Talent

Talent

This is my first discussion 🙂

I hear people say things like "oh, isn’t he so talented!", or "they’re so lucky to be able to do that"

my question is, what do you take talent to mean?
Its definition is natural abilities or qualities.
I may agree that a person is talented, but I don’t think does justice to someone playing the way they do. I also agree that definitely, some people have ‘it’ and some people don’t.

I’ll use me as an example. I play fiddle, I play it well, my band has 2 CDs, I teach it, etc, and every so often somebody will tell me I am talented. Do people not see that, yes, I play the fiddle well, but I also played it for about 15 hours a week for ten years? It took hard work to get there.

I play the flute, too, it took me about a year to be at a good level on that, I’ve recorded that too.. people dismiss being good at something as being lucky. I played that for 3 hours a day, for a year or more.

I think it is tied with age- I may be 17 and good at playing music, but I’ve played since I was 7: 10 years is way over half my life, with maybe an 1/8th of every single day given to playing music.

Some people have it, but those people who are at the high level have worked really hard to get there- I don’t know any who have been great instantly, or within a few years.

Whats everybody else’s opinion on the matter?

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It always annoyed me when one of the students had worked really hard and done well in a music exam and someone would say dismissively ‘Yes but she’s very gifted’ as though they had been given their success and not had to work for it. Talent is the innate ability, work is what makes the most of it - or makes up for the lack of it!

Don’t worry sclery, real musicians understand the work you put in.

Oh dear, I’m begining to sound like my grandmother

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I teach music too…….. and see different levels of *talent* every day. Yes, of course it helps to be able to have a good ear for tuning and hearing/playing intervals. Tune memory is important. With children, especially, talent can make a huge difference when it comes to whether or not they want to continue playing an instrument. If if doesn’t come easily for them, or if there is no fun involved, children tend to want to quit eventually.
For adults, however, I’ve found that the intent and desire to learn is more important than talent. Talent can be *learned* just like anything else, when the motivation is there.
This just happens to be my experience……

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i think its because people listen to music to forget about things like hard work and drudgery.

it lifts peoples spirits to see a good musician soar

just run with it and pretend yer a mystical genius. it will all pay off in the end.

;)

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morning star makes an excellent point about adults and motivation. As a teacher of slightly more adults than kids (all kids who want to play, though) I have observed that, too, although I’m not sure whether "talent" is just another myth. Certainly not sure whether it is nature or nurture, and it is sometimes hard to tell whether the pupils who get on the best are just working harder, or to be precise, working more effectively.

Had an interesting experience teaching, though. A guy in his 70s approached me for lessons. This isn’t that uncommon, I’ve had a fair few over the years. The beginners don’t normally exactly set the heather on fire, the ones who want to brush up old skills, or whatever, are sometimes quite successful. Well this one was a complete beginner, but had always been a very keen listener, and had a brother who played, and had started when they were young. He had watched him learn and get to be pretty good, but for some reason had never played himself. They lived in a rural community that was crawling with brilliant box players, too. Although he isn’t the most flexible either mentally or physically he has made tremendous progress in a short time. Hmmmm

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As you are new, I am saying nothing.

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Did you know that having perfect pitch allows you the ability to memorize several thousand tunes?

I’ll get my coat.

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T Edison is credited with the well-known saying:
"Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration", and the less well-known "I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident. They came by work."
In his case, of course, much of the work was done by badly-paid minions, whereas for musicians it is generally necessary to do the work oneself.
By the way, it’s nice to see someone declining the praise of being talented! (Different from that claim - I won’t go into it again - that recently was referenced here of the guy who "knows several thousand tunes" after nine years playing! Hard for those of us who are not arithmetically challenged to believe - but then again, who am I?)

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Just did a search to check my sources and found "The more I practice, the luckier I get" attributed to Arnold Palmer and several other people. And Sam Goldwyn has "The harder I work, the luckier I get."
It’s time for "The harder I practice, the more talented I become."

You can take the credit.

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If I may add to this. We’v all been given gifts, and talent lay’s in a different place with each of use. I’v been playing or singing as long as I can remember, and heard the comment, "Your so luckey, gifted, talented.." frequently. And have always just figured, we all have strengths. I look at a guy who practices every day and go I wish I could do that. I once had a room mate who practiced 3 hours per day every day. After awhile I woud find excuses to not come home cause he’d want me to practice with him. I can’t handle that level of concentration. Fortunatly songs and tunes come to me fairly easily, but boy do I envy you folks who were given the gift to focus, I might have been good.

