10,000 Hours of Taiko

A great test of taiko science is now under way!

The book Outliers (review here) proposes the “10,000 hour rule” — mastering anything requires 10,000 hours of practice. As an experiment, I’ve decided to try and track my taiko practice time. I’ve conservatively estimated how many hours completed thus far, and am now carefully recording my daily practice. Watch this site to see when I cross the 10,000 hour mark (probably somewhere between Apr 8, 2017 and Aug 14, 2026) and then we’ll decide if I’ve reached “master” status. :)

Current total:

5045.95

———————


Graph generated:

The previous graph shows my progress thus far toward the 10,000 hour mark. Humbling, no? The past four months of diligent time tracking are that tiny, red squiggle on the left. The straight lines represent possible progress estimates. Since I started playing taiko, I’m averaging .9 hours of practice per day. If I continue at that rate, I reach the 10,000 hour goal on Aug 14, 2026, represented by the dark blue line in the graph. Since I started taking detailed notes of my practice time in June of 2009, however, I’ve been averaging 2 hours of practice per day. At that rate, I reach my goal on Apr 8, 2017, as shown by the light blue line. Actual completion will likely be somewhere in-between.

The next graph shows daily hours by practice type: personal practice, practice with On Ensemble, practice with other groups and individuals, and live performance. See below for more on how these numbers are tallied.


Graph generated:

Personal practice time since June 22, 2009: 406.09
Practice time with On Ensemble since June 22, 2009: 173.9
Practice time with other groups/individuals since June 22, 2009: 188.81
Live performance time since June 22, 2009: 59.15

kris_practicing

Caveats

Measuring one’s practice time is not without its dangers. Focusing on numbers can encourage uninterested practice and wasted time. I strongly believe that concentration, focus, and enjoyment are essential to quality practice. In the interests of science, however, and because I feel I am suitably aware of the dangers, I am dutifully keeping track of every minute practiced every day. You can read more about my thoughts on practice here.

What counts as practice?

This is a very difficult question. In fact, the ambiguity of defining “practice” is the biggest weakness of the 10,000 hour rule. For the purposes of this experiment, I am measuring only time spent when my brain is focused on taiko technique. By taiko technique, I mean the physical and hand/brain coordination aspects of playing all varieties of Japanese drums. So time spent doing small-drum drills on a practice pad, or playing slant drum in front of a mirror, counts. Working on my timing on my lap while on the bus counts too. Performance counts, but only when it is challenging in terms of playing, timing, or listening technique. In most cases, I’ll give myself about 30 minutes of practice time for every hour of performance. Group practice is tabulated similarly – it only counts when I’m concentrating, which is approximately half the time. Composition, writing about taiko, and teaching taiko do not count. While I believe these elements *do* contribute to becoming a master player — in fact they are probably critical elements — I am trying to err on the side of measuring conservatively.

Prior practice estimates

Total estimated practice prior to June 22, 2009: 4218 hours

1996 : 132 hours
First year playing, average of 6 hours of group practice per week during school year, about 50% of the time actually spent doing engaged practice, for a tabulation of 3 hr/wk x 36 weeks. Plus a number of personal practice sessions before performances, for an extra 24 hours.

1997 : 194 hours
Average 8 hours of group practice per week, at 50% engagement; 4 hr/wk x 36 weeks. Much more personal practice; extra 50 hours.

1998 : 216 hours
Average 8 hours of group practice per week, at 50% engagement; 4 hr/wk x 36 weeks. Continued increase in personal practice, average 2 hr/wk; extra 60 hours. Practice over summer; average 1.5 hr/wk x 8 weeks.

1999 : 222 hours
Average 9 hours of group practice per week, at 50% engagement; 4.5 hr/wk x 36 weeks. Similar personal practice; extra 60 hours.

2000 : 280 hours
Average 6 hours of personal practice per week, at 90% engagement; 5.4 hr/wk x 52.

2001 – 316 hours
Average 5 hours of personal practice per week, at 90% engagement; 4.5 hr/wk x 52. Lessons at Nihon Taiko Dojo, 4 hr/wk at 50% engagement; 2 hr/wk x 26. Intense spurt for Long Distance Collaboration; extra 30.

