Music Teacher's Helper Blog

An Interesting Statistic and Unrealistic Goals

A student of mine told me that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing a new skill to become a master over it. It’s students that understand this that are aware of the importance of practice, whereas the occassional student expects their teacher to make them good players without much effort on their part.

To put this statistic in perspective, if you were to practice an hour a day, it would take approximately 27 years to classify yourself as a master of that skill. Considering the fact that most students start out practicing maybe 20-30 minutes a day, this statistic is very daunting. Of course, not everyone wishes to master their instrument at that level, but it does highlight the fact that new physical and technical skills become ingrained over time, and so practice and patience is needed to nuture growth.

Every student has different goals and expectations of themselves, but it is our job as teachers to keep that in perspective. If a student who is brand new to music and the piano expects to start with Fur Elise, then you know they are setting themselves up for failure. At the same time, if a student is aiming to sit an exam this year but only wants to do one hour practice a week, that goal will most likely not be met.

Everyone learns at different rates, has different agendas for wanting to paly an instrument (especially adults) and has different goals and expectations of not only themselves, but also their teacher. I help my students to set goals for different time frames, and also go through what they need to do in order to achieve those goals:

Micro Goals – keep practice on target by knowing what you want to achieve before you sit down to play – this could include learning a new line or section of music, recording and polishing a certain piece, technique ro sight reading. This gives students a sense of achievement through day-to-day practice, rather than distractedly fumbling through their repertoire. By focussing on one thing at a time, concentration is honed in on managable chunks. This discipline sparks motivation and fosters longer and more fulfilling practice. Achieving micro goals means that every day they are doing something towards achieving their longer goals.

Medium Goals – working towards an exam or performance, or wanting a certain piece of music polished. It is important to talk time-frames, amount of practice required, what these goals mean to them, and how achieving these goals will help achieve the next level of goals. By talking about the whys and hows, the students feel committed to their choices, and have an action plan to making them possible. Also, including them in choices gives them ownership and accountability.

Long-Term Goals – If you know your student just wants to be able to play a few nice songs and enjoy music for themselves, you know expectations are somewhat lower than an aspiring concert pianist. Knowing this key information as a teacher is extremely important, as otherwise one or both of you end up disappointed or disheartened. At the same time, if a student’s goals do not match their amount of committment, we can address this sooner rather than later and come up with a workable compromise to help them reassess their goals.

At the same time, it is important that we as teachers know our goals, and work towards achieving them. Part of this is as someone wrote in a previous blog – you have to market towards the types of students you wish to attract. Marketing at schools will not help me become a successful adult educator, for example, and would mean that my goals are not being realised. It is also important to not place our expectations onto our students if they are not on the same path. Though I am a classically trained pianist, I do teach popular music to those who prefer this genre of music. One of my goals is flexibility for my students. If I expected every adult that came to me to be passionate about classical music, I would be very disappointed.

It is good for students to fully understand what is involved to learn a new physical skill such as learning the piano, or another instrument – especially more mature students. It would be exceptionally unrealistic as a teacher to expect all our students to aspire to 10,000 hours of practice over the next few years, but it does keep things in perspective for those expecting overnight results. By working together and understanding a student’s long-term goals, we can help set the micro and medium goals towards their vision.

About the Author

Brandon Pearce
Brandon Pearce is the founder and CEO of Music Teacher's Helper, a web-based software program to help music teachers manage the business aspects of teaching music lessons.

A piano teacher and computer programmer himself, he created Music Teacher's Helper as a side project to manage his own students, and in 2004, made it available for music teachers worldwide.

Since then, it has grown to supp... [Read more]

2 Comments

  1. Jon Dittert

    My music store hosted a clinic with legendary drummer Steve Smith (Journey, Vital Information, Jazz Legacy), and we got to talking about this 10,000 hour statistic. He agreed, but said 10,000 is a bare minimum for mastery… almost the minimum for what you need to break into to tier 1 professional work. He thought he probably hit his first 10,000 hours by the time he graduated college, and has put in several more 10,000 hours since then. If that’s not daunting, I don’t know what is.

  2. Klaus Georg

    I think another key distinction is the difference between “deliberate practice” “playing for fun” “professional rehearsal” and “professional performance”.
    Each have a different effect on the development of your expertise. Studies seem to show that the key is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, which is even more daunting. Honestly assessing what percentage of the time we spend with our instrument is actual, concentrated, deliberate practice is key.

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