Marc Bernier

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The one I really hate is when people say things like, "Oh, I wish I could play the violin." I always reply, "No you don’t, other wise you would."

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Gary Player, Innocent bystander, the golf quote. And I know no one likes a smart arse.

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At one time I wanted to make the Olympic team as a cyclist. For a few years I did pretty well moving up the ranks simply because I trained harder/more effectively than anyone else in the local area. However, as I improved, and got professional coaching, and started to race in wider geographic areas, I began to notice that people with more talent were working just as hard and effectively as I was, and getting further. It became clear to me that I could make regional teams, but not the national team.

Also remember from the days when I was on teams that every team seemed to have someone with enormous natural ability who never lived up to his/her potential because they didn’t have other useful skills, or liked having a good time more than they like training. So my claim is that work without talent can take you a long long way. Talent without work can get you well along the path, but not all the way. However, there are those who have both talent and organization/dedication, and they get furthest.

As an aside the issue I think is whether you are happy with where you get relative to your investment of time and energy, and are having fun. If you are having fun, who really cares what others think about your talent or lack thereof.

Wouldn’t surprise me if some of this translated to music.

Hugh

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That’s interesting, and of course it’s true. But note that said person said, "Oh, I wish I could play the violin.", and all they really said was, "I wish I could ride a bike".

And that’s the beauty of this music, it’s not like being in the Olympics, it’s just like riding a bike.

You may think I’m being flippant here, but this analogy is a very good one. Lets expand it … Down hill mountain biking …

What would any one here prefer? Getting to the bottom of the hill as fast as you can? Or enjoying the turns and the view on the way down? The first requires consummate and dedicated skill, the second requires considerably less skill and a dedicated eye for the aesthetic.

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This has to be from Sean Clery, young fiddle player. If so, welcome Sean! …….if not Sean, welcome Sclery!
My daughter does seem to have some indefinable natural talent on piano, but she doesn’t work at it as hard as she "should", so I don’t know how that fits into this popular notion of "talent".
"Talent" in my book is having both an innate musicality AND the ability to apply yourself diligently and consciensciously for extended periods of time. And then some.
When I was younger, I trained with some very "talented" athletes, some of whom represented Scotland and also UK. They had talent and trained hard. I tried to keep up, and was moderately successful, having limited "natural talent" as a runner. But they had more physiological CAPACITY to train hard, some phenotypic expression of their genome, I don’t know, better oxygen transport, uptake and utilisation, bigger muscle mass, or whatever…and they could recover more efficiently. So I imagine practicing music for very long periods also requires a lot of mental stamina. And the ability to recover and do more. My take on this.

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Talent is the blade, work is the whetstone. A sharp blade of poor steel is much more useful than a dull blade of superior steel.

You don’t need much talent to play music, write, or draw well; you just need to put the effort into it. Talent is real and you can see it in the initial success that a talented person has, but without work the talent may as well not exist.

I’ve seen this a lot in writers, much more so than in musicians or artists. There are a lot of truly talented "writers" who still call themselves that, even though they haven’t written a thing since that short story in high school that showed potential. It’s like calling yourself a musician because you played a simple tune very well in the first month of playing, and then never played again.

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Talent and hardwork say flutefly and Mr Llig. Like Robbie Williams?

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I hate it when talent becomes almost a putdown; "oh well she’s really talented, of course she plays well"

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Yep, you’re right KML, thanks for the welcome.

whats more important, the talent or the dedication?

i only played X hours a day because i enjoyed doing it. I’ve enjoyed the difference from one week to the next as I’ve been learning pipies. The journey is satisfying for me, the end result possibly less so, i think. i.e. Nice I’m there, now what?!

Mr llig, the view, definitely, I like taking in the view, but I enjoy the rate at which that happens.. I enjoy taking people down that hill too, so to speak.

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I’m wondering if talent is a myth.

Last week I hit a wall on a tune, couldn’t get the bowing down for love nor money, practiced 8 hours on the thing and it wouldn’t come. Started to doubt whether I have the talent to really play. Then I went to my lesson and found out it wasn’t the bowing that was the problem, it was the fingering. So now I have a way to improve, which I can do without worrying about whether I have any talent or not.

I’m not saying Mozart and autistic people don’t (didn’t) have special talents. But for us average schmoes, I’m starting to think talent is barely even a factor compared to effort.

