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This week we return to Victor Wooton’s book The Music Lesson. We have explored groove, notes, articulation and saying ‘thank you’. Today’s lesson is technique.

Technique is the skill or ability to carry out a particular task. It is the result of attention and practice.

Many of us grew up with our teachers and parents chanting the mantra “practice makes perfect,” while we were subjected to hours of rote repetition of scales and arpeggios.  Contemporary pedagogy eschews this phrase – no matter how much you practice, “perfect” is elusive. Psychologist Anders Ericsson and (in more popular culture) journalist Malcolm Gladwell both proposed that a specific amount of practice would make perfect: Ericsson suggested 10 years, and Gladwell 10,000 hours. Although both researchers proposed an “ideal” amount of time to become “expert,” they also recognized that practice is not enough to make perfect. Read this story about one man who decided to test the theory.

New research confirms that other, intangible elements, are equally important in developing the technique that makes art, or sport, or life look “perfect.” These other factors may include working memory capacity and the age at which one begins to engage in an activity. So although “practice makes perfect” is an appealing mantra, there is still mystery in discovering why some people become expert and others remain competent.

Practice, in and of itself, does not make perfect. It does however, consistently, make progress. And progress is how you develop technique.

This week listen to two pianists whose commitment to their technique is unrivaled. As you listen, you will realize that there is more than technique at work in these two performances. What do you think makes these performances, and these performers, more than the “perfection” of their technique?


Glen Gould

  1. S. Bach, Goldberg Variations

1981 Studio Video (complete)


Evgeny Kissin

Chopin and Schumann

Solo Recital, 2010