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Violin practice is so over-rated

If you've been trying to notch up 10,000 hours of practice in the hope of being deemed talented, spurred on by Malcolm Gladwell's rule formluated in his book Outliers, then wait up a moment.

According to new research reported on today in the New York Times, 'practice time explains about 20 percent to 25 percent of the difference in performance in music, sports and games like chess'.

This doesn't surprise me. As ever, there's so much more context required in understanding talent and musical success. How do you explain prodigies such as Menuhin who virtually come out of the womb playing like an angel? Or players like Kreisler, who hardly practised and spent years not even playing the violin?

Having recently come back from two weeks at Burton Kaplan's Magic Mountain Music Farm Practice Retreat, where I learnt some profoundly effective practice techniques, I can also attest that it's quality of practice time that counts, rather than quantity - it's better to really focus and know what you want to achieve than just foozling around for hours. Kaplan also emphasised that other activities such as listening to music, reading relevant books, watching conductors, planning and imaging all counts towards improving as a player, so the idea of any sort of metric becomes complicated.

Of course there's something to be said for consistency and the discipline of shutting yourself in a room for regular periods of time, but there's so much more to being a musician than having a big round number to aspire to.

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