When I was teaching kids, parents would sometimes ask me if their child had any talent. If a child showed a natural affinity for music I would happily tell them so, but it always struck me that they were really asking a different question. What these parents really wanted to know was whether music lessons were a worthwhile investment. They wanted to know if their kid “had it”, or whether they didn’t show enough latent potential to justify the expense of the lessons. But the mindset behind that question is one of the great obstacles to the average person learning to play music.
What we call “talent” is simply a level of innate understanding and natural ability.
It’s a beautiful thing and certainly something to be celebrated. But talent isn’t a predictor of success in any area, nor is it a requirement. The gifted will progress much more quickly, and some will achieve heights the average person can’t touch. But when it comes to music, the ability to build a sound foundation as a player has very little to do with talent. It’s a question of ease more than potential: some will get to that baseline level without any struggle at all, while others fight for every small improvement.
The inherent problem is that if you believe you don’t have talent, those struggles are that much harder to push through. It’s difficult to persist at anything when some part of you is questioning whether you’re even capable of doing it well. Ultimately, a focus on talent is elitist: a belief that only the best should play music at all. It also misses a fundamental point in that even the most gifted people still need to do the work. Of course, the most gifted people ARE more likely to do the work, because they get to a point of gratification more easily. It’s more fun more quickly, and so they do it more and more intensely. Their talent is to make it easier to persist and do the work that building real skill requires.
For the average person that wonders whether they have any talent, the question is pointless at best and damaging at worst.
Playing music is gratifying and fun at the simplest, most basic level. The real question you should be asking is, what can I do to increase the fun factor in playing music? The better it feels to play, the more you’ll want to do it.
This Core Concepts series will help you find answers to this question. Make friends and get comfortable. Find other people to play with and learn to be a good listener. Embrace simplicity as you build your skills. The bottom line is, everyone should be able to make music in some way, that that starts with the belief that you can.