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#936114 - 12/12/08 09:08 AM Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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5 Icon 1 posted December 12, 2008 09:42 AM Profile for MAK Author's Homepage Send New Private Message Edit/Delete Post Reply With Quote I have a question for experienced players and teachers: What should an adult beginner, possessed of no particular musical talent, expect to achieve in piano when piano is first taken up in mid-life? In other words, a adult in his late 40's wants to learn piano, and will start from scratch. How much should he expect to achieve in a few years? Keep in mind this person is a very busy professional with an active family and social life and great demands on time. What level of playing and satisfaction should one one realistically expect in a few years?


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#936115 - 12/12/08 09:26 AM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Are you working with a teacher, Michael? That might make a difference.

#936116 - 12/12/08 09:57 AM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Yes, I have a teacher. A graduate from a conservatory in Russia.


Michael

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#936117 - 12/12/08 10:12 AM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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That's really tough to answer, simply because there is a factor of talent involved. This is not like a college class where at the end of the semester you have learned such-and-such. Both the level of playing and satisfaction depend greatly on your drive, what your particular goals are, and how much time you can devote to achieving those goals. Also, as keystring said, a teacher will make a big difference as well. Having regular lessons in the beginning is extremely helpful.

I have had several students who have learned "from scratch" as an adult. All other things being equal, there is a direct correlation between time spent practicing regularly and progress. Slow and steady wins the race. One cannot cram piano. It is better to practice for 20 minutes every day than to do 2 hours in one.

Please take this with a grain of salt, because I have no idea how quickly you learn: if you practiced regularly (minimum 5 days a week on average), I would say after the first year you would be in middle to late elementary. After 2 years, possibly middle intermediate.

Perhaps the better question to ask yourself is, how far do you want to go, and how badly do you want it? You mention that you are a "very busy professional with an active family and social life and great demands on time." Where would piano fit into all of this? Of course, I think that family should be top priority in anyone's life, and working is a part of that so you can feed your family. But would piano be below or above your social life? If it is below, then I would not expect that you would last for a year. You would most likely start off strong and then taper off, having not achieved more than early beginner material. However, if you treat piano like another important thing in your life where your daily practice time is scheduled and you keep that time, then you can expect results similar to what I stated above. Often when people are dissatisfied with their progress in piano, it lies in the fact that they don't work at it much.


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#936118 - 12/12/08 11:27 AM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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OK, that makes sense, and here is a corollary question. Let us presume that an adult beginning from scratch reaches the intermediate level. As the level of difficulty goes up, does this require a greater amount of concentration in order to achieve a satisfactory result?

As a simple example, the adult can learn to play Mary Had a Little Lamb in one day, and, a few months later, EZ Piano Classic pieces after one week of practice. The player is advancing slowly and steadily. Does this slow and steady rate become much slower once the player advances into the classic repertoire, say a Beethoven sonata, for example. Will the same player, who has advanced slowly and steadily to an advanced level now have to work much harder to accomplish mastery of "real" piano music? Or is it slow and steady throughout the entire range of study, from beginning through advanced repertoire?


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#936119 - 12/12/08 11:36 AM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Harder, yes, because the content is so much more intricate. Also, longer. To play at an advanced level, you're looking at at least 2 hours of practice daily, and that is assuming that practice habits are efficient and productive. In fact, as the music gets harder, one can assume that "slower and steadier" is the rule. It will take longer to learn a given piece, and it will take longer to progress, but boy is the journey fun! The music is so much more intricate, which means challenging, but also interesting. That means the reward for all the hard work is that much more worthwhile.


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#936120 - 12/12/08 12:15 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Mid-forties is still a spring chicken,
relatively speaking, in piano. You should be
able to eventually play everything you
want to play.

However, I would suggest you get a weighted-
key digital piano. We are living in
the digital piano age, and there is simply
no excuse for a person to avoid digitals
when they are most effective tool for
good playing. They let you play anytime
and anywhere and not disturb anyone,
and therefore produce better technique
and playing. This is especially critical
for someone with limited practice time.

It is important that you start to observe
the most important thing about playing:
not looking at your hands as much as
possible when playing with sheet music.
(Most teachers will not emphasize this.)
This allows you to concentrate fully
on reading the score, and by doing this
your hands can find the best fingering
and technique on their own with no
special effort on your part, greatly
simplifying playing, since you no longer
have to read fingering numbers or worry
about if your technique is okay.

