There’s one thing you can’t help noticing if you’re listening to great musicians. They’re producing consistently brilliant results. They’re basically playing everything perfectly.
This seems very different from most musicians’ experiences of practising which usually involves not producing the results you’re aiming for much of the time.
So what’s the secret to doing everything perfectly?
The popular answer is that it comes down to 10,000 hours of practising, but that can’t be it.
The greater number of hours you spend practising, the more experience you have of not producing the results you’re aiming for a lot of the time.
In doing so, it can seem like you’re actually creating more evidence that you’re fundamentally different from the musicians who are producing such consistently brilliant results.
You must be doing something wrong or perhaps they just have some magic gene that you don’t.
Actually, the fact you’re not consistently producing the results you want is exactly how you know you’re using the same process as the musicians who inspire you most.
But how can not achieving the results you want most of the time be the same process as someone who’s producing consistently brilliant results?
The secret does have something to do with the 10,000 hours of mastery, but not in the way that’s commonly thought.
Whereas it certainly takes many thousands of hours to master a complex skill, it’s not simply the number of hours that’s the defining factor.
After all, many people have driven a car for over 10,000 hours, but they’re not masters of driving a car. That’s typically because, once someone can drive safely from A to B, they make no attempt to develop their level of skill at all.
What the 10,000 hours of mastery demonstrates is that people who are mastering a skill spend most of their time working on the very areas where they’re not yet producing the results they want.
A classic example is that of the high-jumper.
Obviously, the definition of successful high-jumping is to jump over the bar without knocking it off.
To begin with, any high-jumper is going to knock the bar off most of the time. Once they consistently clear the bar at that level, they have to raise the bar. Then they repeat the process, beginning by knocking it off at the new height. They go through this process again and again.
Over the course of a year, a high-jumper who’s been progressing very successfully has spent the majority of the time not achieving the definition of successful high-jumping.
The process is only working perfectly because the high-jumper isn’t producing the results they want at every stage of the process.
The only way a high-jumper can achieve the successful definition of high-jumping most of the time is by never raising the bar. They might clear the bar successfully every time, but in doing so they’re not actually progressing.
In this case, the process isn’t working perfectly at all, precisely because the high-jumper is producing exactly the results they want every time.
A high-jumper is usually going to be most inspired by someone who’s able to clear the bar at a higher level than they are at that moment in time.
The Olympic Gold medalist may jump over the bar naturally and easily at a world-class height as you watch them on the TV. Although they’re doing that consistently every time you see them, that doesn’t mean they were doing that at every stage of the process leading up to that point.
The same is true of the musicians who’ve inspired you most.
You chose musicians to listen to because they were already performing at a higher level than you were at the time. You also know that they weren’t born being able to play the way they do now. They also started out many years ago by only being able to play one note on the instrument.
What are the chances that they’ve been producing exactly the results they were aiming for at every stage of the process between then and now?
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© Mike Cunningham 2017