What is Talent?

December 19, 2006 at 09:12 PM · I'm curious to hear what others have to say are the characteristics that a person needs to have to become a good violinist. Let's say you start with a total beginner who knows nothing about how to read music. Let's say you are in a room of 5 year olds who want to become violinists.

Who do you think has the best potential to become a good violinist?

Who would you like to teach, to what end, and why?

Replies (46)

December 19, 2006 at 09:13 PM · They all do. But some will not have the inclination.

Still, you can work on many things musical and motivational: chanting words, clapping rhythms, singing songs with words, singing songs without words (this helps with pitch because they don't have to worry about words), dancing so they feel music in their entire little bodies, listening, listening, listening. Fill their environment with music.

December 19, 2006 at 11:57 PM · Is it perfect pitch, athletic ability, hand-eye coordination, capacity for hard work, how articulate one is, ability to sell oneself, etc? What do you think?

My teacher has told me I am extremely talented. I don't have perfect pitch, athletic ability, hand-eye coordination, capacity for hardwork, or anything like that. I think true talent is born. I honestly don't think I am talented at all, but I feel the really talented ones are those who have a passion for what they do. One has to enjoy the music first, the rest is just technical jumble that anyone can get with enough work.

December 20, 2006 at 03:28 AM · will be tough to get a consensus on this but here is my take.

i will break down kids into 4 groups in terms of potential. (never know how to define talent)

below average, average, good, superior. remember that Trading Places movie where environment supposedly played a big role? well, i believe that, but for violin, there is also an equally important part from within. much more than being a catwalk supermodel

some kids are simply better at intonation and finger execution, just like some people pick up foreign language faster, or play video games better. as you say, eye hand coordination plays a key role, reaction time can be trained only so much simply because some are wired genetically differently.

if a kid comes from a home with no parental support, no inspirational teacher, no good practice routine, no good ears, no good hands to start with, then i think the outcome will be poor. does that make the kid less fun to teach? not necessarily, because despite all those, he could still be very interested in learning. how far can he go? my bias is that he may still become good with great efforts, but will be incredible if he can manage to play like emil or peter simply because he loves violin but has bad ears and clumpsy hands. yes you can train, but there is a limit. lots of people want to be doctors, but not everyone is cut out to be a good surgeon. if you need open heart surgery, would you go to see the best surgeon or a doctor who loves medicine more than anyone else?

on the other extreme, we have the superior one. emil stated in one of the posts earlier today that he thinks that if the kid is going to make it, he is going to make it, pushing all excuses aside, such as less than ideal environment in early childhood, etc. from my observation which is not far from being blindfolded, to make it to the very top, that will be very very rare. i cannot see how a kid from age 4-10 can manage to successfull and consistently fight against parental apathy and excel in violin when other players have a whole team on call to cater to their every musical need. take j bell, s chang, midori,etc,,one can argue that their current success is very dependent on strong parental input during their early childhood. it gives them a huge momentum going into the later stage when their vision to be a serious violinist is crystallized. when they are ready, they are really ready.

i can be labelled as an extremist for holding this view, but to me it is pretty obvious. the same process applies to the making of airline pilots, ceos, or athletes. ( the only exception i can think of is perhaps the presidential election:).

having said that, most people will end up average and good, so what is there to worry about? a little delay here, a little distraction there? who cares! if you truthfully love music, where you end up is probably not of great concern. should not be anyway.

December 20, 2006 at 01:20 AM · Talent is when the student enjoys making music. I cannot think of a simpler definition.

December 20, 2006 at 03:33 AM · General Talent:

10% inspiration

90% perspiration

Natural talent: is one of any inborn abilities that range on a scale--violin or anything.

December 20, 2006 at 03:37 AM · It's a nonsense word with magic powers, like abracadabra. It's most often used to transform your kids into weapons to use against your friends.

December 20, 2006 at 06:18 AM · Talent is a predisposition towards excelling at something. It usually means you make connections in your brain faster, and learn at a quicker pace.

December 20, 2006 at 07:34 AM · As previously stated some children are better co.ordinated than others (very small girls as a rule are better co-ordinated than very small boys) and are maybe able to move through the earlier stages much quicker.This doesn't mean that they are more musically talented than their slower counterparts.For me musical talent is the ability to sense a phrase and to have an innate undersdtanding of a piece without the need for explanation.This means that intonation is never a big issue as it is part of the overall conception.This kind of musicality can be taught to a certain extent but there are children who can perform a personal interpretation very early on.

December 20, 2006 at 11:56 AM · what is talent or potential in an adult beginner?

why do children start to play the violin at such a young age? do they become better violinists than violinists who started as adults? can you hear the difference between someone who has been playing for twenty years and an adult that has played for five years?