From this one most important aspect of
playing all other skills and requirements
for playing develop naturally with
no special effort on your part: sight-reading,
fingering and technique, ear training,
memorization, posture and carriage,
the right physical development for
playing, improvisation, transposition,
playing by ear, etc. Thus, by doing
this one thing you kill multiple birds
with one stone.

When I say you can play anything you
aspire to play, that comes with some
qualification. If you aspire
to play something big, like
one of the big Romantic Era concertos, then
you need to start on your favorite movement
of it right now, or you will never be
able to play it. The reason for this
is that an average player will not be
able to progress to the conservatory
level--where he could work up a concerto
routinely in a few months--in his
lifetime, even if he starts
playing at age five--there is simply
not the talent for this. Thus, a
player of average talent is going to
take a long time to work up something
big, like a big-time concerto movement,
and by a long time I mean years. So
you've got to start on the big stuff
right now, because the only way you're
ever going to play it is by working it
up slowly--one measure a day initially
is about right pace--over a long time.

I know this can be done, because I've
worked up a big concerto movement,
the Chopin op. 14, like this. When I
first started on it, I had to literally
go at it note by note, slower than
andante, at the rate of one measure
per day initially. Today after years
of dogged, repetitive effort I can
play it. This what I aspired to play
more than anything else, and this is
the only way that a hopeless amateur
like myself could play it, because I
could never progress to the conservatory
level in a lifetime.

#936121 - 12/12/08 12:27 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Gyro, no one in their right mind would trade a Bosendorfer for a digital piano unless it was dropped from a 3rd story or something.


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#936122 - 12/12/08 12:53 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Hey, being dropped from the third floor as a child is a reason someone might not be in their right mind.

Of course, there's also failure to take one's meds ... and that pesky full-moon thing.

Steven

#936123 - 12/12/08 01:07 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Quote
Originally posted by MAK:
OK, that makes sense, and here is a corollary question. Let us presume that an adult beginning from scratch reaches the intermediate level. As the level of difficulty goes up, does this require a greater amount of concentration in order to achieve a satisfactory result?

As a simple example, the adult can learn to play Mary Had a Little Lamb in one day, and, a few months later, EZ Piano Classic pieces after one week of practice. The player is advancing slowly and steadily. Does this slow and steady rate become much slower once the player advances into the classic repertoire, say a Beethoven sonata, for example. Will the same player, who has advanced slowly and steadily to an advanced level now have to work much harder to accomplish mastery of "real" piano music? Or is it slow and steady throughout the entire range of study, from beginning through advanced repertoire?
It's not linear as you get into more difficult repertoire. Progress in the beginning can seem quite rapid because one is starting from scratch but will slow and require more concentrated effort and time as you reach intermediate and (even more so) advanced repertoire.

#936124 - 12/12/08 01:09 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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How far you go and what you get out of it will be in direct relationship to how much you put into it.

For busy professionals who might have more money than time I would recommend finding a teacher who could provide almost daily lessons on a flexible agenda on your instrument in your home and/or office. With 4-5 one hour lessons/supervised practice sessions per week and an additional daily 30-60 min on your own practicing by getting up an hour earlier or going to bed an hour later one could reach late intermediate/early advanced level in 4 to 5 years if you want it bad enough. (Gyro's suggestion about getting a good digital to complement your acoustic to enable late night/early morning practice or set you up in your office is the one thing that makes sense in his post.)

Playing the piano is an integrating and synthesizing skill; you are building up a pyramid of interrelated capabilities. Making progress on more advanced repertoire requires an approach based on more analytical and conceptual abstraction skills which require an underpinning in theory. Therefore, I would also recommend that you complement your piano lessons with music theory (keys, chords, cadences, modulations, musical styles & form, etc.) You will notice as you progress that where before you were deciphering thousands of individual pieces of black ink on paper that suddenly you are reading entire whole sections like an Evelyn Woods speed reading course graduate. Progress usually proceeds in dramatic spurts followed by endless plateaus and the occasional brick wall.

Dabbling at the piano will get you dabbling results. Treating it like training for a triathlon with an intellectual component will take you further than you could dream.

#936125 - 12/12/08 01:47 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Well said.

