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Thread: Natural talent vs practice

  1. #26
    Registered User archerscreek's Avatar
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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Quote Originally Posted by jerrycobbs View Post
    My personal pet theory, not based on any research of which I'm aware, has to do with the conventional wisdom that it takes 10,000-20,000 hours to master a skill, such as a musical instrument. I think a lot of what comprises natural talent amounts to the way some people, while they're just listening to or participating in music, are unconsciously taking it apart, analyzing, and filing away all the patterns, relationships, harmonies, etc., that most of us just let go by without noticing. They "know" what a I-IV-V progression sounds like and how to use it, without having ever consciously learned it. Other people have to grasp these concepts through formal study. Somehow or other those people with "natural talent" are able to get in much of their 10,000 hours of experience by just being surrounded with music. That doesn't mean they don't have to practice; it just means that to the rest of us music seems to come easier to them and they make more progress for the same number of formal practice hours than others.

    I have no idea whether this is really true or not, but it seems to me to explain why some people can pick up an instrument and within a few minutes, start picking out tunes and chords, or why they can improvise a harmony part to a song they've never heard before. At some point in their life they've unconsciously done the "homework" that allows them to do these things seemingly without effort.
    I've always been very interested in how the brain works. It is an extremely powerful tool. That power can be utilized to our benefit or our detriment.

    I have no doubt that nearly every one of us has the ability to be a musical genius and that ability is somewhere locked within our brain. The road block for most, however, is that other parts of the brain dominate and suppress the musical/artistic area of the brain for whatever reason. I base this belief on the numerous instances of adults acquiring special gifts/talents (such as the talent for music) seemingly overnight after suffering a brain injury to one part or another.

    The latest one I came across I saw on TV a month or so ago. A guy dove into a pool and cracked his head on the bottom. Never had an ounce of musical talent before that. Soon thereafter, he's a savant on the piano. Had no idea where it came from. He plays professionally now. Basically, the doctors think that trauma from hitting his head on the pool bottom injured the side of the brain responsible for deep, serious, contemplative thought which then allowed the free thinking, artistic side to then take over.

    The reason I quoted the post above is because it parallels this video I came across of mandolin player Nate Lee's Facebook page about mirror neurons and how we can learn by watching others.

    https://www.ted.com/talks/vilayanur_...zation/up-next

    Amazing and very interesting topic.

  2. #27

    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Possibly another example of innate talent that enabled practice under adverse conditions...

    https://www.theguardian.com/lifeands...ithout-a-piano

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  4. #28

    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Human traits are a wild study. Or, I like to make it a wild study anyway. I mean, love em or hate em we're weird. I got flipped out on art at a relatively late age in my 20s, but man it really took me. There're all kinds of ways to think about it. Reading out of Audio Culture - Cox and Warner lately. Terrific.

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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Educators, especially educators of young-age students can elaborate on this better than I, but there is a period in child development which is the ideal learning period for learning spoken languages.

    I believe that music learning also has an ideal period, perhaps actually in parallel with language learning. But I also believe that some young children have more natural ability and natural aptitude for music than others. This isn't pointing out a deficiency, but rather, to point out variety of natural talents. Part of the trick of teaching the young ages is the ability to recognize aptitudes in particular, in order to make appropriate training recommendations for parents.
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    You can always find a reason to not do something if you're so inclined. Just putting that out there.

    I think the idea of talent (as opposed to dogged determination) strikes at our concept of equality. We're all supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law (or religion, if you believe), for instance. we're all supposed to possess the same advantages -- the legal ability to vote when we reach our majority, the legal ability to drive when we've passed the tests ... but while we will admit that sometimes that equality doesn't happen, we're often not willing to translate that to other venues, especially when it's something we love. I love looking at art, but i can spot in an instant the difference between someone who is a master technician and someone who has a different spark. You can call it what you want, but the shorthand word I use is "talent." I do believe such sparks exist whether i have it or not. certainly, talent alone won't do anything, but it can move you above the horizon. my take, at any rate.
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  9. #31

    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Another factor: people who become world-class musicians (or athletes or anything) LOVE to practice. There is a drive to excel that keeps them willingly doing things that normal people hate for amounts of time that normal people don't even comprehend.

    And that drive isn't really something you can "learn" you can only discover whether you've got it or not.

    At one point, I thought I had it for voice and then I met someone who really did have IT. It wasn't just the time she put in, but the entire way she trained. She would do things for practice that just bored the skull off of me.

    I was lucky to realize that I just didn't WANT that level of commitment. That I'm ok being 1-in-a-thousand, while she is driven to be 1-in-10-million.

