As principal flutist for the Minnesota Orchestra, Adam Kuenzel is proof that hard work, talent, and perseverance pay off for those intrepid performers wishing to make a living pursuing their craft. Mr. Kuenzel has spent nearly 30 years performing professionally, turning his early passion for music into a full-fledged career.
How much hard work is required for those wishing to pursue a career in music performance? Dr. K. Anders Ericsson and a team from the University of Stockholm in Sweden studied this question. The group determined that, in order to achieve performance expertise, musicians need to engage in around 10,000 hours of deliberate practice by the age of 20. Those participating in 5,000 hours of practice still performed professionally but were the least accomplished, with talented amateurs engaging in roughly 2,000 hours of practice.
The amount and method of practice was the single largest determining factor in Dr. Ericsson’s study, overriding all other facets such as early talent and genetics. Deliberate practice is a specific type of rehearsal that creates expertise in all areas of performance, such as music or athletics. To practice deliberately, musicians focus on technique rather than outcome, often breaking tasks down into specific parts in order to master each technique. They also set measurable goals for performance and mastery, and receive immediate, valid feedback they can then apply right away in their practice sessions.
What Dr. Ericsson’s research indicates is this: Talented performers are not born, they are made. By applying the principals of deliberate practice and spending the appropriate amount of time utilizing these techniques, music students can develop skills to become expert performers.