The path to competent intermediate level playing takes a minimum of 1,500 hours focused, careful study, for most piano students (though many take more). I tell my HS students that if they're shooting for a music conservatory, or they just want to play at that level, they're looking at 750 - 1,000 plus hours per year for the next four years. These are not self-study hours, but hours under the direct care and handling of a competent teacher.


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#936126 - 12/12/08 01:58 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Gyro, Chopin op 14, which movement??


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#936127 - 12/12/08 02:15 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Another way to look at it, MAK, is that studies of expertise suggest that it takes about 10,000 hours of focused practice to become an expert at just about anything (a sport, foreign language, chess, and piano). The key is focused practice (you need to be playing the right things and using the right technique, which is where a teacher is indispensable), not just sheer number of hours.

Daniel Levitin's book, "This is your brain on music," has a chapter on expertise and talent vs. practice in determining outcomes you might find interesting.

The bottom line is that you can become as good as you want to be and are willing to work toward. thumb


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#936128 - 12/12/08 02:16 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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I can play the whole thing. I sometimes
refer to it as a concerto movement, because
in length it's more like one movement of
a concerto. It's kind of an offbeat
piece in the repertoire, not really
a concerto, but concerto-like in
style and technical demands.

#936129 - 12/12/08 02:21 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Monika, thanks for that info. If you happen to recall a citation for the 10,000 hrs, I would love it. Most of us have students with delusions of grandeur, and it would be helpful to have something in print to help them focus their attention.


"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
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#936130 - 12/12/08 02:35 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Well, the Daniel Levitin book certainly talks at length about the 10,000 hours, and he cites other researchers in the chapter. The latest Malcolm Gladwell book ("Outliers") also talks about it. For a scholarly reference, one of the classics in the literature is Ericsson, K A., & CHarness, N. (1994). Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49(8), 725-747.

Ericsson is one of the most prominent researchers on expertise. Here's a link to a short essay from his website describing his research, and this essay includes several other citations to scholarly works you or your students can look up:

Ericsson summary of expertise research, with bibliography


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#936131 - 12/12/08 02:43 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Quote
Originally posted by Gyro:
and there is simply
no excuse for a person to avoid digitals
when they are most effective tool for
good playing. They let you play anytime
and anywhere and not disturb anyone,
Probably very popular with your neighbours.


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#936132 - 12/12/08 02:44 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Quote
Originally posted by MAK:
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I have a question for experienced players and teachers: What should an adult beginner, possessed of no particular musical talent, expect to achieve in piano when piano is first taken up in mid-life? In other words, a adult in his late 40's wants to learn piano, and will start from scratch. How much should he expect to achieve in a few years? Keep in mind this person is a very busy professional with an active family and social life and great demands on time. What level of playing and satisfaction should one one realistically expect in a few years?
I'm not a teacher, haven't had a teacher for over 30 years and haven't been a beginner for over 40 years, so you can take the following with a grain of salt.

Is one's "late forties" too late to take on a demanding new avocation? No. And "now" is always better than "later", which is still better than "never". With luck you may have 40 years to improve.

Having said that, adults have several disadvantages. The first is impatience. A child who manages to struggle through Mary Had a Little Lamb for the first time will play it proudly and repeatedly for whomever is within earshot. An adult will feel a twinge of despair after extrapolating from the amount of effort that it took to learn "Mary..." to the time required for the more sophisticated music that his mature taste prefers. I think I see that tendency in your questions. You are essentially asking, "will I be wasting my time?", before making the attempt.

Adults also suffer from preconceptions. When I was a teenager I used to spend a lot of time at the pool diving. From time to time I'd teach some kids, and a few adults, how to do a basic dive. The kids were much easier to teach. This is at least partly due to the fact that a young kid accepts the idea that he has no idea how to dive.

I would tell them to bend over deeply, head down, arms out, then just fall into the water. After a couple of tries, most of the kids would get it. The adults, on the other hand, knew what a dive looked like, and it certainly wasn't "falling". There was "spring" involved and a graceful arc into the water. They would inevitably attempt to imitate their mental picture of a dive rather than listen to what I was trying to tell them.

The usual result was that they would bend their knees, jump forward, pick their heads up and land with a mighty report and prodigious splash. After a couple of repetitions, they'd give up.

Their kids, on the other hand, after absorbing the lessons of the inelegant "fall" into the water, would start to add a little spring, a little distance, a hint of arc. It might take a few days, or even weeks, but eventually most learned to do a more graceful dive.

