How Did Charlie Parker Attribute His Musical Success?


When Paul Desmond interviewed alto saxophonist Charlie Parker in 1954, he asked him how he acquired his “fantastic technique.” Parker responded, “I cannot see that there’s anything fantastic about my progress at all, Paul. I put quite a bit of study into the horn, that’s true. So much so that on one occasion the neighbours asked my mother to move. They said I was driving them crazy with the horn. I used to put in at least eleven to fifteen hours every day, and I did this over three to four years.”
Take the midpoints of Parker’s practice account. If he practised six days a week with four weeks off per annum for rest and rehabilitation, we can calculate the following.

13 hours per day x 6 (days per week) x 48 (weeks per year) x 3.5 years = 13,104 hours

According to this estimate, Charlie Parker accrued well over 10000 hours in three-and-a-half years. His practice routine was consistent and sustained so from his perspective, progress was measured and incremental.

from Learning Strategies for Musical Success by Michael Griffin

“A must read for all music educators” – Robert Adams, New Haven, USA.

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Also by Michael Griffin

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‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Second edition. Bumblebee! is more than just a wonderfucollection of 130 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.

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“It’s great to have some fresh warm-ups to add to the repertory. The tips for actions and techniques are really useful, and the advice at the back of the book has made me review some of my strategies.”

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Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging. Available at


Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents. “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at

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Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.

View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!” – St George College, Australia

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Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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5 comments on “How Did Charlie Parker Attribute His Musical Success?
  1. Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, and he provides interesting information on all the time spent by the Beatles in mastering their craft. Charlie Parker’s experience seems right on track.

  2. While I entirely agree with the 10,000 hour equation for becoming a ‘master’ of an instrument, I would also add the caveat that ‘Aptitude’ is still a basic requirement. Some people seem to think it is their right to be able to be a superb musician if they put in the wood shedding hours. No amount of hours is going to transform a non-musical person if they do not possess that initial aptitude – because ‘musicality’ is an aptitude, not just a set of skills you gain by default.

    • mdgriffin63 says:

      Thanks Michael. Where does this aptitude come from? Is it a gene?

      • SaxnFlutman says:

        I doubt if it’s something that physical, but it exists, which is why many of the greatest artists, scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, etc, were not “trained”, or spent a great amount of time in academia… Some simply have a “gift”, and there’s no telling where “it came from”…

      • mdgriffin63 says:

        If this is the case, perhaps Parker did not have much natural ability because according to him he had to practise incessantly to reach the standard he did.
        Are you really suggesting that “many greats” we’re untrained? I know of some who were self trained and had mentors to copy and learn from but I know of none who didn’t put in the required hours. Who exactly are you referring to? Why would you prefer to believe in ” a gift that comes from who knows where” as opposed to the quality and quantity of practice time?

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