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  11. #32

    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Educators, especially educators of young-age students can elaborate on this better than I, but there is a period in child development which is the ideal learning period for learning spoken languages.
    On the other hand: I taught piano lessons for about fifteen years, and I noticed that a child who starts when they're eight or nine years old (past the age for quickly learning new languages, I believe) would quickly catch up to where those who had started at age six were. (Just sayin', for conversational purposes.)


    Quote Originally Posted by DevanBennett View Post
    Another factor: people who become world-class musicians (or athletes or anything) LOVE to practice. There is a drive to excel that keeps them willingly doing things that normal people hate for amounts of time that normal people don't even comprehend.
    That became obvious to me when my now-adult children were deciding on careers, and nobody wanted to go into music because they all realized that they weren't like Dad given some free time, practising scales for hours wasn't their activity of choice.

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  13. #33

    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    I can comment a bit on the "listening" piece.

    I'm an okay player of instruments, but my most prolific talent, I'm sure, is listening. I was turned on to lifting (emulating, copying, transcribing) music from recordings pretty early - I got my first electric guitar at 11 and immediately set about playing what I heard on records. I guess it's been a nonstop affair since then.

    In college physiologic psychology the class was administered a "hearing test" one day. Sitting in the back of the room, I was amused that I was the first to hear the stimulus each and every time. It didn't dawn on me then how my acute hearing is such a prolific aspect in my life. I basically spend all of my time listening, and looking. This, I presume, is advantageous to being a player as well.

    *Oh, another thing I guess that gives me a leg-up is innate rhythm. I'm one of those ADHD folks who's always entertaining myself with something. I can't stop. So I do it in more convenient ways now: I just call myself a musician, rather than any of the other roles I've tried in life. I'm much more at ease now, and find that it often facilitates musical impetus in others. I do a lot of improvisation in a session I lead - it's an effective way of facilitating a group. I guess that's why I mostly played drums and bass in bands..
    Last edited by catmandu2; Nov-23-2019 at 1:25pm.

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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Quote Originally Posted by dhergert View Post
    Educators, especially educators of young-age students can elaborate on this better than I, but there is a period in child development which is the ideal learning period for learning spoken languages.

    I believe that music learning also has an ideal period, perhaps actually in parallel with language learning. But I also believe that some young children have more natural ability and natural aptitude for music than others. This isn't pointing out a deficiency, but rather, to point out variety of natural talents. Part of the trick of teaching the young ages is the ability to recognize aptitudes in particular, in order to make appropriate training recommendations for parents.

    This is absolutely true, the brain is good at learning language in early age because that is when learning language is most critical to survival. Same way its critical for infants to learn to walk so they can move independently and have a better option at survival than depending on the parent to carry them.
    Music - being a physiological activity (both physical and mental at the same time) would be optimized by specific genetic attributes. ( a good marks man needs keen eye site)
    So someone like me who loves music and am able to learn how to "make music" need to practice, 10 hours a day is not enough...
    Someone who is physiologically predisposed to making music, will need to practice, but most likely will gain mastery with less effort ( time spent practicing).
    Anyone I know who I believe has natural music talent, doesn't need to be told to practice, they love playing music so they do it all the time anyway.
    What is important, is even if you are prodigy with awesome natural musical talent, you still need a community to support you, allow you to focus on music while others harvest the crops and split the firewood.
    Making music won't plant the corn, but in the end we plant the corn and work to harvest so that we may listen to and make music.
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  17. #35
    Registered User Al Trujillo's Avatar
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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Im for the most part naturally untalented.

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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    After live performances we often have people come up to us and say something like "I cannot do music at all, but I love listening to it". My wife will often respond with "music would be no where without listeners". I like that response, but I always also want to say, "I'm absolutely sure you have talents that are much more important and valuable than music", because that's the nature of people and talents.

    My dad, for example, could see things in his mind in 3D. He could picture it, and then he could also draw it out. I cannot do this, and I've always admired that talent in my dad and others who have it. On the other hand, while I was training for my career, I found myself able to excel in logic, particularly computer programming logic. My dad always wanted to understand this, and I could see in his eyes the curiosity, but he never could understand it.

    Similarly my two sons both love to listen to music, but only one of them loves to perform music and he plays electric bass for a number of bands. The other son demonstrated as a kid that he can perform music, but he really doesn't like to, it's just not in him. Again, the variety of talents and/or aptitudes.

