Why are elite violinists better than the average players?
The obvious guess is that the elite players are more dedicated to their craft. That is, they’re willing to put in the long, Tiger Mom-style hours required to get good, while the average players are off goofing around and enjoying life.
The data tells a different story …
We can start by disproving the assumption that the elite players dedicate more hours to music. The time diaries revealed that both groups spent, on average, the same number of hours on music per week (around 50).
The difference was in how they spent this time. The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability.
This might not be surprising, as the importance of deliberate practice had been replicated and reported many times (c.f., Gladwell).
But the researchers weren’t done.
When and how you practice matters.
They also studied how the students scheduled their work. The average players, they discovered, spread their work throughout the day. A graph included in the paper, which shows the average time spent working versus the waking hours of the day, is essentially flat.
The elite players, by contrast, consolidated their work into two well-defined periods. When you plot the average time spent working versus the hours of the day for these players, there are two prominent peaks: one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
In fact, the more elite the player, the more pronounced the peaks. For the best of the best — the subset of the elites who the professors thought would go on to play in one of Germany’s two best professional orchestras — there was essentially no deviation from a rigid two-sessions a day schedule.
Oh, and the elite players slept an hour more per night than the average players.