There is a school of thought that suggests expert performance is obtained through deliberate practice, that is, approximately 10,000 hours of engagement in a specific activity, such as instrumental practice. The theory suggests that deliberate practice can overcome basic traits such as short-term working memory capacity, to make the connections and improvements for encoding and access of information required for the skill practiced (Ericsson & Charness, 1994).
The current study (Meinz & Hambrick, 2010) suggests that working memory capacity adds to the prediction of expert performance and findings show that there were incremental positive effects of working memory capacity in the prediction of expert performance above and beyond that of deliberate practice.
Photo: Chloe Papas
Working memory capacity (WMC) is the ability to retain task-specific information. WMC has been investigated with pianists and sight-reading (Rayner & Pollatsek, 1997) where a high WMC pianist is able to remember more notes ahead of their current playing location in a score than a low WMC pianist in a sight reading activity. This suggests that there is some evidence of WMC contributing to differences in sight reading ability.
Further investigation was sought to see if WMC was effective at high levels of deliberate practice. Meinz & Hambrick (2010) found that deliberate practice accounted for nearly half the variance in sight reading ability. However, WMC accounted for a significant proportion within this variance (7.4%) above and beyond that of deliberate practice. The result do not suggest that piano training enhances WMC, rather that the innate working memory capacity of an individual will affect sight reading ability beyond that accounted for through deliberate practice. WMC for this study is considered to be the extent to which pianists can prepare for future keystrokes by looking ahead in musical scores.
WMC is said to be innate, stable and heritable, and accordingly, these results call into question deliberate practice as the sole predictor of expert performance. Working memory capacity may determine the ultimate level of performance that can be obtained.