an idea that started based on research from 1993 on violin students and popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers.
The basic idea is that when researchers looked at violin students, they found that the best players were the ones who practiced the most. No surprise there. It makes sense that those who spend more time practicing will eventually become the better players.
Malcolm Gladwell called this the 10,000 hour rule in his book and he talks about hitting this number of hours as practice as a magic event.
Since then, a lot of guitarists, musicians, and professionals in other fields have taken this 10,000 hours rule as a goal to work towards. To become an expert guitarist, you need to hit 10,000 hours.
But when you look at the study – which I did and I’ve left a link to it on the page for this episode if you want to read something that will put you to sleep – when you look at the study, there’s nothing special or magic that happens at 10,000 hours of practice. That just happens to be the hours of practice reached by many of the best violin students when they were 20 years old. Not all of them hit 10,000 hours at that age. Many hit that number earlier and many hit it later.
When you compare this against the students who were considered good, but not great players, at age 20 the good students had practiced for around 8,000 hours. In other words, what separated the good players from the best players was an extra 2,000 hours worth of practice.
So does that mean if those good students practiced for an extra 2,000 hours, those extra hours will automatically turn them into elite players?
This is where the 10,000 hour rule starts to fall apart. If those good students kept practicing, eventually they will hit 10,000 hours’ worth of practice. I’d imagine many of them did hit 10,000 hours by the time they were 21 or 22.
But they won’t magically become elite players just because they hit 10,000 hours.
There have been quite a few studies in recent years that have debunked the idea of the 10,000 hour rule. In one study, I read that most of the elite performers had practiced for less total hours compared to the good performers.
The basic conclusion I read over and over is that yes, practice matters, but there are a lot of other factors that explain the difference in skill levels.
Quality vs Quantity
This is good news for us guitar players. There have been a lot of people over the years thrown off course by thinking that they need to work their way to this magic 10,000 hours number.
If you’re a beginner, 10,000 hours is a long way away. If you practice an hour a day, every day, it’ll take you 27 to hit 10,000 hours. Or 13 and a half years if you practice two hours a day, every day without fail.
That’s a discouraging thought if you’re only on your first 100 hours worth of practice.
The big point I’d like you to keep in mind from now on is that focusing on the number of hours you practice is the wrong way to think about it.
If you want to become a great guitarist, don’t think to yourself, “oh, I need to practice 4 hours a day”.
If you start thinking like that, you’ll be more likely to burn yourself out, get bored with guitar, or you may waste a lot of time with low quality practice.
If you think you need to practice 4 hours per day, you’re more likely to fill those four hours with practice that may not make a difference to your skills. You may be far better off only practicing one hour per day and just enjoying playing guitar instead of thinking that you must build up the hours like a robot.
It’s not the number of hours you put in that matter, it’s what you do with the time you spend practicing.
In other words, focus on the quality of your practice instead of quantity. Now, this was covered in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, but it’s usually overlooked when people talk about this rule.
The reason I often recommend beginners to focus on getting 15 minutes of good quality practice in every day is because it can do far more for their progress than trying to slog through an hour or more of practice.
15 minutes or 30 minutes of highly focused practice can do wonders for your guitar playing. You don’t need to burn yourself out practicing.
I talk about this in detail in episode 4 on mindless vs deliberate practice. Have listen to it or listen to it again for a refresher on how to think about the time you spend practicing.
You Don’t Need to be ‘Elite’
The last thing I’ll say about the 10,000 hours rule is that it focuses on the wrong goal.
Not everyone wants to become elite-level guitarists and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, as most people get better at guitar, they eventually hit a point where they’re happy with their skill level and the urge to keep pushing forward disappears.
Some people hit that point once they can strum a few chords to accompany their singing, others hit that point when they can play all of their favorite songs. Even if you started off wanting to become an elite-level guitarist, very few people keep the feeling. Eventually, you may realize that you don’t need to be an elite-level guitarist to enjoy playing guitar. That’s what I mean when I say the 10,000 hour rule focuses on the wrong goal.
If you think about the type of music you want to play, do you need to train yourself to become a virtuoso just to be able to enjoy playing that music? Even if the music is technically challenging, you probably don’t need to reach for elite-level and you certainly don’t need to aim for 10,000 hours of practice just to play that music.
Even if you do want to become an elite-level guitarist, don’t burn yourself out by thinking you need to rack up the hours. Focus on making the most of your practice time and enjoy playing your guitar. Nobody wins any awards for clocking in the most hours spent practicing.
Check out the links to a few studies as well as some guides on getting more out of your practice sessions at guitargearfinder.com/podcast/episode-37
You’re going to hear about the 10,000 hour rule every now and again as well as other guitarists bragging about how many hours they spend practicing per day. Keep this episode in mind and remember that the number of hours don’t matter as much as what you do with the time you spend with your guitar.
I want to say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to leave me a review on your podcast apps. Special shoutout to ExSmokerAndHappy, who left a great review on iTunes. I’m glad you’re getting a lot out of the podcast and finding the website helpful – thank you for your kind words. If anybody listening to this hasn’t checked out my website yet, check it out because it has a lot of in-depth guides, lessons, and resources covering topics in far more detail than this podcast.
Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you next time.