It strikes to think that 497 out of 500 most famous classic music compositions were created after 10 years of practice and experimentations. As concluded in the last story, “creativity requires devotion – long and hard work”. But 10 years! It sounds unimaginable in today’s modern world, where life seems to be jumping and running, opposite to walking hundred years ago and crawling thousand years ago. Is that true?
We obviously live in cycles – there are ups and downs in our personal lives, career, economy and even climate. While climate changes over very long time (even longer than one human life), personal matters have short cycles. What is more interesting, there is a feeling that cycles get shorter. We want to think, that while before economic cycles (accelerating, boom, crisis, bottom) lasted decades, now the life seems to pass faster – we quickly fall into the crisis and as quickly recover. However, the actual data of recessions in USA shows the cycles are not shorter. So perhaps the perception of the speed changed. Technologies dramatically improved and we think (perceive) we developed ourselves accordingly.
With cycle shortening we desire to achieve results as quick. To our benefit, advancement in information technologies give us many possibilities. Naturally, our expectations rise up with every single success story, but are we really much faster or are we just a bit faster at best and all the speed is just because of having better tools? As in all fields, creative people expect to get famous rapidly. The bad news is that historically it takes long years of preparation and work to achieve something magnificent.
One Buttock playing
Trying to deconstruct any learning and creativity process, it is worth starting from the very first baby steps. Lets imagine a basketball playground for a minute. Few teenagers play basketball. Suddenly a new person enters the playground and says he wants to join, but has never played before. What happens next? Most likely experienced players would not include a person. Less experienced players might include a person for a try, but can quickly change the mind or just ignore the newcomer. The new player can be (and should be) creative trying to use the skills gained in other fields, but despite effort, effective creativity is impossible without knowing the rules and practicing playing. It is impossible to create something effective without mastering the basics.
Jumping from sports to music, it is important and valuable to be creative every day in playing music, but without sufficient practice, creativity can not be effective on a large-scale. It takes lots of practice to be able to improvise and even more practice to create something magnificent.
First steps are difficult and the learning curve might be quite steep. As conductor Benjamin Zander said in a TED talk, if a 7 years old child starts learning to play piano, he/she plays with an impulse on every note (thus not very enjoying), next year, he/she plays quicker (impulse on every other note), at the age 9 gets better (impulse on every fourth note) and at age 10 usually quits (impulse on every eight note is tiring and hardly enjoying). But if he/she would continue for another year, he/she would suddenly start playing one impulse on the whole phrase and the music would transform to a completely new level. Benjamin Zander calls it one-buttock playing.
10 Years to Master Creativity
John Hayes, a cognitive psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University, studied thousands of successful musical pieces produced between the years of 1685 to 1900 and found out that “out of more than 500 works, only three were composed before year ten of composers career and these three were composed in years 8 and 9. The pattern of career productivity involved an initial ten years of silence, a rapid increase in productivity from year 10 to year 25, a period of stable productivity from year 25 to year 45 and then gradual decline.” Even Mozart had to work for more than 10 years before he produced something that became popular. In later studies, other researches found similar patterns among famous painters and poets.
These findings have been further confirmed by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, who revealed that you needed to put in 10 years of practice in order to become an expert in the field. Bestselling author Malcom Gladwell later introduced 10000 hours rule, saying it is enough to put this amount of hours to be an expert. K.Anders Erisccson also argued that practice should be deliberate, in other words, qualitative and goal oriented. Some people started testing the ideas.
The conclusions drawn in the previous article “Spend 10000 hours of Reach Success in Anything” are also relevant for creativity field. Working focused 6 hours every day on a specific skill for 5 years should make you a creative expert of the field. It should hold for music creation, skating, writing, painting, anything.
After sufficient practice we reach the level, when we have all possibilities to really create new unseen things. It is inevitable. We start writing new stories, create new variations on skateboard, play basketball in a different way. Lots of practice opens time for experimentation. While many peers still do basics, you already can try something advanced and unusual, test and observe the effect. Soon enough you can create things, patterns, works that bring substantial results and recognition.
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