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Talent is the ability to navigate effortlessly the threshold between reality and illusion.

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I believe that talent exists - and that people are better at some things than others. If you are going to be really really good - you still have to put the effort in and pratice like made, but explain the two people who play the same instrument and pratice the same amount of time who play worlds apart - ie one far better than the other - obviously something else comes into it. Its like when you see actors on screen - some really have *it* whatever *it* is - many do not seem to have anything much special - doenst mean they cant do it - and they still seem to get paid millions - but you know when you see that performance that is just magic - same thing.

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I believe some people have more natural talent and ability at some level. But I think hard work and desire can come close and maybe even overtake that in the long run. I’m reminded of the movie Amadeus, which would take the other view point, I guess.

I think I remember a story of a famous violinst that had someone come up to them and say they’d give anything to be able to play like him (or her). The response was "Does that include practicing 6 hours a day?". I’m sure you could have heard a pin drop.

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Eternal problem…talent…..

Which is why some of the wisest advice in the world is that bit from Desiderata by Max Ehrman :-

"If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself."

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pb, you wicked dog, you have made my day. but let’s be accurate——perfect pitch allows you to amasse [sic] a large repertoire of several thousand tunes. though apparently, it doesn’t allow you to spell correctly……

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Iain MacDonald: ‘The more you practice, the more talented you get’

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BULLsh*t BULLsh*t BULLsh*t if you think talent exists.
Nothing irks me more that someone telling me I’m talented at playing.
Yes I’m only playing the fiddle since November,
yes I can just about hold it together at a session,
yes I can play about 20 tunes
but I didn’t come this far from sitting on my hole watching big brother or home and away.

I practiced solid with every spare minute I had, until my arms grew tired and my fingers cramped. And if anyone tried to brush off any of my playing ability with ‘being talented’ I’ll bloody well stick my bow in their ear and wiggle it.

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Some people have more basic ability at an activity than others. Each person has more basic ability at some activities than others.

For example, at school I was cr*p at ‘running’ because it was all short distance sprinting. Later on I found out I’m better at distance running. That’s the basic ability, apparently there are physical reasons to do with the way energy is used by the muscles. Had I put the same amount of effort into learning both kinds of running, I would have been better at distance running. The fact that I don’t give a monkeys for either kind and would rather sit in a pub playing music means I never put any effort into either so I’m no good at either.


The trouble is, people use ‘talented’ as a kind of put-down. ‘Gifted’ is even worse. I usually respond with ‘the more you practice the more talented you get’. But sticking my bow in their ear and wiggling it does sound rather tempting …

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Hm, savage, so how come so many obsessed e.g. flute players I know, who play their fingers off and spit their lungs out, don’t become new Matt Molloys?

Talent IS THERE, and it makes a difference when you compare people who work equally hard. Hard work is most important, and you get much further by sheer dedication than by sheer talent - but the talent is a catalyst that translates your practice and dedication in actual - (I shouldn’t use that word) - performance.

I still remember a person I knew who, when heard praises spoken about somebody’s skills, knowledge or performance, puffed dismissively and said "Big deal. He learnt it, that’s all".

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I’m still not convinced Janek.
There are certain things to which a natural ability applies. In these instances I would accept being called talented as a great compliment. For example I am also a singer, and when people comment that I’m talented I accept it because its not something I had to work at, I can just sing. But in reality, that’s not a talent either, it’s a physical ability.

The same goes for running. I cant run very fast, don’t think I ever won a race, but that’s nothing to do with a lack of talent, its because I lay claim to Ireland’s stumpiest legs, hence I don’t have the physical ability to run as fast as someone with longer legs, just like they may not be able to sing due to shorter vocal chords.

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Session Savage. Talent merely IS having the physical/biological predisposition that makes the activity easier.

You will have a hard time finding a really good fiddler who does not have excellent fine motor skills in their hands. You need it for correct finger placement. Without it you’d never be accurate enough to get good intonation. BUT it also has to co-exist with some inherent ability to hear well the subtle tonal differences. Someone with excellent fine motor skills but tone deaf…..will drop the fiddle….and hopefully takes up microsurgery or something.

It doesn’t devalue the effort, the perspiration, the obsession that are the bulk of the work to be good…….most people have good enough fine motor skills, working with good enough hearing, working with good enough retentive memories…..but someone with better natural aptitude in any of these…will make faster progress, and be more inclined to put in the hours of practice…because the feedback is good!

