For many years, many psychologists spend times to solve a controversial question about personal cognitive ability. The question is: is there really such a thing called innate talent?

This question pushes many psychologists to do several kinds of research concerning talent. One of the example could be seen on a study conducted by a psychologist named Anders Ericsson at the Music Academy of Berlin that is known to be very elite and reputable. With the help of teachers and professors at the school, they grouped violinists into three different groups.

The first group was the school stars; they were students who are predicted to become world-class solo violinists. The second group consisted of the “good” students, they did not play as good as the school stars, yet the way they play the violin was still beautiful enough to be enjoyed. Whereas group three is a place for those, who predicted to be a music teacher in public school only and never go for professional.

All of these young violinists asked the same question: how long does the training take to achieve their level?

All the students from this school began playing at the same time, around the age of five. In the first year, everyone practised as much as two or three hours each week. However after the students reached the age of eight, the difference started to be seen. Students who became the best in the class practice more often compared to their peers: six hours every weeks and continue to increase to more than thirty hours a week by the age of seventeen. When it is calculated, at the age of twenty, the school stars have spent more than ten thousand hours in training. Conversely, the “good” group spent eight thousand hours and the group three spent four hours only.

Anders Ericsson and his fellow researchers then compared the amateur piano players with professionals. The same pattern appeared. Amateur has never practised for more than three hours each week in their childhood, and by the age of twenty, they have rehearsed for about two thousand hours only. On the other hand, professionals have increased continuously their exercise time each year and spent more than ten thousand hours by the age of twenty.

The surprising thing about Anders Ericsson research is that he and his colleagues did not find “natural musicians” in his research – those who spend a slightly time for training but could achieve the highest level of play. They also did not see any typical player who worked hard but ended up not in the star group. In this case, the players who play at the top level always related to the higher time they spent on training.

In a nutshell, if you are a musician who can apply for the best music school, then the thing that will determine you with your classmates is the hard work that you do. Talent is not enough to reach the best level of play, without being supported by a real hard job. Also most importantly, people who are at the top do not only do harder than others. They practice very much harder than you think.

“I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process.” –  Vincent Van Gogh


Inspired by Outliers from Malcolm Gladwell