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The Weekend Vote

V.com weekend vote: Is talent or practice more crucial in acquiring musical ability?

July 18, 2014 04:47

A recent study has strongly pointed to nature over nurture, when it comes to acquiring musical skill. The study, published in Psychological Science, by Miriam Mosing of the Karolinska Institute, in Sweden, apparently points to the conclusion that talent is more important than practice.

I thought I'd put the question to you:

Please feel free to elaborate on your answer in the comments below. The media certainly has had its say, here are a few of the headlines:

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Talent

Sorry, folks: Study says musical talent mostly comes from your genes

Music abilities come from DNA, not practice: so says study

Musical Ability: Twin Study Shows It Is Genetic

Scientists Have Discovered Proof That Musicians Are Fundamentally Different From Everyone Else

Yes, one study and now we know!

Though I'm willing to debate the question of talent vs. practice (which is really a variant on nature vs. nurture), I don't put much stock in what the media seems to be making of this study. If you want the unvarnished conclusions, here's the actual study; take a look with your own eyes. The study looked at twins, but 48 percent of those twins were fraternal, meaning they were no more genetically identical than any brother and sister.

One quote from the article in The Economist caught my attention, however: the idea that "the practice of practice itself seems to be under genetic control."

As a teacher for 20 years, I certainly can say that a willingness to practice is the number one factor in the success of a student. That willingness does not seem to correlate with a student's ability to match pitches, accurately clap rhythms or sing back melodies in their first weeks of study. If the student who shows natural musical ability is nonetheless unwilling to practice, that student is rapidly passed up by those who do practice. So do some people have innate ability to practice well? And would that be considered "talent"? Of course, the student who has all those abilities and does practice tends to do very well, very rapidly. I've also witnessed the student who seems to have no sense of pitch develop it.

What do you think?

21 replies

V.com weekend vote: Who is your favorite orchestra conductor?

July 12, 2014 11:15

It would be impossible for me to list all the fantastic and worthy conductors who are on the scene today, but I've chosen five top conductors from top orchestras around the world for you to enjoy. I've assembled videos of each one, in alphabetical order, conducting a classical piece with the main orchestras that they direct (they all guest-conduct many orchestras!) Which, of these, do you like best? Which, that didn't make the list, do you like best? Please vote, and then feel free to elaborate in the comments section.

Gustavo Dudamel - Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Gershwin: An American In Paris

Valery Gergiev - London Symphony Orchestra
Mahler: Symphony No 6, I.

Alan Gilbert -- New York Philharmonic
A Concert for New York: Mahler: Symphony No. 2, Resurrection - I. Allegro maestoso

Mariss Jansons - Royal Concertgebouw orchestra
Mahler: Symphony No. 3, IV.

Simon Rattle - Berlin Philharmonic
Brahms: Symphony 4, IV

14 replies

V.com weekend vote: What kind of fancy technique gives you the most grief?

July 4, 2014 14:31

Ah, what a beautiful piece of music I'm playing, and how nicely I'm playing it! But wait, what is that, up ahead! Flash red, noooooo!!!


Turn the car around, we're about to go careening down a very bumpy hill, and I don't think the brakes work!


Violinists seem to be natural show-offs, thus our most beloved concertos and showpieces often contain such challenging and treacherous passages. Of course, the best solution is to climb the mountain, slay the dragon, conquer the wild blue sea! Go for it, and get good at it!

But let's be honest: sometimes it's just a pain. You see such a passage and know right away, if you decide to play this piece, you're taking on a heckuva lot more practice! Of the ones listed, what kind of show-off-y technique gives you the most challenge? (Feel free to list any that aren't included in the comments!)

16 replies

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