2002 – 384 hours
Average 6 hours of personal practice per week, at 90% engagement; 5.4 hr/wk x 52. Lessons at Nihon Taiko Dojo, 4 hr/wk at 50% engagement; 2 hr/wk x 52.

2003 – 338 hours
Average 5 hours of personal practice per week, at 90% engagement; 4.5 hr/wk x 52. On Ensemble regular practice, 4 hours per week, at 50% engagement; 2 hr/wk x 52.

2004 – 358 hours
Average 5 hours of personal practice per week, at 90% engagement; 4.5 hr/wk x 52. On Ensemble regular practice, 4 hours per week, at 50% engagement; 2 hr/wk x 52. Significant performance time at 50% engagement; extra 20 hours.

2005 – 363 hours
Average 5 hours of personal practice per week, at 90% engagement; 4.5 hr/wk x 52. On Ensemble regular practice, 4 hours per week, at 50% engagement; 2 hr/wk x 52. Performance time at 50% engagement; extra 25 hours.

2006 – 393 hours
Average 5 hours of personal practice per week, at 90% engagement; 4.5 hr/wk x 52. On Ensemble regular practice, 4 hours per week, at 50% engagement; 2 hr/wk x 52. Performance time at 50% engagement; extra 25 hours. Start of Err practice; extra 30 hours.

2007 – 403 hours
Average 5 hours of personal practice per week, at 90% engagement; 4.5 hr/wk x 52. On Ensemble regular practice, 4 hours per week, at 50% engagement; 2 hr/wk x 52. Performance time at 50% engagement; extra 25 hours. Significant Err practice; extra 40 hours.

2008 – 414 hours
Average 6 hours of personal practice per week, at 90% engagement; 5.4 hr/wk x 52. On Ensemble regular practice, 4 hours per week, at 50% engagement; 2 hr/wk x 52. Significant performance time at 40% engagement; extra 20 hours. 30 Days to Better Shime; extra 10 hours.

2009 (Jan 1 to June 22) : 205 hours
Average 6 hours of personal practice per week, at 90% engagement; 5.4 hr/wk x 25. On Ensemble regular practice, 4 hours per week, at 50% engagement; 2 hr/wk x 25. Significant performance time at 30% engagement; extra 20 hours.

Tags: ,

28 Responses to “10,000 Hours of Taiko”

  1. James says:

    Wow, this is great! Are the graphs created in wordpress? I’ve seen Tally Graph but these don’t look like google charts…

  2. Kris says:

    Hello! I tried using Tally Graph but I didn’t like that I’d be relying on Google’s API for years to come. So my friend Matt Gallizzi and I used gnuplot and cron to create the graphs nightly, and used short-codes in WordPress to actually use the graphs and number tallies on the site. I’ll have a howto coming soon!

  3. Brandon Martin says:

    I’m looking forward to the tech tutorial… Great job!

  4. Scott Ichikawa says:

    This is pretty darn cool Kris! Man, you are making me feel really lazy though! :D Good luck with your goals, I look forward to hearing about the progress!

  5. Margaret says:

    Kris, your honesty & dedication are humbling. Makes sense that % engagement (or “directed” practice) has to be part of the tally, otherwise we’d all hit 10,000 eventually just phoning it in. :) “How to max out everyone’s engagement % during group practice – including your own” would be a great topic for another tutorial or blog post! One question: what is Err practice?

  6. shoji says:

    Wow this is awesome. Go red squiggle go! This makes me want to do a better job at tracking my practice time as well. Seeing the red squiggle gradually inch it’s way up would be a fun way to motivate myself.

  7. kris says:

    Thanks for the encouragement everyone! Margaret, “Err” is the famously difficult solo piece I’m working on. By the time I can play it (I’m hoping in another 12 months or so), it’s very likely I’ll realize the song isn’t actually worth the difficulty level. I’m ignoring that possibility for now though. If nothing else, it helps the 10,000 hours goal. :)

  8. dishi says:

    Hah, how funny. When I read that part about 10,000 hours in Outliers, I was actually thinking about you and Shoji.

  9. Nozomi says:

    Egad, Kris! Actually I tried doing the Outliers math before…. I’m 53, so at an hour a day, I could get there near age 80! Seriously, though — thanks for the nudge!

