The 10,000 Hour Rule & Music

I picked up my teenage son’s ukulele the other day and without thinking, busted out some fast pentatonic Southern Rock sounding riff. I put it down and looked up to see him with a huge smile on his face. He asked me, “Will I ever be able to do that?” I laughed and said, “of course you will if you spend the same amount of time with a guitar in your hands as I have.”


This brought me to the thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule as it applies to musicians, composers, engineers, producer s and various content creators. My first thought was that when it comes to becoming an extraordinary musician, there is one thing that often separates the good from the great, and that is practice. Practice is often the great differentiator when it comes to instrumental proficiency and the ability to be able to express one’s self emotionally. As a guitarist, one of the most important things I learned early on was about the use of string bending and vibrato. I thought that I was playing like an old bluesman when I first started bending until I REALLY listened to some of the great players. The more I bent and used vibrato, the more I realized that every player had his own approach and style to utilizing these two tools and that many of these techniques were developed over years of practice, gigs, recording sessions and life experiences. 


It is estimated that chess masters often spend between 10 and 50,000 hours staring at chess positions and that basketball players that make it to the NBA on average spend a minimum of 10 or more years perfecting their craft. That brings me to the initial thought behind considering Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule as it applies to music. Most of the top composers, recording artists, musicians and “overnight” successes started their training when they were very young. Year after year they slowly gained skill, dexterity, harmonic and rhythmic knowledge and in some cases, discovered a curiosity and ability to express their emotions through music. This is very much true of commercial composers whose sole job is to have the listener amplify whatever emotion it is that the content is embodying. Having a deep enough toolbox as a composer to be able to stimulate the imagination and emotions of listeners is for the most part, a very highly refined art form. Many commercial composers (and I will include film, television, advertising, Production Music and other similar disciplines) have spent far more than 10,000 hours and 10 years to be able to express a multitude of emotions using composition, arrangements and recording and production techniques, etc., to achieve the end outcome of creating an emotionally moving experience. 

The Production Music field offers a unique set of challenges as well as an incredibly broad and freeing artistic palette. The creator often creates without picture and is given only a loose set of parameters to follow and must follow their “muse” and creativity to create deeply moving musical productions as stand alone pieces. Many Production Music composers consider this musical vertical to be one of the most challenging and rewarding as they are free to create, not based on the whims of a recording artist, but based on the needs of content creators and producers to make the most emotionally stimulating and expressive music possible. Music that celebrates joy and achievement, that recognizes sorrow and defeat and that brings out that best and the beast in all of us! Scrolling through a Production Music catalog can be like thumbing through a huge collection of emotions from the most extreme to the most quietly touching to the super sexy to the horrifyingly scary. The 10,000-hour rule isn’t an absolute by any means, but certainly is a milestone for most of those at the top of their respective musically inspired fields.