The point here is to find a good teacher and try to accept that the teacher knows what steps are involved in a successful path to your goal, even if some of them don't bear an obvious resemblance to the goal itself.

Greg Guarino


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#936133 - 12/12/08 02:59 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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MAK,

Phlebas mentioned the role of talent in your original thread in the Pianist Corner, and Morodiene has done so here. I think it's worth reemphasizing that the role of a natural facility for performing a skill shouldn't be dismissed, discounted or underestimated.

I haven't read Levitin's book, and I have a fundamental disagreement with his assertion about any fixed number of hours resulting in expertise. For that to be true, there would have to be a level playing field in which all participants have an equal amount of talent or to be equally untalented. That premise is patently false.

The amount of hard work required to attain mastery, and the degree to which that work is perceived as hard, are inversely proportional to one's innate gifts.

There's another point that deserves to be addressed: In your hypothetical situation of an adult beginner "possessed of no particular musical talent," how would a true musical novice know that? I don't believe that the exploitation of musical talent must begin in childhood (or by any fixed age) in order for it to develop. How many latent musical geniuses are among us who haven't (yet) had the opportunity or the environment to reveal that gift?

Even though I consider it manifest that one's accomplishments aren't determined by effort alone, no one should be discouraged from making the attempt. Indeed, how else can one even know one's potential, much less realize it? It's never too late, and it's better late than never.

Steven

Disclaimer: I am not a teacher, nor do I play one on the Internet.

#936134 - 12/12/08 03:24 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Quote
Originally posted by theJourney:
Progress usually proceeds in dramatic spurts followed by endless plateaus and the occasional brick wall.
This was good to read. I'm an adult beginner at a mid- (late on a good day) intermediate level and have been in each of these places but lately see more plateaus and brick walls... :rolleyes:


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#936135 - 12/12/08 03:56 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Excellent post, Greg! Impatience is self-defeating in most adult students. The ones who succeed the most from lessons are the ones who know they know nothing and approach it that way. I have one adult student who has been struggling with lessons for the past year with me. She was a transfer and has has many years of lessons, and has barely made it to late elementary/early intermediate playing. Despite my recommendations, she insists on cramming her practice into one day a week, thinking that 1 1/2 hours is equivalent to daily practice. She also insisted on playing hands together when I specifically told her to do hands separately. I finally got her to agree to try my way before dismissing it this week, so we'll see. But in her impatience to play hands together, she is actually taking longer to learn the piece.


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#936136 - 12/12/08 04:12 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Monika, thanks for the citation. That is most interesting. Especially as it appears their studies control for differences in basic intelligence. Now I have some real ammo for a couple of wayward HS students! laugh

There's an old story about Frank Sinatra, who claimed to have sung every song in his repertoire 1,000 times before ever singing it once in public. The skill of his singing certainly supports that claim!


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#936137 - 12/12/08 04:19 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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I apologize for keeping this thread slightly OT here,

Quote
Originally posted by sotto voce:
I haven't read Levitin's book, and I have a fundamental disagreement with his assertion about any fixed number of hours resulting in expertise. For that to be true, there would have to be a level playing field in which all participants have an equal amount of talent or to be equally untalented. That premise is patently false.
Soto Voce, I agree with your statement above, and having read Levitin's book I can state that that is not quite what he is saying.

As I recall it, the way Levitin worded it was that a study of experts indicated that they all had at least 10,000 hours of practice in their field.

In other words, there is such a strong correlation between 10,000 hours and being considered an expert in a field that one could consider 10,000 hours to be a necessary condition for being an expert.

That is very different from saying that 10,000 hours is sufficient for being an expert.

I'm sure Monica can provide further information if I am reading it incorrectly.
Rich


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#936138 - 12/12/08 04:27 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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#936139 - 12/12/08 04:34 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Quote
Originally posted by IPIBAHN - Sandy:
Quote
Originally posted by theJourney:
[b] Progress usually proceeds in dramatic spurts followed by endless plateaus and the occasional brick wall.
This was good to read. I'm an adult beginner at a mid- (late on a good day) intermediate level and have been in each of these places but lately see more plateaus and brick walls... :rolleyes: [/b]
I like your tagline.... wink

#936140 - 12/12/08 04:47 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Boira Offline
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Interesting thread,

I'm not a teacher, but an adult beginner with one.

