Practice versus Deliberate Practice

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

In their High Ability Studies paper, Giftedness and evidence for reproducibly superior performance, K. Anders Ericsson, et al. present some of the evidence for their expert performance framework — including this famous finding about deliberate practice:

The critical role of deliberate practice in attaining expert performance was first proposed by Ericsson et al. (1993), who reported a study of three groups of expert musicians who differed in level of attained music performance. The first author and his colleagues (Ericsson et al., 1993) examined how the expert musicians spent their daily lives by interviewing them and having them keep detailed diaries for a week.

All expert musicians were found to spend about the same amount of time on all types of music related activities during the diary week — about 50–60 hours. The most striking difference was that the two most accomplished groups of expert musicians were found to spend more time (25 hours) in solitary practice than the least accomplished group, who only spent around 10 hours per week.

During solitary practice the experts reported working with full concentration on improving specific aspects of their music performance — often identified by their master teacher at their weekly lessons — thus meeting the criteria for deliberate practice. The best groups of expert musicians spent around four hours every day, including weekends, in this type of solitary practice.

From retrospective estimates of practice, Ericsson et al. (1993) calculated the number of hours of deliberate practice that five groups of musicians at different performance levels had accumulated by a given age, as is illustrated in Figure 3. By the age of 20, the most accomplished musicians had spent over 10,000 hours of practice, which is 2500 and 5000 hours more than two less accomplished groups of expert musicians or 8000 hours more than amateur pianists of the same age (Krampe & Ericsson, 1996).

The same type of solitary deliberate practice has been found to be closely correlated with the attainment of expert and elite performance in a wide range of domains (for a review see Ericsson, 2006b).


  1. Aretae says:

    I’ve been looking for an excuse to bring up Austin Rivers, the top high school basketballer in the country. This sounds like a perfect chance.

    Any question as to why Doc Rivers’ kid is the best high school hoopster in the country? How about 100% more and better practice than anyone else in the country.

    Effective practice is the entire issue, until you’re at the top .001%.

  2. Isegoria says:

    While I’m sure that the son of an NBA coach has had more and better coaching than other players — by a large margin — he also has inherited the genetics that helped make his father an NBA player.

    In fact, success in basketball is notoriously genetic. A number of NBA players have made it to that elite level with next to no practice. They were scouted for their height, and that was (almost) enough.

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