Your short legs argument IS the argument for ‘talent’.

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Hi Curvy, what you say is true. about effort being devalued, the thing is only someone who has travelled a similar road to learn how to play can understand how much effort is involved.
The reason I feel so strongly about this is that, in my experience, people often say to me, ‘oh your talented, your so lucky to be able to play the guitar/fiddle whatever’. My point is that the majority of people have the physical capabilities to play also, luck has nothing to do with it. only difference is I put my heart and soul into it and non-musicians think its something unattainable for them and I just woke up one morning with welts on my fingers and tunes in my head.

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Also, kudos to you sean. your first thread is a doozey 🙂

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Well I come from having a teacher who tells me that my fine motor skills, ear and memory are so good that if I’d started 20 years ago he’d be taking lessons from me…..and then checks my fingertips and the state of my calluses….because THAT tells him whether we’re going to have a good lesson or a so so one! 😉

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Thats the sprit curvy. Play to the bone is my motto.
We may disagree on the talent thing, but nothing says effort like demolished calluses 🙂

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Too true! You know once upon a time I looked with envy upon women with long fingernails because I have large worker hands that look capable but not elegant. NOW the badge of honour is the shortest nails and the fact my fingertips have now actually changed shape on my left hand because of the calluses! Have played till I’ve bled! AND I can no longer pick up coins in my purse with my left hand because I’ve killed the fine nerve endings in the tips and don’t have the sensation any more…and it doesn’t bother me I enjoy it! Fiddles! Maybe they really ARE the devils instrument! 😛

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L O L I love it.
I have a good one too.
I played so much on the giutar that my thumb muscle on my left hand has built up (from playing bar chords) Now i cant touch the tip of my little finger off the tip of my thumb. My fiddle teacher couldnt believe it when i told him i couldnt do the finger strengthening excercises he suggested. (he wanted me to push my little finger against my thumb to help with third finger rolls)
Aaah the joys of it all 😎

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I still agree with you that there’s nothing like hard work, Savage. I guess it must be like in Pareto rule: 80% is work, 20% is biology. What I meant is that talent (the combination of physical/mental/biological predispositions) sets limits for our achievements.

It always makes me sad to see a person with an anti-talent bleeding themselves to death to achieve something that they have no predisposition for (unless they enjoy it - that’s a different story), and - equally - an extremely talented person who wastes their potential due to e.g. laziness, overconfidentiality or passivity.

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Yeah Janek, your making sense there. I guess I’ve never personally witnessed anyone trying and trying only to fail. this is probably why I find it dificult when someone claims that they could never play music as they arent as lucky as me.

I reckon what I’ll do if someone tells my I’m luck i can play is… first ill ask if they ever tried and failed. If they did I’ll say "thanks" but if they never even tried…… well then I WILL STICK MY BOW IN THEIR EAR AND WIGGLE IT.

;)

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Fair enough 🙂

I’ll buy myself a bow and will be doing the same. The guitar neck doesn’t fit in many ears.

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No need Janek.
With practise a plectrum can be thrown with impressive force and theres nothing worse than a cappo in the nipple 😛

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Yep, ‘You’re lucky to be able to play a musical instrument’ is even worse than the talented/gifted comments.

May I suggest one of those baroque bows with a really sharp point.

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Actually the points on the standard bows bend back over themselves, kind of like a fish hook, that grabs on the way out. Jab ‘em just right and ouch!

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Kennedy, you frighten me. I swear that I will never say that yor are lucky or talented, promise!

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I have come across so many students in my days of teaching who have a natural talent and aptitude for playing —unfortunately they never get "over the hump" because of lack of practice. Some of the best students that I have and have had over the years are the ones who have talent but also put the effort in. They’re the ones who are listening to Irish tunes on their Ipods and have irish music playing on cd’s in their car. (and this is in the States!) I make my own kids practice as best I can to hopefully get them to the point where everything comes easier (and that is not an easy task!)—I’ve been told by so many adults that they wished their parents didn’t let them quit when they were younger—
So my thoughts on this would be that talent would be necessary but practice is what brings talent forth.

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Like the Edison quote up above, and the Parety Rule that Janek quoted, the largest part of what most people think of as talent is really the product of hard work. But there is also that small nugget of raw ability that some people have and some people don’t. I have a friend who is tone deaf, and just can’t hear pitches—no amount of practice will make him a musician. And some of us (including me unfortunately) have to work much harder than others to develop a basic level of musical competence.

