The psychology and neuroscience of expert performance

The psychology and neuroscience of expert performanceEricsson (1993) has compiled extensive research in the area of the development of expert performance and learning characteristics of elite performers. His conclusions are that experts use deliberate practice in the accomplishment of their skills. Non-elite performers will practice just enough to master a particular task and then  stop practising. Expert performers will sustain and refine their practice, in doing so, develop and refine “mediating mechanisms” such as mental representation, anticipation skills, motor control, self-regulation, and meta-cognition, among others.

The neuroscience perspective reaches similar conclusions about expert performance, which is the importance of the role of deliberate practice. Coyle (2009) in The Talent Code suggests that the use of deliberate or deep practice develops myelin structures in the brain which improve connectivity and the acquiring of the skills necessary for a particular task. Coyle indicates it is not the end product such as scales, which improves them, but what is occurring during the practice of them in the brain. When we make mistakes we correct them, and the mistake-correction procedure improves the connectivity required in the brain to make these movements. Repeated practice fires specific circuits in the brain, developing more myelin along these connections. Myelin improves these circuits and the exchange of information. The repetitive nature of the process has rewards for the determined learner, even though the results may take a while to become obvious.


Exceptional talent does not appear out of nowhere. Performers, composer, and athletes have had many thousands of hours of practice. There are very poor results early in development, but the mastery and continued refinement of skills  has produced the expert performer or athlete we see today. There are other factors argued as important to the development of such experts performers such as supportive home environment and access to excellent teachers (Davidson, et al 1996; Davidson, Sloboda, & Howe, 1996; Sloboda, 2001; Howe, et al, 1998). The important point for learning in music is the gradual development and mastery of skills. The recognition that great performers can be labelled as talented, however, there is no myth surrounding how they achieved their expert status. It was through practice and the motivation to continue to practice above and beyond mastery of basic skills.



Davidson, J. W., Sloboda, J. A., & Howe, M. J. A. (1996). The role of parents and teachers in the success and failure of instrumental learners. Bulletin for the Council for Research in Music Education, 127, 40-44.

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

Howe, M. J., Davidson, J. W., & Sloboda, J. A. (1998). Innate talents: reality or myth? The Behavioral and brain sciences, 21(3), 399-407.

Sloboda, J. (2001). Emotion, Functionality and the Everyday Experience of Music: Where does music education fit? Music Education Research, 3(2), 243-253.

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