practice 10,000 hour rule - Lesson Pros


How do you become a better musician faster? How do you learn or accomplish anything faster? Here is a practice hack to help you knock down those practice hours and shatter the 10,000 hour rule!

How many hours does it take to master, or become an expert musician on any given instrument? A good rule of thumb is 10,000 hours, and it’s probably something you’ve heard of before. This was all brought to light by this fantastic book by Malcolm Gladwell that was a bestseller: Outliers: The Story of Success. While the 10,000 hour rule is an easy round number to remember, and a great way to measure your practice, the absoluteness of 10,000 hours of practice can be reduced greatly by learning one small but powerful habit. 

10,000 HOUR RULE

What if I told you, that any musician, could shatter the 10,000 hour rule and bring it down to 7,000 hours, or even 5,000 hours? Once you understand and implement this foundational concept, the results can help you get exponentially better as a musician. By making some small changes to your mental outlook, it can supercharge your learning potential and put you on the fast track to being a better musician, faster. 


The first concept I’ll introduce to you is probably the most important thing a musician could possibly learn but is almost never taught by any private instructor, school, or college. Chances are, emotional intelligence has never been a part of any textbook for music, study materials,  or on the syllabus of any college class designed for a music student. 

Emotional Intelligence has nothing to do with how smart you are, but everything to do with how you are able to decide to emotionally react to a musical stimulus when you encounter it. Let me illustrate this concept further so you can break the 10,000 hour rule. 


For this example, there are two people who go to a concert, where their favorite musician is performing. The musician performing, in this case, is the musical stimulus or event that is associated with music. These two people will react quite differently to the concert, and their path as a musician and timeline for success are both altered in vastly different ways moving forward from the event. 

Person A

The first person goes to the concert, and gets totally immersed in the music, the crowd, the setting, and the feeling of the show. They see their favorite musician perform, and are in awe. Person A, lights up with excitement, imagining themselves up on stage, in front of the crowd, thinking to themselves “I want to do that one day”. Inspired by the moment they can’t wait to get home and practice. They will work hard to become the best musician they can be, and even if they don’t achieve the heights of success as the musician they just watched perform, they’ll sure have fun doing it. 

Person B

The second person goes to the concert, and gets totally immersed in the music, the crowd, the setting, and the feeling of the show. Something else creeps into the thought process of person B as they see their favorite  musician play, they think to themselves, “I’ll never be able to play that good. I could play all my life and never even get close to that good, so why even try? I might as well toss my instrument in the trash, I feel so defeated.”

The different emotions from person A and person B to the stimulus of seeing their favorite musician either speeds up the momentum of wanting to learn more or slows down the momentum. This is where understanding the consequences of your emotions during any learning process becomes so important. 

Emotional intelligence is being aware of what’s happening with your emotions as you interact with people and other influences as you move about your day. Once you’re aware of negative emotions arising, take action to shift from negative thoughts to inspiration.


To help you reduce the 10,000 hour rule, here’s a list of common stumbling blocks every musician can run into.

Feeling Down About Not Progressing Fast Enough

Realizing your own progression is a matter of perspective.

For example, most of the time your musical progression is like seeing your niece or nephew that you only see once a year during the holidays. Wow, they sure are growing up fast! You can see the dramatic changes in their appearance. On the other hand, their parents will certainly have a different perspective as they are around the child all the time and don’t realize how fast they are actually growing and their appearance is changing.

From your perspective, there has been a huge change since you saw the niece or nephew last year. Just like the parents not being able to see how fast their child is growing, it’s hard to see your own progress.

Here is a helpful tip to see your progress. Record yourself playing once every month, and keep it to review later. Once you’ve been playing for a while, you can go back and really hear your progression. This is a huge confidence booster when you hear your progress. 

Criticism From Family, Friends, or Non-Fans

Hearing from family, friends, or non-fans that you’re not good enough can shatter your confidence.