Re: Talent >> Ericsson

I believe there are many factors that give some people an advantage (parental encouragement, most of all; good teachers; a cushy life with few things to worry about other than becoming a brilliant musician), but the only scientific evidence on the subject has come from someone named Ericsson. I can’t find any links to his work directly, nor have I read it myself, but one of my teachers (perhaps he’ll chime in here) told me about his work. The gist of it—and ONLY the gist—is this:

Essentially, talent does not exist in any meaningful way; there are very small minorities of people whose brains are seemingly wired better to process information, but the overwhelming majority of people are left with simply hours practiced being the only consistent measure of how good a musician they’ll become. I found this summary of Ericsson’s work on a message board:

"Evidence crosses a remarkable range of fields. In a study of 20-year-old violinists by Ericsson and colleagues, the best group (judged by conservatory teachers) averaged 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over their lives; the next-best averaged 7,500 hours; and the next, 5,000. It’s the same story in surgery, insurance sales, and virtually every sport. More deliberate practice equals better performance. Tons of it equals great performance."

"Researchers also note, for example, child prodigies who could speak, read or play music at an unusually early age. But on investigation those cases generally include highly involved parents. And many prodigies do not go on to greatness in their early field, while great performers include many who showed no special early aptitude."

I know the word "science" probably makes people cringe, but it is the best proof we have of anything in this age of psychological voodoo, and one-sided, biased myths drawn from people’s gut.

I was once a brilliant person, but, one day, at age 12 or so, I seemed to wake up with a preoccupation over how meaningless life is, and that distraction has never left my head. Being pushed constantly away from the arts and into a career in the sciences didn’t help either. My shoddy public-school inflicted violin teacher ruined it completely by teaching the wrong things which I duly practiced. Since then, I’ve been on a steady decline in ability of any kind. I’ve been playing music on a host of instruments since age 10, and early on I was outstanding…not so anymore. You’d think that any instruments I take up now—either for the first time or revisited from study in my youth—as a mature, educated adult, would come easily to me, but, alas, that’s not the case; all my distractions, both welcome and unwelcome, are now so great that any sort of proficiency is impossible. But I still hold the evidence I cited above as a hope that as long as I keep up with practice of some sort, I’ll make a little head-way before I’m dead. I could bring up the gypsy guitarist Django now, but I don’t want to plagarize any more than I already have.

Who says science can’t be inspiring!?

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Go on you Grymater. WOO HOO. I was right. Talent in a fable, a myth.
……..my arm is getting tired now from patting myself on the back.

In your face Janek 😛

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thats meant to be talen IS a fable…
still right though 😉

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and thats meant to be talent. god my typing sucks and blows today

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Well, practice your typing for 10,000 hours and you’ll be an expert misspeller.

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Aye, I’m good at that…I’ve 9,999 hours practice!

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My sister is very talented as a classical pianist. She started when she was about 4 years old and has played virtually every day of her life since. She has her Doctorate in Music, owns her own accompanist studio in Chicago (www.collaborativeworks.org) and plays in a chamber music trio. Now….having said this…

While she is talented, she has achieved what she has through nothing more than solid dedication and determination to her craft. She plays three hours a day, every day with very few exceptions. In fact, if she DOESN’T play she becomes even more cranky than usual ;) !!

So, what’s my point? Yes, you can have talent and truthfully, talented musicians aren’t that hard to find. Talented and DEDICATED musicians are the one’s who we tend to emulate.

I mo thuarim, ar aon choai.

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It’s amazing how far some people will go to attribute musical ability to anything OTHER than hard work.

One of my coworkers lamented that he’d played violin for four years and, by his own account, "never got any good at it". He then looked at me, and remarked that I had long and narrow fingers, and what an enormous advantage THAT was, oh, I’d be playing like a pro in no time! He truly seemed to believe that the shape of one’s fingers were the single biggest factor in shaping one’s success as a fiddler. (The decision that I would play piano as a kid was made when I was less than an hour old, by the doctor who delivered me. He’d never in his years of delivering babies had seen such long fingers on an infant; I was destined, he said, to become a concert pianist. I reckon that no one who makes such comments has ever seriously played a musical instrument. My fiddle teacher has shorter and fatter finger than I do, and he’s…a slightly better fiddler than I.)