  10. David says:

    This is way too cool. Like you said, I’m a little afraid of being motivated so much by numbers that I’d start bumping up my practice time just to make the goal faster (instead of constructively improving technique), but I’m gonna be cautious and track my practice time, too. I wanna be cheered on by my personal practice squiggle!

  11. Margaret says:

    Hey, wouldn’t the red squiggle look more impressive if you started the timeline and hours of practice at your zero point (1996) instead of halfway through 2009? Or is that less motivating? :)

  12. Kris says:

    Indeed it would. And I think a longer squiggle would be *more* motivating. That four months of relatively diligent practice and record keeping show up as that tiny little line is a bit discouraging. :)

    The problem is that I don’t have detailed data for anything prior to June 22 of this year, so the line would be formed of straight sections that span whole year periods. Somehow such approximations aren’t as satisfying to me in the graph. Although the squiggle is tiny, if nothing else, it’s an honest representation of daily progress. Baby steps. Baby steps.

    Margaret, you’re a great practicer… you should implement a tracking system too!

  13. Jeni says:

    Hey its jeni thx for a great week of taiko

  14. Nicki says:

    Love this and love your thoughtful tabulations. It’s surprising that in a year you might only have 316 hours (2001, for instance), less than an hour a day. I’m trying to think of all the conclusions that can be drawn from this: that sustained, concentrated practice is extremely difficult; that “work” is not the same as “practice”–for instance, you could not count a 40-hour work week for fifty weeks a year as somehow 2000 hours towards mastery of your job; how very few available hours there really are in a year; how I’ve got to get cracking at becoming master of something :) , though right now I feel like I’m on my way to being master diaper-changer. Must get some more rest before the next round of nursing, diapering, rocking the baby to sleep gets underway. Way to go, Meat.

  15. Margaret says:

    Humble congratulations from afar on completing Year 1 of this great experiment. Has your philosophy of practice changed in any way as a result?

    • kris says:

      Thank you very much for the anniversary note, Margaret! How did you know it’s been exactly a year this morning?! I’m moments away from publishing my thoughts on the last 365 days of practice…

      • Margaret says:

        A happy coincidence, I have to say. :)

        I’m intrigued that the proportion of what you consider real practice time has shrunk because you don’t count the time you spend generating source material to practise; I wonder if that’s being too purist. Does it make sense to discount the time it takes to realize that one lacks a skill and figure out what practice will develop it, counting only the practice by which one acquires that skill? Aren’t all of those steps essential to progress?

        I think intention is critical to progress generally, but what about unintentional skill acquisition? In other words, could you develop skills other than the one you meant to develop while practising? (Or is that just the flip side of acquiring inadvertent bad habits?)

        Luckily, running out of obvious technical challenges to focus on is a purely theoretical risk for me for the foreseeable future. :)

        Cheers & please keep us updated in Year 2! And please say more about your basic kata philosophy….

  16. Wanda Welbourn says:

    Kris Maz…put a link on my facebook page of the family photos of Shasta Yama. Thanks to you both for all of the hard work and play you brought to the performance.

  17. imwired says:

    This is incredible. I’ve had the idea of starting up a blog, but the staggering number of 10,000 proved to be quite the deterrent.

    Congrats and I look forward to the day you attain the grand title of… Master

  18. Sarah Bergstrom says:

    Hey I just wanted to note that I recently read the outlier chapter referring to the theory of 10000 hours of practice being the key to mastery in my high school senior english class and then came upon your site here… the whole concept sounds very appealing to me and seeing your progress as an individual working towards your goal is encouraging for the rest of us with dreams and goals. I personally don’t really know much about taiko, and I have never practiced an instrument before today for several reasons, but just learning about this theory and reading about your diligence makes me feels intrigued and challenged. I have been contemplating learning to play an instrument for some time now, and although I am somewhat financially challenged, I feel more inspired to start up a goal such as yours sometime in the near future. Thank You for being a model and inspiration for others and keep up the good work, surely in the end it will pay off.

  19. Katherine Bradtke says:

    I love reading your ideas on practice! I love
    too that you’ve set a measurable goal as
    of 10,000 hours. I know this might seem like
    a silly question but It was wondering using
    the 10,000 hour model and the parameters on
    what constitutes practice, how many masters are there
    in North America today and who are they? I’m sure
    many of us have ideas of who we consider
    masters…I’m just wondering if they would likely
    meet and/or exceed the 10,000 hours of practice?

