You may have heard about Malcom Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers - it featured a study in which the authors concluded that 10,000 hours of practice was all that it took to master the violin or the piano.

It was a compelling concept as explained by Gladwell, and led to a lot of people citing the so-called “10,000 hour rule.”

A new study throws some cold water on the idea though.

The authors of the paper[1], published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, conclude that the findings by the team were in error. They write that environment, genetics, and a slew of other factors account for violin mastery. In a nutshell, they think that the 10,000-hour rule is not based on reality.

Nature Vs. Nurture

The original paper[2] was also refuted by a 2014 study[3] led by a Michigan State University professor.

“The nature vs. nurture debate has raged since the beginning of psychology," “This makes it very clear that it’s both. Not only in the sense that both nature and nurture contribute, but that they interact with each other,"

said Zach Hambrick, MSU professor of psychology.

In this latest paper, Brooke Macnamara’s team found that practice accounted for 12 percent of the mastering of skills in various fields, from sports, music, and games to education and careers. The importance of practice in various areas was: 26 percent for games, 21 percent for music, 18 percent for sports, 4 percent for education and less than 1 percent for other professions.

Another interesting finding was that “good but not good enough” violinists actually practiced more than top violinists, with practice hours spiking prior to college admission.

Gladwell’s hypothesis, it now appears, was always flawed.

Focused, extended practice is important for expert performance development but its neither necessary (some people take to things very rapidly and don’t required extended practice) nor is it sufficient (some people stay bad no matter how much they practice). Its obvious that as a general rule, more practice = better but I don’t think it does a good job of explaining the extremes/virtuosos.


[1] Macnamara Brooke N., Maitra Megha. The role of deliberate practice in expert performance: revisiting Ericsson, Krampe & Tesch-Römer (1993) R. Soc. open sci.

[2] Ericsson, K. Anders,Krampe, Ralf T.,Tesch-Römer, Clemens. The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, Vol 100(3), Jul 1993, 363-406

[3] Hambrick, David & Tucker-Drob, Elliot. (2014). The genetics of music accomplishment: Evidence for gene–environment correlation and interaction. Psychonomic bulletin & review. 22. 10.3758/s13423-014-0671-9.

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