Anyway - I work hard; I’m an adult beginner, and by all accounts I’m quite good for the length of time I’ve been playing. Much of this is because I practice more, and in a more focused way, than probably most people who’ve been playing for the length of time I’ve been playing. But part of it is because I have a better ear, better motor skills, and a better feel for music than a lot of beginners. Is that part of "natural talent", or is it because I subconsciously absorbed a lot of the music I listened to during the few decades before I picked up the fiddle and am able to apply it? Is it because I have another hobby (pottery) in which I work extensively with my hands? Is it because I listen to ITM all the time, and find myself thinking about it almost nonstop? Of course I’m going to be ahead of the "less talented" people who practice as long and as hard as I do, but for whom music isn’t a part of their lives during the other 22.5h/day. I wouldn’t say that’s talent, but I would say it’s luck: I’m lucky that developing skill on the fiddle isn’t something that I think of as a chore.

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for what it’s worth, i think talent is the *potential* to be brilliant, many people have it but just don’t know how to use it. it takes dicipline, natural flair, ability to communicate emotion evolved from ones own experience, and sometimes to be physically adroit; in the case of my instrument, the accordion, that means strong muscles in the fingers which should be thin so as not to play between the cracks, and a powerful but co-ordinated left arm bicepts for working the belows. i even use this squeezy thing that a boxer gave me to get that aspect up to scratch.. talent is the easy part, it’s getting it any further that’s difficult!

martin tourish.

of course

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"The one I really hate is when people say things like, ‘Oh, I wish I could play the violin.’ I always reply, ‘No you don’t, other wise you would.’

"I think I remember a story of a famous violinst that had someone come up to them and say they’d give anything to be able to play like him (or her). The response was "Does that include practicing 6 hours a day?". I’m sure you could have heard a pin drop."

Etc.

That always gets me, too. I know some dear folks who love music and even sing quite well, but have somehow swallowed the notion that playing an instrument is something that you find out how to do and then you can do it, as if there are just a few secret tricks to figure out and then you’re in the band.

"I can’t play. I tried and couldn’t do it."

Tried?? As in an hour a day for six months? Or as in giving up after one week?

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The thing is, it’s a path. You commit to it and you follow the path.

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I can understand the people who’d "always wished" they could play the violin but never tried; I used to be one of them. I had wanted to play violin as a kid; my mother told me it was "too hard", and directed me to the piano, which I played without any particular skill or enthusiasm for almost a decade. By then I’d become smitten by Celtic music, and wished I’d played the fiddle….and didn’t, because of course by that point I was too old. This is an impression that is reinforced regularly by no small number of violinists, many of whom seem to believe that if you don’t start playing as a little kid, there’s really no point, because you’ll never get any good at all. Drop by some violinist messageboards, and you’ll see it: kids who post things like "I’m twelve years old and I play the piano and flute. I’ve always wanted to play the violin. Where do I start?", followed by a chorus of detractors: "You are TOO OLD to learn to play the violin. You should consider an easier instrument. May I suggest the triangle?"

So when I hear someone, especially an adult, tell me that they wished they could play an instrument, I assume that they’re not too lazy to learn to play one, but rather that they’re under the impression that it’s too late for them - their time to learn is up, and no amount of effort will change that. And I do my damnedest to disabuse them of this notion, because I wish someone had done that for me a decade or two ago.

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I’d like to take a look at the people who claim it’s talent. Could it be that by saying it is talent and confessing they don’t believe they have it that they are distancing themselves from, or denying responsibility for not having done anything about learning to play? Sounds like one excellent, flattering defence mechanism to me.

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"Talent does what it can, genius does what it must".

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Re: Talent

I completely agree with TDM.
Talent dóes exist: it’s the innate physical or mental abilities we get born with… it all comes down to genetics - just like everything else. It’s all a matter of luck. But, you also need to start at as young an age as possible, once you pass a certain age it’s too late to become really good at it (and this is scientifically proven, it’s even got a name which I don’t know in english; ‘sensitive period’ or something). It’s like that for learning how to walk, ride a bike, speak, but also more complex things, like ‘playing music’. But there’s not one ‘talent’ for being a supreme musician; you need a lot of talents, of which some are mentioned above: sense for pitch, rhythm, melody (as for the brains), and fine motoric skills in your fingers. And you must love the kind of music you play (but I believe that the music you love also depends on how well developed some parts of your brain are, again, it’s all predetermined at your birth).