  20. Kris says:

    I would guess that Kenny has 10,000 hours. He’s really consistent with the kind of personal practice that counts according to my tracking criteria. Kelvin, Shoji, and Maz are probably close also, considering the length of time they’ve been playing. It looks like it’ll take me about 30 years start to finish, so the other guys are probably right around 10,000.

  21. Margaret says:

    Hey Kris – Just read Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin…interesting book about high-level performance in many fields (sports, chess, music, etc.). Summarizes research showing that deliberate practice is the common denominator to all kinds of world-class performers. Iffy on the pro-business tilt (e.g., do we want or need more Rupert Murdochs?), but tackles interesting questions about what motivates people to practice and about the benefits of deliberate practice for organizations as well as individuals.
    Then, once one’s convinced that talent is overrated, what happens? (a) Bubba Watson wins the Masters, claiming he’s never had a golf lesson in his life nor even watched his swing on video, and (b) Timothy Doner (age 16) demonstrates fluency in 23 languages, self-taught, starting with Hebrew just when he was getting ready for his bar mitzvah. Huh?

  22. Wendy says:

    Dude, everyday I get to know you a bit better through your words and works — so as an appreciator of your efforts, let me add a thought to aid your tally. I think thinking about a song/beats/etc could count as practice.

    Why I think that… I accepted the challenge of learning a new and fairly complex shime piece we were going to perform in a few weeks time, even though I knew I’d have little time to spend on the drum to practice (big project client deadlines). So I had a roughed in version from one of our notes-read practice sessions on a pretty-much continuous loop playing while I did my client work. As a designer, I let the project at hand run on a continuous loop in my head, so when I sit down to actually work on the thing, it just flows — I figured, why not try it for Taiko? Now if only I could bill the clients for loop time..hmmm….. Anyway, just a thought…

    To quote Shoji: Go red squiggle go!

    Btw: We had a blast playing the song when it was time. Gave the composer a bit of an ulser as I didn’t go totally off notes until like two days before, but the song stuffed itself into my head and stuck the landing. So really, I do think drumming in your head counts.

  23. kris says:

    Good point, Wendy! I certainly agree. When I’m trying to learn a new shamisen piece, I have it on loop everywhere I go, and it really does seem to sink in, even if I’m not paying attention to it much of the time.

    But including listening in my practice count would muddy the water for me. Same goes for composing, and singing through a piece before bed, and talking to collaborators about music. All of these things are probably essential to my improvement as an artist but once I start to include these things, where do I draw the line? As a long-term experiment, it’s better to measure the most tangible part of practice — concentrated drum time — and watch how this quantifiable number relates to my skill level.

    But aside from this 10000 hours experiment, as Kelvin says, “How many hours do I practice? Every hour is practice.”

    • Wendy says:

      Yeah I know. It’s muscle memory you’re building. To get to the point where you don’t have to think, where it all flows out of you as naturally as a breath. So yeah, don’t muddy the waters. Just a thought.

  24. Chris says:

    At age 64 it is unusual to undertake something new, something ignored for years. For reasons yet to be seen by me, I attended your workshop in Montreal on Jan 19th. There was a quality of presence in the four of you that pulled us all in to the point where a glimpse of something very strong was possible. I knew nothing of Taiko. The few performances I had heard had not left me intrigued. But for some reason it felt important to come to the workshop and simply to try to be open to something new.

    It was marvelous. Like any unaccustomed physical activity the movements were physically uncomfortable. I now have groin tendons that will never be the same!; but nevertheless, and perhaps even because of the physical discomfort, a certain attention was possible. The fundamental rhythms were not complex, yet combining them in various ways still needed that carefully proportioned blend of mental, physical and emotional focus found only in worthwhile work.

    Thank you for your openness, sincerity, humour and uplifting musicianship.

    • kris says:

      Thank you, Chris! We had such a wonderful time with you and the others in the workshop. My love of Montreal has deepened! If you ever make it out to Los Angeles, let us know!

Leave a Reply

On Ensemble is proudly powered by WordPress
Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS).