The True Secret Behind Mozart's Genius

Since the day he entered this world, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was surrounded by music.

His father, Leopold Mozart, was a musical instructor and filled the Mozart home with music played by his students. This included Wolfgang’s older sister, Maria Anna, who practiced the piano day and night.

This exposure helped Wolfgang develop a passion for music, but also a jealousy. He wanted to learn how to play the piano just like his sister and the other children who came into the Mozart home. So, even as a toddler, he begged his father to teach him how to play.

Eventually, even though he had never even thought to teach someone so young, Leopold relented and began teaching piano to his 4 year-old son.

Almost immediately Leopold could see that there was something different about Wolfgang. He seemed to get completely lost in the music. He was so focused, so absorbed, and so intent on learning – even at that incredibly young age!

Along with this seemingly super-human ability to focus, it was clear that young Wolfgang had another major advantage over his peers. He had an extraordinary passion for the music itself.

He loved listening, he loved playing, and he even loved practicing difficult pieces!

When he found a piece that challenged him, he would attempt to play it over and over until he was finally able to conquer it. He even loved to innovate on the music by taking a piece he had mastered and adding his own personal touch to it.

So this young boy was not just learning how to play the works of other composers, he was actually beginning to compose music of his own!

Then after 2 years of teaching Wolfgang, Leopold thought up an ingenious idea. He would take his son, who was now 6, and his older sister on a tour of Europe. Wolfgang would dress as a court minister, Maria Anna as a princess, and they would dazzle audiences from Vienna to Paris.

Sure enough, the crowds on the tour could not get enough of the young, precious musicians. This show was so popular, in fact, that it was Wolfgang and his sister that supported the Mozart family, not Leopold.

So here we have, at the extraordinarily young age of 6, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with 2 years of music experience, composing his own pieces, and performing at such a high-level that he was the primary breadwinner of the family! [1]

If there has ever been an example of innate talent, Mozart has to be it. How else can you explain such extraordinary accomplishment at such a young age? Well, let us examine the Mozart story a little more closely. 

Was it Talent? Or Something Else?

As mentioned, since his inception into this world, Wolfgang was exposed to music. It filled the Mozart home all day with music played by Leopold’s students, and all night with music played by his older sister, Maria Anna.

Wolfgang loved the music, but he was also jealous of the affection the other children got from his father – especially Maria Anna. He saw how much her playing made their father happy, and Wolfgang wanted to impress him in the same way.

This ignited a passion inside of him to learn music himself to gain his father’s affection.

So he begged Leopold to teach him for years. But, by the time his father finally did begin teaching him, Wolfgang was years behind his sister in terms of skill and practice.

She was 5 years older than him, so even though Wolfgang started practicing, she was still developing more quickly. A 10 year-old with a year of practice will likely be better at listening, understanding, and playing music, than a 5 year-old with the same amount of practice time.

This meant Wolfgang was in a constantly “playing catch-up” to win the affection of his father. This gave him extra motivation to continue practicing and pushing his limits in order to play as well as his older sister.

This motivation, along with the fact that music was simply a way of life in the Mozart household, led to Wolfgang’s deep affection for it. He truly loved music! It was not a “chore” for him to practice the same way that it was for many other children.

In fact, music was actually therapeutic for Wolfgang. As a child, he had a problem with mood swings and lashing out at others – unless he was fully immersed in music.

So, unlike other children his age who would get rid of pent up energy by playing outside, he would get rid of his pent up energy by playing music. This led his father to deal with Wolfgang’s temper tantrums by placing him in front of the piano with a challenging piece in front of him.

Thus he would both release his anger and improve his skills!

Then, when it came to performing in the capitals of Europe, the crowds who gathered to see young Wolfgang and his sister were not attending primarily for the quality of the music. It was much more about the spectacle.

They came to see the young, precious children dressed up like grown ups and playing instruments. This was a performance about novelty – not purely music. Which meant that Wolfgang had the opportunity to get experience performing in front of crowds that were forgiving.

In fact, if he or his sister were to make a mistake, that would be brushed off by the audience. What did they expect? The kids were only 6 and 11!

So here we have:

  • A young boy who has been exposed to music since the day he was born.
  • Who realized that if he was going to earn his father’s praise and attention over his sister, he was going to have to become a better musician than her.
  • And had a pattern of throwing temper tantrums, the cure for which just so happens to be to put him in front of a piano with a challenging piece of music.
  • Plus, the ability to practice in front of live audiences who would forgive his mistakes

All of these factors combined to create perhaps the best young musician of all time. And none of them have anything to do with the boy's innate talent!