Take me for instance. I started playing whistle at the age of 20. Of course, no matter how you put it, that’s way too old to ever achieve something. There’s simply _no_ exceptionally good musician who started at that age. Yet people who watched me ‘grow’ say that I am very talented. But the point is it doesn’t matter whether I’m really talented or not, because I know that I won’t ever get as good a someone with the same talent but who started 10 or 15 years earlier. And yes, if I had started at that age, then I would have been good, like my sister. Now I only got a sense for rhythm but my sense for pitch is terrible because I never practiced it untill the age of 20, and I have motoric finger problems which were there when I started 2 years ago and haven’t improved a bit after 2 years of playing which obstruct me from getting better at the whistle.

Funny thing is, when I first strated playing the whistle the only references I had were recordings of professional musicians, and the very top of the Belgians musicians coming to the sessions. Of course, I was convinced that I was terrible and did not have any talent whatsoever, because I compared myself with them; I simply didn’t know any other musicians. I thought that everyone who started playing an instrument advanced as fast or slow as I did and that it all came down to hours of practice. But then I met people with, as Janek calls it, ‘anti-talent’… and then you start to wonder… and realise that you DO need talent/luck…
I find it very difficult to relate to such people - I don’t understand where they find the perseverance to continue. ‘Even I’ sometimes wonder whether I should continue knowing I’ll never get to the top, which is a bit depressing… (but i must admit that the journey there, together with others like myself, is way too fun :p)

Sorry for the ranting :x

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Re: Talent

‘Drop by some violinist messageboards, and you’ll see it: kids who post things like "I’m twelve years old and I play the piano and flute. I’ve always wanted to play the violin. Where do I start?", followed by a chorus of detractors: "You are TOO OLD to learn to play the violin. You should consider an easier instrument. May I suggest the triangle?"
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I’ve heard this kind of thing a lot, usually from people who began at age 5 or 6 themselves.

The reality is that it takes about 10 years of daily practice to get good at violin (depending on talent, see debate above).

Those that start so young have the obvious advantage of having put more hours into the instrument than their peers around their own age, and that gives them a competitive edge at the pro level.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s ever too late to start learning to play. It’s all about how many hours you’ve put bow to string.

I hate hearing about how "difficult" the violin is. It isn’t, it just takes a lot of time, which is a different thing. These myths discourage people who might otherwise become good players; too many people give up or never even try because they believe this stuff.

Re: Talent

I’d agree with that. My dad started playing flute about 8 years after I did but I reckon he’s better than me now, even though I know more tunes. But he’s not been working for a couple of years, whereas I’m a single parent with a full time job so there’s always something more pressing than practice.

Re: Talent

Interesting comments on both sides, but as a geneticist, it seems true to me that folks get different raw materials at birth, and that this is going to make some things easier, and some things harder. I agree that with enough application, one can get competent at most things. But the reality is that other things are not going to be possible. I happen to have poor hand eye coordination, so things that require me to hit or catch balls of various shapes aren’t possible. Long distance endurance events are possible. I’d argue that it makes more sense to do what one is good at, to avoid what one is poor at, and manage as best as possible with the rest.

I suspect that one of the issues is that different people talking here have different definitions of what success is, and therefore have different ideas of what ratio of talent or work is required to reach that level. We could define success as being a professional musician in an orchestra. I’m sure we’d find some folks who got their on drive and hard work, and some who got by with talent, and less work, or less time, or both, but ended up in the same place. But what about the handful of musicians in any generation who stand above? I’d argue that they have a talent or gift that is not attainable by work or effort. I’m not saying without work and effort.

My mother said of my brilliant brother that he knew some things at 4 that most people of 40 would never understand, and that at 40 he wouldn’t understand things most children of 4 know instinctively. So he had talent for some thing, but not everything. Working and effort and dedication wouldn’t make a difference. While this is an extreme example, I don’t buy the argument that it’s just work and dedication.

Hugh

Re: Talent

my experience and observation with the "talent" thing is something like this: there are indeed individuals who have zero musical talent, even "negative" talent, and can never become good musicians no matter how hard they try. but their number is miniscule. like, teeny. on the other end of the spectrum, there are indeed frighteningly adept, freakishly gifted types who assimilate technique and music with eery rapidity. their number is also miniscule. like, teeny. and even in this fractional group, fewer still actually become good musicians because no matter how gifted, work is still required, and not everyone does it.

in the vast middle range between these minute slivers of the population, is everyone else. and everyone else has enough "talent" to be good musicians——if, if, if, they’re in love with the undertaking enough to be willing to endure the discomfort of working hard at it for years.

on the "too old" front: i believe that the reason senior folks are often stereotyped as "too old" to play is simply because historically this demographic has not had the means, time or energy to put in the afore-cited years of hard work. i also believe we are on the cusp of seeing some amazing success stories in this vein. this is folk music. work your tush off with great love and attentiveness for a number of years, and you can be a very nice player (provided you’re not in that teensy, eensy, sliver with zero/negative musical ability), and with people getting more and more health and leisure time, and seventy now racking in as the new fifty and sixty as the new forty and all that stuff……i think we’re going to be seeing some very interesting cases out there……

Re: Talent

Well, it’s apparently true that kids have a window of opportunity for prodigious musical development that closes by the time of puberty. But after that window closes, considerable development is still possible. It’s just going to be slower and have a lower trajectory. Professional classical violin may be out of reach, but decent fiddle playing certainly isn’t.

Screetch is right. Learning an instrument isn’t so terribly difficult; it just takes time. In my late twenties and early thirties, I was learning several instruments and going about it somewhat systematically. But when I started fooling with the fiddle, it was more as a diversion from the other instruments than something I was studying. It sounded awful for a good while, but I couldn’t leave it alone and just kept doing it (without going blind!). After a few years, I could play well enough to have fun and not embarrass myself too much. Literally, all I did was put in the time.

Re: Talent

"I hate hearing about how "difficult" the violin is. It isn’t, it just takes a lot of time, which is a different thing. These myths discourage people who might otherwise become good players; too many people give up or never even try because they believe this stuff."

But Screetch, do you deny then that in order to learn to play the fiddle (or any other fretless string instrument like bass) you need a very good sense for relative or even absolute pitch; which is something that needs to be developed early on in life ? Thát is exactly the reason why I haven’t even tried the fiddle, even though I love it most of all. You don’t need much sense for relative pitch to play an always in-tune box; you just press the correct buttons.

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Re: Talent

I’m one of the many who have taken up fiddle after childhood - quite a long way after. You can develop the ability to hear if you are in tune, probably at any age, judging by the number of adult learners I’ve heard, some of whom are over retirement age.

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Re: Talent

I never really considered learning to play an instrument before because I felt I didn’t have the talent (that’s the attitude I grew up with).

As a beginning learner I feel sometimes that I put a lot of time and effort in for very little progress and I can feel very deflated at those times, tell myself I don’t have the talent, wonder if it’s worth it.

But reading this post has been great. I probably don’t put in as much time as I could (or use it well enough). I’m not too old (thanks ceemonster) and I’ll get to the stage where I can play a few tunes I enjoy in front of other people (if I discover I do have enough talent to play in a concert then, fair enough 🙂).

Re: Talent

I think ceemonster has a pretty good analogy for the distribution of talent, a few with none, a few with an abundance, and most with the ability to be competent.
I have to admit that taking lessons on guitar recently, for the first time in my life, I found there were many things I ‘couldn’t’ do that my teacher was able to get me to do, by giving me advice on technique, and guiding my practice habits. What I thought was lack of talent was a product of being self-taught, which when you think about it, means you have a teacher who knows nothing!

Re: Talent

"But Screetch, do you deny then that in order to learn to play the fiddle (or any other fretless string instrument like bass) you need a very good sense for relative or even absolute pitch; which is something that needs to be developed early on in life ? Thát is exactly the reason why I haven’t even tried the fiddle, even though I love it most of all. You don’t need much sense for relative pitch to play an always in-tune box; you just press the correct buttons."
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I agree that you need a good ear to play any instrument that requires good intonation skills, but I disagree that this needs to be developed early on in life. Like most things, it’s easier to learn this when you’re very young, but by no means do you have to be young to do it.

Let me put it to you this way:

If a fiddler plays a tune twice for you, once with every note exactly on pitch and a second time with every note badly sharp or flat, could you tell the difference?

Of course you could.

Virtually everyone has an ear for pitch. Good intonation just requires that you train your ear to hear smaller degrees of pitch difference and adjust your playing accordingly. It’s really just a matter of refining a skill that you already have.

BD, if you really love the fiddle and have been afraid of trying to learn because of this, then you need to get a fiddle and get cracking. Don’t get discouraged by the awful noises you’ll make in the beginning; everyone goes through that.

BTW, It’s important to learn the very basics of holding and playing the fiddle and bow from someone with experience, but you don’t necessarily need a formal teacher. A friend who plays fiddle and is willing to give you pointers is enough.