What do most people say when they witness a breathtaking performance by an artist? You would be likely to hear statements such as: “I wish I could do that, but I don’t have the talent” “Only the “chosen few” can create art at such a high level”. Before long, a student will start to ask himself: “Do I have the talent that is required to improve as a musician?” After all everybody you ask tries to get you to believe that talent is one of the core requirements of becoming a great musician/artist, right?
in this article, I will attempt to convince you why I consider this belief to be false and unproductive.
First of all, what is talent? If you ask somebody to define the term, chances are they won’t be able to come up with a useful definition. You might hear things like: “Talent is something that you are born with, you either have it or you don’t”
Ponder this: when you think about ANY other career field or endeavor (becoming a scientist, doctor, brain surgeon, airplane pilot etc…) and then you ask yourself: what does it take to reach a high level of performance in any one of these fields? The answers would be something like: “Well, you have to go to school, get an education, then get some experience in the job field, gain more knowledge and eventually after years of hard work and study you will get to the level you desire. So essentially, you are acquiring a SET OF SPECIFIC SKILLS as well as knowledge and experience in your field of study.
Now if you ask most people: “What does it take to become a good musician” Chances are that the main response would be: “lots of talent and practice”. Why is art (and music) considered to be basically the only field where “talent” seems to be one of the primary deciding factors? Why isn’t talent a “requirement” for becoming a doctor for instance? Think about this logically. Most people won’t even think about “talent” if they were to go into a science field for instance. They will primarily concerned with is acquiring the right education for what they want to do. They know that if they go through the hard work required over the course of many years they will succeed in reaching their goals.
Now I hear some people saying: “Well making artistic/creative music requires talent, because you can have all the knowledge in the world but still create mediocre music, right?” Wrong!! Creating meaningful music that moves people is a matter of knowing what you want to express and acquiring the right tools. It also takes a deep LOVE for music and the DEEP, BURNING DESIRE to express oneself. This is the one ingredient that is frequently missing even when all the knowledge in the world is present. Think about it in plain terms: becoming a good musician (or a good anything) requires a specific set of skills. To a musician and guitarist in particular (some of) these skills include: well developed technique, good understanding of music theory AND knowing how to apply it, ear training, improvisational skills, and compositional ability. Each of these are specific skills that need to be ACQUIRED, and since they are LEARNED, they can be also be taught. Now the problem that is very often present is that of LACK OF COMPETENT INSTRUCTION. This is the single biggest reason why a lot of musicians (particularly guitarists) fail to get good. Guitar technique is very often not taught with the necessary depth it requires, partly because the guitar is a relatively new instrument which is still evolving. Piano and violin pedagogy for example is way ahead of guitar, which is part of the reason why there are a lot more great pianists and violinists than guitarists. In addition, a lot of musicians learn lots of theory but are never shown how to apply it to enhance their creativity. As a result you will hear some people tell you not to bother with learning music theory because it is not useful and will just inhibit your creativity. So the very often the problem is not lack of talent on the student’s part, it is the lack of ability to teach effectively on the teacher’s part! There are very few great music teachers who can produce results effectively with students(unless one is studying music at a university or conservatory) especially when compared to teachers in other fields such as science and medicine to name a few.
Now I would like to make one thing plain. I’m not trying to state that there is no such thing as natural talent. It does exist and it does help. Jamie Andreas (at www.guitarprinciples.com) defines this commonly misunderstood term as the “body’s innate predisposition to do the right things instinctively” These “things” that the naturally gifted person does intuitively can be analyzed, defined and then taught by a competent teacher However, as mentioned above, most guitar teachers aren’t competent.
Of course some people might argue that you need the so called talent to CREATE expressive music. But this is simply not true. There is one thing however that when it comes to creating expressive music that you either have or do not have. And that is DESIRE. You have to feel the desperate need to hear the music, the need that will be satisfied by bringing your unique music forth. This IS the true MUSICAL talent that is either present or absent. EVERYTHING else are sets of tools that can be acquired with time, practice, perseverance and by studying with a great teacher. After all you wouldn’t try to learn how to fly a plane from someone who you weren’t sure you could trust as an instructor, would you? So it is essential that you select your teachers carefully. My friend and mentor, Tom Hess, has written a great article on the subject entitled “Choosing a Teacher” which I highly recommend to check out.
As one final point I would like to show you a quote from one of the greatest composers in the history of music.
“People make a mistake who think that my art has come easily to me. Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not studied over and over.”
~ Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
As you may know, Mozart was a child prodigy who is believed to be one of the most “talented” musicians that ever lived. There are rumors that he never wrote any of his music down, that he just heard it naturally in his head. This may or may not be true, but the fact is that he still worked extremely hard to get to the level of compositional prowess that he attained. Had he decided to not push himself to seek knowledge in order to develop his skills, he would never have created any of the awesome music that he is now so famous for.
Hopefully you now see that the best question to ask yourself is not “Do I have talent?” but rather “Do I have the DESIRE to seek out the best possible instruction in music that will enable me to reach my goals? And do I have the love in my heart for music and the passion required to sustain my efforts in becoming a great musician?”
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. I reply to all e-mails.
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