December 20, 2006 at 01:13 PM · sarah, I know of someone who started violin at 5 or 6 and just blew away a major competition ten years later. If they'd started when they were 19, it's hard to picture them doing that at 29. I don't know for sure why it's hard to picture. Not to start up that discussion; it's just something to ponder. I'd like to know what sacrifices if any were made to do it, but unfortunately don't. Learning an instrument is unique I think, in that 10 years as a kid doesn't equal ten weeks or ten minutes as an adult. Even compared to learning a language. It uses a part of the mind that's already fully ready to go early or something.

December 20, 2006 at 12:59 PM · TALENT + Motivation + Great intonation + Dedication + Concentration = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84yc45l5xWM&mode=related&search=



December 20, 2006 at 01:24 PM · I guess I'm overly analytical.

December 20, 2006 at 12:46 PM · "For me musical talent is the ability to sense a phrase and to have an innate undersdtanding of a piece without the need for explanation.This means that intonation is never a big issue as it is part of the overall conception.This kind of musicality can be taught to a certain extent but there are children who can perform a personal interpretation very early on."

i agree that those are key factors and if present very early will put the kid in a different catagory.

however, i think the key is still the environment to cultivate those potentials. if intonation is weak, work on it. if musicality is weak, work on it. if the ability to sense or phrase a phrase is not apparent, teach it.

to properly work on it means there is a good supportive environment, which means good teacher and good daily practice.

therefore, to me, the environment is also a big part of this talent talk.

very very rarely, you come across a kid that is imo born to be a musician. i remember reading about a kid who plays piano/cello and at 5-6 would wake up in the middle of the night and asked the mom to bring him to the piano because he thought of a phrase on the chopin to work on. his mom also had to take him away from the piano everyday because that is all he wanted to do. this is an instance that i will not hesitate to use the word talent.

if i have a kid like that, i would help him pursue music very early on seriously. of course, along with monthly psychiatric follow ups.

December 20, 2006 at 05:45 PM · I think the answer to this question is very complex. It involves both innate qualities and learned ones, as well as an individual's reponse to circumstance. However, on the innate side of the equation, I feel that the ability to recognize patterns, then translate them into tactile and kinesthetic sensations as part of the memorization process is key to advanced development as a violinist. Of course, the ability to concentrate (mental focus) during the evaluation process is crucial, as is one's attitude towards this work.

Beyond that,there are many other things which influence the outcome and which determine the quality of the student.

For instance, the emotional, physical and rational makeup of the individual play a vital role in the success or failure of the student, as do the ways these qualities change as the individual grows and develops as a human being. The degree of perseverance in light of the ever-changing landscape presented to the violin student is also crucial.

Truly, there are myriad possibilities for variation in what it means to be a good violin student, but essentially (in my opinion), it is this fascinating combination of things which come together to form the integrated violinist.

Forrest Gump's Mama might have had it right: Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get."

December 20, 2006 at 05:48 PM · well said, david. (hope you had a great trip. would love to hear more about it..both music and food:)

i know of kids who are very smart otherwise but cannot memorize scores easily. takes great effort and becomes "work"

then there are some who remember pages of lines well but do not pay attention to the details...in fact, i know one pretty well:)

December 20, 2006 at 07:16 PM · "TALENT + Motivation + Great intonation + Dedication + Concentration = http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84yc45l5xWM&mode=related&search="

Bah! the story goes like this:):

if you dare to go to play this song on that stage, give it all you can, i will buy you pizza and fries and ice cream right afterwards. deal?

deal! but did you say,,pizza AND fries AND ice cream?!

yes, that's right. and you will hold the violin up like we talked about, right?

i will!!!

December 20, 2006 at 07:42 PM · LOL

Could be...


December 20, 2006 at 09:13 PM · The physical ability to translate compassion into an objective correlative.

December 20, 2006 at 10:20 PM · I think of talent as a kind of unconscious knowledge. Information which the person has been able to synthesize into a knowledge base without having to be taught the material per se.

December 20, 2006 at 10:47 PM · Or maybe--the ability to quickly synthesize what one IS taught into a comprehensive knowledge base, to understand new concepts quickly and in context?

December 21, 2006 at 01:38 AM · Talent is what's left when you take away education, training, knowledge, experience, and wisdom.

December 21, 2006 at 11:28 PM · Talent: intelligible musicality!!!

December 21, 2006 at 11:30 PM · Greetings,

I don@t have any thing better to offer thna the great thoughts above. One thing I can illsutartae form experience- being obviously talented doe snot necessarily mean a player has good itonation. When I wa sa kid one of my teacher sotehr students was clearly very talented but, his intonation was -awful-. He obviiously managed to dorretc this defetc ove rtime and is now a very highly rated British violnist with well recieved recordings to his credit. Perhaps talent also has something to do with perciveing and corretcing defects rather than swepeing them under the carpet? (My spelling is great)



December 21, 2006 at 11:53 PM · buri, i think you may agree that intonation has at least 2 parts.

1. the ability to recognize a correct tone.