    Specific talents and/or aptitudes are not universally distributed. That's one of the challenges, and the beauties of life.
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  21. #37
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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    I think this is a great thread. I am firmly in the camp that you need innate talent to be really exceptional at something. We tell our kids that they can do anything if they put their minds to it but that's not really true. You can't take someone and have them become a great astrophysicist just by studying really hard. Nor can you take someone that doesn't have natural ability for music and turn them into Beethoven or the Spice Girls. Effort and practice certainly matter, but if that were all it took we'd have a lot more Thile's and Sierra Hull's
    Last edited by DaveGinNJ; Nov-23-2019 at 5:44pm.

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  23. #38

    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    In the field of the study of human intelligence (quite controversial to even mention these days) there's something called the "g factor", more of which can be read about here:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G_factor_(psychometrics)

    I believe the concept behind the g factor is a result of a "blend" of traits and characteristics, many or most of which are heritable.

    In a similar vein, I personally believe there's something which (for lack of a better term) we might call the "m factor". This represents that blend of inherited qualities and gifts which bestow upon one what we would call "great musical talent".

    Those with a high "m factor" have "the gift" -- they learn easily, almost as if their musical talents sprang partially or wholly-developed "from inside them".

    Yes, practice and guidance is sometimes needed to refine and focus their innate talents, but again, these young musicians soon sprint ahead of "their teachers" into their own musical territory. They chart their own courses to wherever their talents lead them.

    If it sounds "unfair", it's because it is.
    But -- after a lifetime of having observed music and musicians -- that's the way I see it.

  24. #39

    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    The book "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle would argue there is no natural talent and it's all based on "deep practice". Child prodigies are amazing by 15 because they've been playing for 10 years. Mozart wasn't really a child prodigy - there's evidence his dad wrote his early pieces and when he did start writing his own pieces he had a decade of focused experience.

    Regardless of whether you believe that, I have enjoyed his applied book "The Little Book of Talents" which pulls out the lessons from the wider book.

  25. #40
    String-Bending Heretic mandocrucian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    You may want to go to the library and give this a read...Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
    Click image for larger version. 

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    https://www.amazon.com/Range-General...s=books&sr=1-1

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  26. #41

    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Quote Originally Posted by mandokismet View Post
    The book "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle would argue there is no natural talent and it's all based on "deep practice".
    I haven't read that book but if your assessment of it is accurate, it sounds like Daniel Coyle may have been short changed when they passed out the gift of common sense.
    "I play BG so that's what I can talk intelligently about." A line I loved and pirated from Mandoplumb

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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Quote Originally Posted by brunello97 View Post
    Coltrane comes to mind. Abundant natural talent. Practiced 10-12 hours a day.

    Mick
    Like LeBron James - great natural talent for basketball, yet practices 8-10 hours per day every day. Discipline is a very big help to talent.

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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    I think Vince Lombardi (or maybe John Wooden) said something to the effect of 'More important than the will to win is the will to prepare to win'. I take it to mean that you have to do all the small things, all the time, over and over again to climb the ladder to become better. I think that it applies to sports, mandolin, and life as well.

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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    It's Malcolm Gladwell's formula for success: talent + opportunity + ten thousand hours of practice. It takes all three.

    Talent: If you try to teach a pig to sing, you'll just frustrate yourself and annoy the pig.

    Opportunity: When Clarence White (of the Byrds and B-bender fame) was eleven, his dad moved the family from Lewiston, Maine, to Los Angeles. The kid had talent, but there was no music industry in Maine.

    Ten thousand hours: The Beatles were doing three shows a night seven nights a week in Germany for years before they became an overnight sensation.

    See:

    Gladwell cartoon
    Gladwell NPR story

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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    There is also one element missing in most discussions - self-confidence, or ego if one looks at it that way. We've all seen folks with okay talent and okay practicing routines because successful because they were confident in what they did. Many of us have also seen very talented folks who put in all the time and effort and don't do anything with it because they don't have the confidence. So, yes, dedication to craft (practice) and natural ability are part of it, but not all. There has to be the willingness to go out there and do it.
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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Assuming there is some baseline natural potential and assuming serious efforts of 10k hours practice and assuming a willingness to put it out there (confidence?) then I really like this Steve Martin quote:

    "Whatever your level of talent is, it can be overcome. Overcoming your lack of talent is what makes you unique. Conventional is not so good. Its your uniqueness...the fact that you have to do it another way. There is always room for that. You just have to be in the ready". --Steve Martin (paraphrasing).
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  34. #47

    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Many, many good points in this discussion. The 10,000 hour rules works, it just doesn't work if you start playing at 50 years old -- you won't have enough free time to devote in most cases, due to life getting in the way. OTOH, if you are 13 years old you can practice 10 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it won't even take three years to accomplish that. Heck, when I was in my early 30's I moved to a new town, didn't know anybody, didn't have a tv, and easily played guitar 15 hours a days for at least a year and I got a lot better even though I had been playing for 20 years at that point.....FWIW.

