The Young Mozart
“You’re SO talented!”
I always appreciate the thought behind the compliment but it chafes a little too, as if talent alone was responsible for the quality of my performance. My performance went well because, like all musicians, I practiced properly and prepared thoroughly. In fact, talent played only a minimal role. Most of my success was due to plain hard work.
Nevertheless, I hear many music students worry about being (or not being) talented enough. When they don’t feel like they’re making progress or when they experience a disappointment, they say, “I guess I’m not talented enough.”
I believe we need to change our understanding about talent and its role in our music making. Talent in any field is a natural aptitude, that mysterious gift that makes some people quick at puzzles, others adept mechanics and others creative crafters. But talent doesn’t make any of these pursuits effortless, only a little easier or faster.
You could think of musical talent as your inner connection to music and your instrument. That connection is the reason you study and play music and it’s the energy that drives your passion for it.
So the next question is, “How do I know if I have talent?” Since we don’t have a scientific measure for talent, I think the best indicator of talent is desire. If you had no talent, you wouldn’t persist in your pursuit of musical goals. If you believed that you couldn’t play music, you wouldn’t try.
However talent is not enough. Thomas Edison is quoted in a 1910 biography as saying, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.” The 19th American author Kate Sanborn wrote, “Talent must work hard and constantly for development. I said, ‘Genius is inspiration; Talent is perspiration.’”
Talent isn’t “ready-made;” it has to be developed and nurtured. Even prodigies like Mozart had to learn and grow. Mozart’s childhood compositions reveal his great gift, but not the depth and complexity of his mature works. To develop your talent, you must nurture and feed it daily in your practice and study.
But what if it feels like you’re not getting anywhere, not making any progress? Do you truly have enough talent to support your efforts, to make all the lesson and practice worthwhile?
In my experience, it is not a lack of talent or ability that is the problem. You probably need to check your system for progress.
Your playing is dependent on three things in order to make progress: proper practice habits and techniques, regular work on essential musicianship skills and achievable goals. These three elements together are an unbeatable system for success. Proper practice is focused and intentional. Musicianship skills inform your playing and make learning faster and easier. And achievable goals give you direction and confidence.
Lastly, remember that talent is merely potential. If that potential remains unused or undeveloped, it is meaningless. It is only your determination and hard work that allow your talent to shine. In the words of the young diarist Anne Frank, “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”