The role of practice in the development of performing musicians


Department of Psychology, University of Keel, Keele, Staffs ST5 5BG, UK


A sample of 257 young people aged between eight and 18 who had undertaken individual instrumental tuition were interviewed in depth about their performing history from the start of playing. A subset of 94 of these individuals also kept a practice diary for a 42-week period. The data collected allowed estimates to be calculated of the amount of time devoted to various types of practice and other activities. The sample was selected in order to encompass a wide range of levels of musical achievement, from pupils at a highly selective specialist music school through to individuals who had abandoned instrumental study after less than a year of formal instruction. Data about formal examination successes confirmed the very wide range of achievement in the sample. It was discovered that there was a strong relationship between musical achievement and the amount of formal practice undertaken. Weaker relationships were discovered between achievement and amount of informal playing. There was no evidence that high achievers were able to gain a given level of examination success on less practice than low achievers. High achievers tended to be more consistent in their pattern of practice from week to week, and tended to concentrate technical practice in the mornings. These data lend strong support to the theory that formal effortful practice is a principal determinant of musical achievement.