Tuesday, December 17, 2013

2013: Fiddle Year One

A few years ago, I read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, which propagates the idea of "the 10,000-hour rule," whereby it takes 10,000 hours of practicing a certain task to become a master of that task. This idea planted a seed that led me to create a spreadsheet to track my banjo playing. I already tracked my running on another spreadsheet, so it seemed natural to carry over the practice to quantify my musical pursuits.

Since 2008, I've logged 1,010 hours (and counting) of banjo playing, so in another 45 years I'll have mastered the instrument. I'll be 79 years old. It seems hopeless to think that way, but having the spreadsheet helps me keep track of my progress, regardless of whether I ever actually reach that gilded 10,000-hour mark.

A year ago, I bought a fiddle as a Christmas gift to me from my wife, and you'd better believe I created a spreadsheet to track my playing. I made some great progress in the beginning of the year, but then the weather got nicer and I started running more. My son was born in September, which really made it difficult to find time to practice the fiddle, at least until I started playing in the early mornings. So far, I've played the fiddle 117 hours, with the hope of hitting 125 by year's end.

Citing Clay County, W.Va., fiddler Wilson Douglas, Dwight Diller says, "It takes about 10 years just to start to learn the fiddle," so I'm biding my time.

Of course, logging hours isn't much of a measure of how I'm actually progressing. Since the baby arrived, I've focused solely on bowing at the expense of learning any new tunes. I play about 10 tunes, and that's enough for now. There'll be plenty of time to learn more tunes later.

Do you track how much you play your instrument? How would you rate your music playing this year? Any musical resolutions for the New Year? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I don't keep track of the time I spend on fiddle or banjo but I know it adds up. There are days when I go to bed tired, but happy, from playing. Those are the good days. And then there are days when I go to bed wishing I'd played more. Those are good days, too. : )

    It'll be six years on fiddle for me come January, and I think there's something to be said for the 10-year comment. I've worked pretty hard and it feels like I've made steady progress, but it also feels like I'm just beginning to be able to play and I suspect it'll feel the same four years from now.

    I really enjoy your blog posts, by the way. I'm looking forward to hearing more about your fiddle adventures.

  2. I have played strings since I was a kid, I am now 52. A few years ago I got sad and realised I had not picked up an instrument in more than six months. So I started to keep track like this, at a minimum each week I play or sing at least 3 songs or tunes
    3 songs with one other person. Maybe my musical resolution could be keeping a record: tune, intrument (s) who with and where. Maybe a picture.