    I agree with Eric, ego plays a big role in wanting a career in show business. Anybody can sit on the corner of their bed and strum, not everybody can do it in front of people....or want to.

    Another factor in both music (and business, believe it or not!) is luck. But again, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, "a lot of what I do depends on luck, and I find the harder I work the luckier I get...."

  35. #48

    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Quote Originally Posted by Randi Gormley View Post
    ... talent alone won't do anything...
    Over my life I've worked and played in the field of psychology, and I like to muse a little over terms. "Talent," aptitude and so forth seems at least to be a disposition - a sensitivity (response) to stimuli (environment). There are so many varieties in the field of experience and expression, but often folks seem to involve themselves to immersion, obsession and compulsive behavior because they cannot easily do otherwise. Creative endeavor is no exception.

    There are myriad mechanisms that evoke sensitivities in people. I can wax forever on about this. Joni Mitchell puts it more laconically saying, "sensitivity is a valuable perspective." At some point it occurred to me that love is the highest achievement. We tend to spend time doing what we love. For a personal anecdote, I guess I've spent my life in pursuit of "talent"; loving the experience of integration, synchronicities, knowledge, and understanding. Art allows me to indulge my sensitivities; art "unifies the most truths" for me; music happens to be the vehicle through which I strive to achieve preferred states of being. I am extremely grateful to have such a vehicle - and such a socially viable one at that. I think many (visual) artists are envious of musicians. Music is immensely powerful and efficacious.

    *I'm asked all the time - why I play so many instruments. In short, I guess because I cannot easily do otherwise.

    **Oh, so vis a vis the thread topic.. I've come to regard "talent" as sensitivity or perhaps as precursor. And, therefore, talent may then be acquired - cultivated, developed, etc. There are many methods - and if one is not "naturally" predisposed, that is, not rendered disposed through genetics, environmental interaction, etc.
    Last edited by catmandu2; Nov-24-2019 at 3:55pm.

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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    In my experience being with or around other people who are motivated can be very productive.

    I know that when I was young I had a couple of friends who were very keen guitarists and we played a lot. It made a huge difference to me.
    Later on at different times in my life I have been in bands where we had periods of intense creativity which again made a big difference. So I would say practice does make a huge difference, but it can be much more effective if done in an atmosphere of motivated friendship.

    I continue to see this in combinations of today's young musicians with whom I sometimes work, and indeed I find that their youthful enthusiasm rubs off on me and keeps me practicing and trying to maintain my own playing ability at my fairly advanced age - and indeed to hopefully still be able to improve.

    To see what I mean, check out how great these youngsters are performing at the Scots Fiddle Festival in Edinburgh last weekend. These are schoolchildren from in and around a small town called Tain. We (the kids plus four adults including myself) practice every Monday. The joy they have in playing and the standard they have achieved is immediately evident.

    David A. Gordon

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    Registered User Paul Cowham's Avatar
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    Default Re: Natural talent vs practice

    Quote Originally Posted by Dagger Gordon View Post
    In my experience being with or around other people who are motivated can be very productive.

    I know that when I was young I had a couple of friends who were very keen guitarists and we played a lot. It made a huge difference to me.
    Later on at different times in my life I have been in bands where we had periods of intense creativity which again made a big difference. So I would say practice does make a huge difference, but it can be much more effective if done in an atmosphere of motivated friendship.

    I continue to see this in combinations of today's young musicians with whom I sometimes work, and indeed I find that their youthful enthusiasm rubs off on me and keeps me practicing and trying to maintain my own playing ability at my fairly advanced age - and indeed to hopefully still be able to improve.

    To see what I mean, check out how great these youngsters are performing at the Scots Fiddle Festival in Edinburgh last weekend. These are schoolchildren from in and around a small town called Tain. We (the kids plus four adults including myself) practice every Monday. The joy they have in playing and the standard they have achieved is immediately evident.

    Hi Dagger, I completely agree that working with other musicians is really important, not just for the development of musicianship but also for the general social experience and camaraderie. I'm sure that everyone at the Scots Fiddle Festival took a great deal from that experience.

    Apparently, the guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame is tone deaf and has no sense of rhythm but still seems to have done very well as a musician. I don't know how far we can measure those things but this would suggest that perspiration is more important than inspiration? https://www.fripp.com/he-was-left-ha...nse-of-rhythm/

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