MAK, *age* has the annoying habit of reminding us our limitations, but sometimes things also depend in some degree on how bad you want to achieve them.

My tecaher only has 3 adults.
One of them, I don't know. The other is a middle aged lawyer with 3 years of lessons. The 3rd is me, with 1 year and 2 months.

Two months ago, I "catched up" the lawyer. Now we're playing at the same level. He commented that fact with our teacher, not in a wrong way -of course, he's a very nice man, perfectly polite-, he just talked about talent and all this.
Our teacher replied (in a very spartan Russian way): She's not more talented nor smarter than you. She only works harder.

The only secret is finding the time to practice every day and stick to your practice routine NET (= No Excuses Tolerated). Not always easy given the life we lead :rolleyes:

#936141 - 12/12/08 05:00 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Monica K. Offline

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Lexington, Kentucky
Quote
Originally posted by DragonPianoPlayer:
I apologize for keeping this thread slightly OT here,

Quote
Originally posted by sotto voce:
[b] I haven't read Levitin's book, and I have a fundamental disagreement with his assertion about any fixed number of hours resulting in expertise. For that to be true, there would have to be a level playing field in which all participants have an equal amount of talent or to be equally untalented. That premise is patently false.
Soto Voce, I agree with your statement above, and having read Levitin's book I can state that that is not quite what he is saying.

As I recall it, the way Levitin worded it was that a study of experts indicated that they all had at least 10,000 hours of practice in their field.

In other words, there is such a strong correlation between 10,000 hours and being considered an expert in a field that one could consider 10,000 hours to be a necessary condition for being an expert.

That is very different from saying that 10,000 hours is sufficient for being an expert.

I'm sure Monica can provide further information if I am reading it incorrectly.
Rich [/b]
You are correct, Rich, that saying that 10,000 hours is necessary to be an expert is not the same as saying that it's sufficient.

Perhaps surprisingly, though, many of the researchers on expertise argue that it is *also* sufficient. Sotto voce, I encourage you to read Levitin's chapter and some of the references listed in the bibliography I linked to should you be interested in pursuing this further.

Another good reference is Ericsson, K. A., & Lehmann, A. C. (1996). Expert and exceptional performance: Annual Review of Psychology, 47, 273-305.

For copyright reasons, I don't want to quote at length from the article, but here's their summary sentences from the section entitled "Expert Performance and Talent" (pp. 279-281): "Reviews of adult expert performance show that individual differences in basic capacities and abilities are surprisingly poor predictors of performance (Ericsson et al 1993, Regnier et al 1994). These negative findings, together with the strong evidence for adaptive changes through extended practice, suggest that the influence of innate, domain-specific basic capacities (talent) on expert performance is small, possibly even negligible. We believe that the motivational factors that predispose children and adults to engage in deliberate practice are more likely to predict individual differences in levels of attained expert performance."

Translating the academic jargon, my take on what they are saying is that the effect of "innate talent" is very small; instead, if a person is intrinsically motivated enough to engage in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice on a task/skill, he or she will become an expert on it.

These "talent vs. practice" debates never seem to get settled here, partly because there is confusion over what "talent" and "expertise" mean. I am not saying that 10,000 hours will make anybody into, say, a Horowitz. But I would argue that it would make anybody into a highly accomplished pianist capable of having a rewarding professional career.

Okay, I've got errands to run and a child's birthday party to plan, so I'm taking off my professor's hat for now. I do encourage anybody interested in this question to read these articles I've cited. The issues are complex and not easily summarized in a brief post, but please believe me that the researchers have considered and accounted for the factors and issues that many of you raise.


Mason & Hamlin A -- 91997
My YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/pianomonica
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#936142 - 12/12/08 05:07 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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Rich and Monica: Thanks!
Quote
Originally posted by Monica K.:
Translating the academic jargon, my take on what they are saying is that the effect of "innate talent" is very small; instead, if a person is intrinsically motivated enough to engage in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice on a task/skill, he or she will become an expert on it.
This resonates with me, because of the old saw about the tendency not to value what we don't have to work hard for. It's common enough for those for whom something like piano comes easily not to apply themselves with diligence, and the result is underachievement relative to someone with less talent but who was motivated to work harder.

Steven

#936143 - 12/12/08 05:17 PM Re: Realistic Expectations for Adult Beginner  
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