On Why the Best Violinists were the Best

This week’s book learning is from ‘Talent is Overrated’ by Geoff Colvin.

The famous Music academy of West Berlin (as it was called earlier) was once the subject of one of the most extensive studies on great performance. 3 groups of violinists in their early 20s were studied – the ‘Good’ group (future music teachers), the ‘Better’ group (future performers in great orchestras) and the ‘Best’ group (future soloists).

The findings were fascinating –

– Most of them started learning violin around age 8 and decided to become musicians around age 15

– All 3 groups spent the same total amount of time on music related activities – 51 hours per week

– They all ranked ‘solo practice’ unanimously as hardest and least fun activity of their weaks i.e. harder than child care and less fun than even formal group performance.

– They also unanimously ranked ‘solo practice’ as THE most important activity

So, with all these common factors, what was the difference between the groups?

The top 2 groups practiced ‘solo’ 24 hours per week while the 3rd group averaged 9 hours per week.

The top 2 groups also generally practiced in the late morning or early afternoon when fresh while the ‘good’ group pushed their solo practice to the end of the day.

Another interesting fact was that the top 2 groups slept more on average and took far more afternoon naps – clearly solo practice was very demanding! In essence, the best violinists did more of the only activity that was completely in their control. They did a lot of what no one really enjoyed doing..

All that said, what then was the difference between the top 2 groups? Let’s leave that for next week.. :-)

Here’s to doing more of what’s important vs what we find easy this week!