This shows that it was not pure talent that made the difference for Wolfgang. So what was it?

The Real Secret of Mozart's Success 

To find out the real secret of Mozart's and other composer's success, psychologist John Hayes looked at how long it took the best composers of all time to create their first great work.

He found that nobody, including Mozart, had produced a piece of work of any significance until about 10 years after they had first taken up music.

Which means even Mozart – who had essentially every advantage when it comes to becoming a brilliant musician – still had to practice his skills for a full 10 years before creating anything great!

No amount of innate talent, even in a field of “genius” such as music, could overcome the years of practice necessary to create a great work. Someone may be talented, they may be lucky, but they still have to go through 10 years of practice in order to become a master. [2]

This finding has been verified many times by other researchers. Anders Erikson found that in order to achieve expert performance in any field, one must engage in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. [3]

Author Malcolm Gladwell further confirmed this finding in his book, Outliers, when he discovered that success stories like Bill Gates and the Beatles only started truly seeing results after they had reached these 10,000 hours of practice. [4]

Even further, author Robert Greene also confirmed this rule in his book, Mastery, when he discovered that Ben Franklin, Charles Darwin and many other “masters” all had abided by this 10,000-hour rule. [5]

The overwhelming evidence today proves that in order to achieve top-level performance, you must put in at least 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice toward a specific skill or domain.

To some, this finding may not make sense. After all, look at our society! There are plenty of people who have studied a particular field for over 10 years, or accumulated well over 10,000 hours of work in their domain.

Yet, they have nowhere near the success of a Mozart or a Bill Gates. Doesn’t this prove that those people had a special gift since birth that allowed them to improve more from their 10,000 hours than a normal person would?

Perhaps it is not talent alone that makes one great, but that talent is what separates you as long as you are willing to put in the work. These are all valid questions and their answers lie in defining “deliberate practice”.


The biggest difference between deliberate and average practice is focus. 

Great performers focus on improving the hardest tasks first and get consistent feedback on how to fix their mistakes. They spend their practice time consistently improving – not just going through the motions.

Here is an example from one of the fathers of performance psychology, Aubrey Daniels:

“Consider the activity of two basketball players practicing free throws for one hour. Player A shoots 200 practice shots, Player B shoots 50.

The Player B retrieves his own shots, dribbles leisurely and takes several breaks to talk to friends. Player A has a colleague who retrieves the ball after each attempt.

The colleague keeps a record of shots made. If the shot is missed the colleague records whether the miss was short, long, left or right and the shooter reviews the results after every 10 minutes of practice.

To characterize their hour of practice as equal would hardly be accurate. Assuming this is typical of their practice routine and they are equally skilled at the start, which would you predict would be the better shooter after only 100 hours of practice?” [6]


You can clearly see the difference between the two players. But deliberate practice does not just apply to sports or music. You can add it to any skill you want to acquire by using the formula below.

The key elements of deliberate practice are to:


Rather than working on what you are already good at, deliberate practice requires that you work on those things that you are not good at. So identify what you need to work on to reach your goals.


Feedback is one of the most important aspects of deliberate practice. You need to be constantly learning what you are doing well and where you can improve. You don't need to have an instructor, per se, the basketball player in the example simply used the hoop as his feedback.


Begin practicing the things that you have recognized you need to improve on. If the basketball player continuously missed short, he would work on adjusting his shot to have slightly more power. Based on your feedback, improve your skills.

4.    REPEAT

Repetition is absolutely crucial for the development of your skills. Going through this deliberate practice process one time will not do anything. Remember, even Mozart had to repeat this process for 10 years in order to become great! 


The story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is often cited as “proof” that there is such thing as innate talent. He proves that some of us are simply born with the ability to play the violin, to play professional sports or to become a world-class writer. 

However, when you truly examine the Mozart story, you see how many other factors were in place to help him develop into a brilliant musician. Yet even with these advantages, he still had to endure over 10 years of deliberate practice in order to produce a great piece of music.

Deliberate practice is different than what many of us do when we want to improve our skills. It involves working on your weaknesses, getting consistent feedback, adjusting based on what you learned and repeating. 

To truly become a master, you must be willing to practice. And practice over and over again!