Talent doesn't exist
Updated: Jul 3
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching a lot of young children (aged 3-5) and giving them an introduction to music and the piano. This is an immense responsibility and challenge, but I derive a great deal of satisfaction from working with those children. After a few lessons, parents have often asked if their child shows any talent. I cannot comment on this because I can’t define ‘talent.’ It’s possible to comment on their level of interest or enthusiasm and whether the lessons are productive. But that’s all. Musical ability is not something we’re born with.
So what does it take to successfully train a musician? I’d like to briefly consider three important elements: time, personal circumstances, and mindset.
It takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill; there is certainly some truth in the old adage, ‘practice makes perfect.’ Nowadays the slightly altered version is more widely accepted: ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’ It’s been estimated that Mozart had accumulated 10,000 hours of practice by the age of 8! He also had a highly skilled musician and teacher for a father, who devoted himself to his children’s training from a young age.
It’s important that the atmosphere at home is encouraging, and that there are sufficient opportunities for musical growth. In a previous blog article (‘5 Tips for Piano Parents’) I suggested ways parents can support their child’s musical development in between lessons. Dr Anita Collins, in her book ‘The Lullaby Effect,’ highlights the importance of singing to your child from day one; doing so enhances brain development as well as setting the scene for musical training later on. Listening to your child performing, assisting them in their practice, listening to music together (both on recordings and at live events) will help to maintain their interest and spur them on to achieve more sophisticated musical skills.
We need to realise that learning is uncomfortable, requiring the brain/body to do something completely new. Studies have shown that music education equips us to learn more effectively. But how can we learn musical skills more efficiently? Part of the answer is in the mindset we adopt. A growth mindset (the belief that new abilities can be learned and developed through effort and perseverance) is key. Acquiring musical skills is challenging, and there are bound to be setbacks along the way. Encouraging your child to accept this and continue to put in the effort will pay dividends.
To put it another way, when a child – any child – starts at a young age, has supportive parents and receives proper training they have the potential to excel as a musician.