Becoming a Great Singer in 10,000 Hours or Less

Is there a faster way?

Howard R. Reichman, MD

Howard R. Reichman, MD

For 10 years I worked closely with the prominent neurosurgeon Dr. Howard Reichman.  From him I learned a great deal about hard work, long hours and expertise.  He told me once about the 10,000 hour rule.  He said there was a study that showed if you worked at something for 4 hours every day for 10 years (about 10,000 hours) you would become an expert. He understood this firsthand because he had attained world-class surgical expertise.

This concept fascinated me and a quick online search uncovered the authors of the study and their research.  The lead investigator was K. Anders Ericsson and his results were published in the book, “The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance“, published by Cambridge University Press. The research showed that “outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching and not of any innate talent or skill.”  

The good news is that you don’t have to be born a genius with an amazing gift to develop expertise as a singer and performer.  The bad news is the research concludes it takes work, dedication and practice. In the words of Ericsson in the Harvard Business Review:

“…..Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born. ….The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice— practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself. Above all… you’ve got to forget the folklore about genius that makes many people think they cannot take a scientific approach to developing expertise.”

How long will it take to learn to sing?

Frequently I am asked how long will it take to learn to sing?  This is a hard question because the answer depends on whether the student wants to sing in the shower or on Broadway.  So the answer is different for each person depending on what they want. For many reasons I have never said, “About 10 years and 10,000 hours”.

Are 10,000 hours and 10+ years of extreme dedication the only way to arrive at expertise?  Business consultant and trainer Timothy R. Clark wrote a piece for the Deseret News entitled “Breaking the 10,000-hour rule“.

Here he suggests there may be a way to shorten the 10,000 hours:

“So can we break the so-called 10,000-hour rule? Ericsson tells us that not only do we need the 10,000 hours, but we also need to engage in ‘deliberate practice,’ which he defines as ‘considerable, specific and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well.’ So genius is a combination of natural endowment, outside support and deliberate practice. But can we make our deliberate practice even better and cut into that 10,000-hour requirement? Can we become even quicker studies?”

This is what we all want isn’t it…to get expertise faster?

So what does Clark suggest?

“…What researchers find is that if a person can stay focused by regulating impulses, that person learns faster. In other words, if you can develop the discipline to avoid distractions, you can assimilate information and develop skills more quickly.”

Another way Clark feels we may shorten the 10,000-hour rule is finding less directive teachers. As applied to singing I think he is saying to find teachers who teach us to be aware of what’s going on with our own voices.

He continues:

“…Two thoughts: First…teaching and coaching in our culture is too directive. It often breeds dependency. We over-direct and over-teach. There’s too much telling and advocacy, and not enough questioning and aided discovery. It’s often the coach or teacher that’s the limiting factor. Result: We don’t learn how to learn. We look to the teacher, coach, boss or parent as the repository of answers, when instead we need to develop the ability to self-regulate and self-adjust and to become relentless problem-solvers.”

Avoid Distractions and Become Aware

Becoming an expert world class singer and performer will take dedication and perseverance. You will maximize your deliberate practice time by focused discipline to avoid distractions while developing your skills.  Finally, you may progress faster by finding teachers who do less telling and directing and more teaching how to learn. That means, in my opinion, teaching you awareness of your own voice.

If we can do this then maybe as Clark suggests we can…”start talking about the 5,000-hour rule.”



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About Chuck R. Gilmore

My personal singing journey from failure to success gives me a unique perspective and special insight into the problems you face as an aspiring singer. Everything from not being able to sing high notes to lack of confidence singing in front of others. Because I've solved them in my own voice, I know how to help you.


  1. Chuck's Biggest Fan says:

    would love to chat about this!

    • I just reread it to remind myself about the piece. You have the interview with Pavarotti when he said the F he demonstrated took about 10 years to develop. I didn’t go into this part of it, but the research also showed that Tiger Woods, Mozart and Michael Jordon were also very hard workers. They had the drive and ability to work hard everyday to master skill after skill. I’m not completely versed on all the research, but it was the opinion of Dr. Reichman and I hold the same view, that in order to really reach world class status, you need to have a propensity for it. For example, Reichman has the ability to see in 3 dimensions. He not only saw what he was cutting, he could see what was behind it…he could see depth in a way that gave him a special ability.

      In my opinion, he didn’t get that in 10000 hours. He had a knack for surgery. And his Father was a Neurosurgeon. So I believe there are many factors involved. One factor which does come into play is the age you begin your efforts. The younger you are the faster you progress and retain.

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