And Does Musical Talent Even Matter…
When I was a kid, every time I perform in the community, school, or church, adults would talk to my parents about “how talented I was.” My parents always responded with, “She works very hard, and practices a lot.” At the time, I was a little annoyed at this response. I thought it diminished my performance! Of course I had musical talent! In fact, a great deal of my identity rested on my “musical talent.”
As I’ve grown older, and had a lot more experience I’ve come to realize that talent is overrated. Many musicians, considered to be very talented, flame out and drop out of school. Others labeled as lacking in talent eventually blossomed into the finest musicians I know.
Musical ability is not a matter of luck at birth. Like language, it is a skill to be honed and developed. French children speak beautiful French. Chinese children speak fluent Chinese. If the parent and the teacher create a safe environment for learning and experimentation, your child can learn to play their instrument.
When parents ask me if their child has talent, I am quick to reassure them that they do! When I see a student, I see infinite possibility, the power to learn and grow into something amazing, wonderful, and beautiful. This possibility is in every child. Even, and especially, yours.
If you are wondering if your child has musical talent, I want to ask you to try to put that thought aside and ask yourself these questions instead.
Do I want my child to believe they can do anything?
Do I want my child to make the connection between hard work and accomplishment?
Do I want my child to be limited by a perceived lack of talent? Or do I want my child to believe that they can develop any skill they want to develop?
Music lessons really can’t be viewed as a “few-month-trial” to see if your child has any talent. Even if talent is inborn or genetic, that inherent talent needs to be nurtured and cultivated for a long time before it truly “shows.”
Michael Jordan did not begin dunking from the free throw line at age five. Neither will your child, no matter how precocious he is. Your child’s ability will bloom and grow over time.
The idea of talent implies limitation. They have some musical talent. He is so talented. It seems like a finite resource. One is born with their allotted talent, and that’s that. No possibility of acquiring more. You can waste your talent, but you can’t get more. I think there is nothing more disempowering than “talent.”
My own belief in my “musical talent” ended up being a burden and a curse. When I arrived at Indiana University, one of the best music schools in the United States, I found that there were many, many, many, much more talented violinists than I. Because I had clung to this idea of “talent,” I grew discouraged and thought I may as well give up.
Under the wing of an amazing teacher, I began to see the violin as a skill, one I could develop and improve. After a while, the despair began to fade away.
For now, let’s all accept the principle that every child is born with the same capability of developing talent or skill as fact. (Of course, there are exceptions for disability, but even children with disabilities are often more capable than we think.)
This principle is the one of founding principles of the Suzuki Method. Dr. Suzuki said in the Preface of his book, Nurtured by Love,
“In today’s society a good many people seem to have the idea that if one is born without talent, there is nothing he can do about it; they simply resign themselves to what they consider to be their “fate.” Consequently, they go through life without living it to the full or ever knowing life’s true joy. That is man’s greatest tragedy. We are born with natural ability to learn…
Good or bad, however, once born we must live with ourselves until the day we die. There arises, then the inevitable question of how to live. If our ability was not nurtured properly, we have to develop it ourselves. Instead of being defeated by misfortune, we have to make something good of our lives. There is no reason to give up in discouragement; it is possible for every person to improve himself.”
As parents, you and I have the power to nurture ability in our children. To teach them it is possible to improve oneself, and that development it is an important key to their lifelong happiness.
Who cares about talent? Let’s be lifelong learners, striving to improve and grow in every moment.
Has the concept of “talent” hindered or helped your growth? Please share your experience in the comments!
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