Mental Representations in Expert Musicians

Expert musicians and deliberate practice

Mental Representations in Expert Musicians

Following on from my previous post, it has been found that expert musicians have well-developed mental representations. Mental representations allow experts to see patterns from a large amount of data and are able to sort through this information to arrive at a solution for a problem.

Expert musicians mental representations

Musical practice for expert performers

Experts are able to deal with and sort through information more effectively than non-experts.

Furthermore, expert musicians mental representation are used to improve overall performance through monitoring and evaluating this information and modify problem-solving choices. Therefore, experts become more effective in their learning and overall ability at a faster rate that a novice.

Recent research has shown that it is the feature of the effective development and use of mental representation which separates expert musicians from those considered non-expert. Furthermore, it is the quality of mental representations which sets expert performers apart from the rest.

Expert musicians with their well-developed mental representations were able to detect more rapidly, any mistakes they had made and to correct these mistakes to a greater level than non-expert musicians (Ericsson, 2002). Importantly, the mental representations of the experts were used to identify mistakes and apply appropriate practice techniques to overcome issues in their practice.

The problem with this type of practice—spotting mistakes and effectively correcting them—is hard work.

Furthermore, it is not enjoyable and takes a great deal of intrinsic motivation to improve. A significant number of solitary hours of practice is required to achieve an expert level of musical performance. In excess of 10,000hours. In fact, 10,000 would be the minimum. Ericsson (Ericsson, 2002; Ericsson  et al., 2016) found that those music students considered expert performers had accumulated a practice time in excess of 10,000 hours by their late teenage years.

Research has found that expert musicians require an expert teacher who is able to provide practice activates and technique which facilitate deliberate practice.

Most noteworthy, deliberate practice activities are designed to focus on very specific skills. For example, vague statements such as “more practice” or “play in this rhythm” or “practice this section slower” does not provide specific information on what is meant to be practiced and why.

Consequently, effective feedback from the teacher correctly identifying the underlying issue and appropriate solutions is key. Development of effective problem-solving solutions tied to practice strategies assists learners in the development of their own mental representations. Therefore, it is the quality of mental representations which sets apart experts performers from non-experts. The difficulty is that expert musicians mental representations are not directly observable.


Ericsson, K. A. (2002). Attaining excellence through deliberate practice: Insights from the study of expert performance. In M. Ferrari (Ed.), The pursuit of excellence through education (pp. 21-55). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Ericsson , K. A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things: Vintage Digital.

© iteachpiano 2017

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