This can be pressure from a spouse to quiet down because they don’t share the same passion as you, or from a parent who just realized the drums are too loud when being used for practice. Let’s say you are a performing musician who has played in front of an audience and you didn’t get the reaction from the crowd that you wanted. Maybe a non-fan yelled out you are terrible! Shift to your emotional intelligence and move on from the negative thought process. 

Every great musician in history started out not knowing how to play their instrument. They played out of tune and made thousands of mistakes before they became accomplished and even after they became famous they still get criticized for everything under the sun. Get thick skin.

If your family, friends, or non-fans aren’t supportive professional musicians or professional music teachers that are aligned with your goals, their opinion simply doesn’t matter. If being a musician is your passion, don’t let the negative comments from wherever they come from get you down. 

The Jam Session

Being in a jam session with someone, that you feel is more accomplished than you. This can go two ways. 

#1 – The Negative Emotion

The negative emotion is feeling not good enough. I’ve seen countless times when jamming around campfires where a musician will put their instrument away and leave a jam because they feel inferior. 

#2 – The Positive Emotion

The positive emotion is feeling inspired to get to the next level. You’re actually in the presence of a great musician, that you can learn a few new tips and tricks to apply to your playing. 

In most cases, the accomplished musician will remember being a beginner and will bend over backward to help another aspiring musician any way they can. Some of the most important lessons I’ve had in my life were those little moments where you catch a riff or chord one of your heroes does and start to incorporate it into your own playing. 

Ask for Questions

Experiencing encouragement and feeling like you fit in with other musicians helps to raise your confidence. If you have enough confidence, get the courage to ask other musicians questions. How did you do that? Can you show me how you did that? Those interactions help the inspired momentum of learning take place, all because you chose to have the right mindset. 


How does this relate to the 10,000 hour rule? Use the pictures below to see the growth of a musician over 5 years and 10 thousand hours of practice. 

Inspired Upwards Momentum

First let’s see the positive-minded musician, having the momentum of inspiration behind them. 

Now let’s take a look at the more negative minded musician’s progress, who instead of being inspired, have the negative momentum of doubt, behind them. 

Downward Momentum


Here are some things to help keep you inspired. 

  1. Watching your favorite musicians will get you excited to practice more. 
  2. Set up your practice space with things that inspire you. Posters of your favorite band or musician, have your instrument on a stand ready to play,  make the space shine with your personality with things you like, and make you happy. 
  3. Personalize Your Gear – Get a case, strap, or any accessory that fits your personality. It’s more fun to play music when you’re in your element, so bring some of you to your instrument. 
  4. Be aware of your emotions. If you notice your emotions going the wrong way, make a shift away from negative emotions, and start thinking more positively. The choice is sometimes hard to make, but it’s still a choice, so choose wisely. 
  5. Record yourself playing every month, and review your progress. When you see how fast you’re actually progressing, vs your perception, it gives you the confidence to practice even more.
  6. Decide not to listen to the advice of people who aren’t professionals or teachers. It’s rare that you’ll find someone who understands your goals and desires who isn’t a teacher or a professional. The opinions of people who aren’t looking out for your best interest should be discarded like yesterday’s trash because it’s just about as useful. 
  7. Make small short-term goals, and celebrate the successes you have instead of belaboring the tough times. The more you celebrate even the smallest successes, the better mindset you start to build. Remember, a great mindset is your momentum behind all successful ventures, and being a musician is no different.


A great mindset is a habit, so start your new habit of emotional intelligence today, one step at a time. While age, genetics, background, previous experience, and economic status are big factors in how fast a musician progresses, none are more important than understanding your emotional intelligence and mastering it along with your instrument. 

As you can see, the mindset of a student can massively change the outcome of a student’s growth in their field. This works for musicians and all other disciplines of life. 


Have you ever logged your practice hours? If so, how many have you logged?


Master your mind to master your instrument


Now, go out there and be great and shatter that 10,000 hour rule!
Chuck and Sandi Millar
Lesson Pros

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