By now, most of us are familiar with the idea, given a broad audience through Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of work to achieve an expert level at various high-level activities: some sports, chess, and of course, music.
I used the 10,000 hours idea in a group class a few months ago to help persuade my students that the more time they spent per week at the piano, the faster they would accumulate knowledge and skill. We discovered that it would take 10 years of practicing 20 hours a week, 20 years of practicing 10 hours a week, and with the average of 2 hours a week it would take 100 years of practicing to achieve this nebulous “expert” level. We all laughed, especially those of my students who struggle to get more than two hours of practicing in a week, but it left me thinking: while achieving expert level is certainly important to some of us, it is not the goal of most of my students or their parents. What is important to them? Being able to play a song from Frozen, accompanying a friend in a school performance, playing for church…in other words, they want to be competent pianists.
In the area in which I live, many parents choose to have their children take piano lessons with the idea that one day they will be able to use their skills to be volunteer church musicians, able to play hymns or childrens’ church songs with ease. Parents are surprised to learn that playing a four part hymn with good solid pulse and an ability to accompany a congregation is considerably more complex than they imagined. Hymn playing has become one of my measures of piano playing competency.