Sunday at church, I sat next to Katie K., a young and talented singer. I’ve heard her trained voice many times in the past 2 years, but I’ve never sung alongside her. We opened our Trinity Hymnals and began singing the familiar tune, “Old Hundredth,” or All People that on Earth do Dwell.
As I focused on the words and the tune, Katie’s clear and well-modulated voice drifted above my own plainer tones and those of the congregation. Hearing her practiced vocal method encouraged me to try to remember some of the things I had learned about singing in junior high school and by the fourth verse, I thought my voice improved just by proximity to talent.
Following church, I asked her some questions about her singing career. She began singing and playing the piano at an early age and participated in choral singing through high school. She was studying piano performance in college; interestingly, it was not until her junior year that she took voice lessons.
I asked her to tell me more about her current practice routine. She studies with a professional voice coach and sings for at least one hour per day. Her additional practice includes more than singing, as she studies musical scores. Because many classical and operatic scores are in languages other than English, she studies transliterations using the International Phonetic Alphabet or IPA. A singer can sing in three or four languages without actually being fluent in three or four languages by using IPA tools.
I asked her if she had ever “slacked” on the practice of her craft. Busy working following graduation, Katie stopped singing for almost two years; she said that although she did not “forget” how to sing, some of her skills became “rusty” and it took more effort to sing. She said this is why being a professional singer is a full-time job. She said her guiding maxim is “an amateur singer practices until she gets it right; a professional practices until she can’t get it wrong.”
Now 28, Katie K. is leaving the world of work to continue her study and practice of vocal music. She begins post-graduate work in September at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.
In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called Outliers, based in part on the “10,000 hour rule.” This idea, that mastery or greatness in a discipline requires at least 10,000 hours of practice, was studied by Swedish psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson. In a June, 2007 Harvard Business Review article titled The Making of an Expert, Ericsson outlined three components for mastery:
- Intensive and deliberate practice,
- The investment of time (up to 10,000 hours), and
- Expert coaches and mentors.
Applying this concept to professional endeavors and assuming a forty hour work week, 50 weeks per year, it could take approximately 5 years to master a job. Do most people stay in jobs that long? No, they don’t. While there are other factors to mastery, the need to practice a skill, craft, or a profession is obvious.
If I think about blogging as a craft I’d like to master, considering I invest approximately 2 hours per day on preparing, writing, and executing the technical details, it will take me almost 14 years to be an expert.
I’m not a self-help guru and telling someone it may take 10 to 15 years of practice to become excellent at something is not going to make me a popular guest on the late-night talk show couch. If I were a self-help guru and you were asking me for some advice, I’d tell you to read the Harvard Business Review article, available in the Wikipedia entry about Dr. Ericsson. Then, considering what skills and talents you have, determine if you have the time required to achieve mastery.
It’s The Old Hundredth squared.