Skip to content

10,000 hours, twice in one day

Sometimes (clearly not that often), I get inspired to write a blog post. That happened today because of a coincidence: I read two interesting but unrelated articles which both mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s contentious/compelling 10,000-Hour-Rule.

Basically, this is the theory that the key to becoming amazing at anything is to put in about 10,000 hours of focused practice. This – not innate talent – is the secret to mastering a domain.

The first article was about D’Angelo’s pending comeback after a long, troubled hiatus. The article is accompanied by a video of D’Angelo playing guitar – which he’s apparently devoted himself to learning during his time off:

“The one benefit of this eleven-year sabbatical was he used 10,000 Gladwellian hours to master the guitar. He can play the shit out of it, and I don’t mean no Lil Wayne shit.” – Questlove

The second article was by my friend Adam Sliwinksi, of the lovely Sō Percussion. In it, he briefly talks about how the group spent 10,000 hours becoming “laser-focused on what it takes to become an accomplished, cohesive group.” Interestingly, Adam’s talking about 10,000 hours they spent working together; as individuals, these guys had already done at least this much time mastering the instruments before they formed the group at all.

Why am I writing about this?

When I meet people who are just starting with electronic music production, they’re often completely overwhelmed. Not only do they not know what to do, they don’t even know what questions to ask to learn what to do. There is a real feeling of helplessness. It’s easy to see why a computer might feel like it’s easier than a conventional musical instrument. Most of the time we spend with computers is spent consuming; it’s a process that’s really not much more active than watching television.

But creating is an entirely different kind of exercise. It’s not passive. It won’t just happen. It takes real work. The only way to make something is to do work. And the only way to get good at making things is to do a lot of work.

My job as Ableton’s documentation guy is primarily about one thing; helping people understand our software so they can use it to make music. We work hard to make things as easy as possible, but making music with a computer is not easy. Like an instrument, software mastery takes focused practice.

If 10,000 hours sounds like a lot of time, keep in mind that it’s not a switch; it’s a process. On your way to expertise, you will get better and better, and you will feel progress happening all the time.

And most importantly, 10,000 hours is what it takes to be elite. Simply getting good will happen much sooner. But it will not happen without putting in real, focused time.

What are you waiting for?


  1. Daniel Ygrelius Daniel Ygrelius


    Oh, I definitely know what you’re talking about when it comes to the 10.000 hours issue (I’m clocking somewhat on 5000 hours myself).
    I am a self learned science fiction writer and it really takes hard discipline to do what you love and want to achieve.
    But the really nice thing about it is that after a while the creative process (if it happens on a regularly basis) will turn into a smoke-like craving and if your creative process isn’t met in the same way as before you feel really low and depressed. So you must create to feel good :)
    The good thing about this is that you invest time in the creative process and get shit done!
    So on that basic principle I have no problem being creative every day.
    I, myself, also have a fear that maybe tomorrow I won’t have the means or possibility to be creative anymore so I really seize the day so to speak.

  2. Totally agree with that.

    But I’d just add one sign “>” to the text, namely
    > 10 000 hours)

    PS. Provided you’ve chosen right software for that of course)

  3. Casey Kraft Casey Kraft

    The 10,000 hour rule. It’s both motivation and discouragement. I watched a TED Talk recently in which the writer Joseph Kaufmann compounds the research, and essentially finds while 10,000 is required to become a world-class expert, the time required to become simply good is far less: closer to 20 hours.

    This is a compelling presentation of the idea, and super inspiring because it feels much more manageable on a day-to-day basis (thirty minutes a day? in forty days you have twenty hours).

    On the other hand, it can easily become just another rule to keep in mind, that detracts from the process of making music itself. What do you think?

  4. H Lee H Lee

    It’s an important thing to note that Gladwell is the popularizer of the idea, and not the originator of it. K Anders Ericsson promulgated the rule based off of his violin prodigy studies, but noted that a whole constellation of habits differentiated world-class competition violinists from music teachers – different patterns of working, focus, sleep, etc.

    • Quinn Quinn

      Indeed. In Gladwell’s book, the chapter dedicated to the 10k hour rule doesn’t cite Ericsson in a footnote – the man and his research are the most prominent part of it.

Comments are closed.