2. the ability to execute a correct tone.

in kids, there are some who are very good in 1 but for some reasons cannot manage 2 very early on.

1 is more mental/cognitive. 2 is more physical/skill.

it is easier with hard work to improve 2 than 1,

as is the case with your famous british friend:)

one thing teachers need to pay more attention when confronted with poor intonation is to assess which component is more at fault.

December 22, 2006 at 01:26 AM · Greetings,

al, that`s interesting. How far can one break it down? There is the ability to assess whether the note is sharp or flat and the ability to assess the degre eof sharp or flatness.

Not in complete agreement with your deifniton of 2 perhpas. The abilty to execute a correct note derives from a mentla structure. I never seperate mind from body in this way- its very much a post industrial phenomenon. There is an interesitng chapter on this in De alcantara@s book on Alexande rTechnique you might like to take a look at if you haven@t already seen it,



December 22, 2006 at 02:32 AM · thank you buri for the suggestion of yet another book. one day i will find a way to twist your arms into listing the top 20 must have books to have. i have none now:)

oh come on buri, i cannot imagine you do not agree with me on that division idea, what are friends for?:)

i suppose you are very good with intonation right now, knowing the places mentally and physically, but, i can guarantee that you will have a tough time with intonation if you play on a violin in my house. guaranteed:)

December 22, 2006 at 04:10 AM · Greetings,

I solved the problem by never playing more than one note a day. After seventeen years I am one third of the way through Bruckner`s 8th symphony,



December 22, 2006 at 04:23 AM · I always thought that it was the amount of hard work than talent that made someone a great musician (even with prodigies).

December 22, 2006 at 12:48 PM · buri,

someone made the following comment to one of the videos i put on youtube:

"Good tone but her intonation is not very good. My brother was a prodigy and he never played out of tune, ever."

have you ever met a bro like that?

on the other hand, since you are not coming over to try my 1/4 violin, what would happen if heiteitz plays a 1/4 without any practice, in reference to intonation?


December 22, 2006 at 07:47 PM · As the original post referred to how do you choose someone is suited for the violin, this is what happens in the music cons my kids go to.

Children enrol (year they turn 7 - already late by some of the standards on this board) and spend a year doing musical language (read music, rhythms, ear training, dictations etc etc) and also listen to a lot of instruments first-hand, and try them out.

They then put down a first and second choice of instrument. Many times they are already dead set on something and other times they have been "guided" by their theory teacher (or parents- what? double bass?? whats that??? no way!!). This was the process with a friend's daughter who chose the Bassoon all on her own (needless to say the conservatory is Delighted with such kids).

My son started veering towards the violin very early on, but then came across the classical Spanish guitar and was very tempted by it. His teacher steered him towards the violin again based upon his capability in the music language class (very good ear, pitch in singing, ease in sightreading, etc etc). The sum of her advise was " with guitar he will learn this about music (arms held apart at about each shoulder level) with violin he will learn this about music (arms extended to their widest point). If he doesn't like violin or does not get on well, then he can switch to the guitar but not the other way around."

I don't know how valid that was but my son would still love to play the guitar (on the side) but came home kissing his violin the other day after his lesson "I love it, I love it, I am so glad we chose the violin, mua mua mua: the last to the violin, not me".

December 23, 2006 at 06:15 AM · Hmm, I totally do not agree with the teacher who inadvertantly bashed the guitar.

The guitar almost lets you learn more in some ways, such as harmony and many subtelties of music.

Both instruments are very different, but so beautiful, and go together amazingly well.

The only difficulty I could really see with learning Spanish or Classical guitar while playing violin is the length of nails on the right hand (could make holding the bow a bit awkward).

But yeah, some people, especially some uppity classical musicians, carry this stigma that the guitar is not as valid of an instrument, when really, it is capable of SOOO much. My boyfriend is a classical guitarist, and I learn so much from him and listening to guitar music and going to guitar masterclasses.

As far as talent goes...I'd say the ones that make the best students are the ones who are most willing to learn and are quick learners. If you mention something new to them, can they understand it and show a difference in their playing after a few tries or a lesson or two? I feel like everyone can learn the violin or whatever it is, as long as their heart is into it and they work at the level they need to. Everyone learns at a different pace.

Personally, I would like to teach a variety of students with different levels of talents and knowledges. As long as they have a good attitude and work towards progress, I'd be happy teaching them :)

By the way, I began violin when I was 11 years old. That's supposedly extremely late, or too late, but all of those things are so subjective. I'm playing as good or better than people I know who started when they were 5...and then there are those who just blow me out of the water. There's always someone better and you just have to try to learn from others. I see it as that I had a childhood AND pursued something I loved without any pressure from my parents or anyone else, and through that kind of experience, one can learn what it means to progress, work hard for something (and not rely on only natural talent or prodigy) and develop a love for it rather than being forced.

There are also ideas that someone doesn't necessarily NEED to start an instrument by a certain age, but the first seven years of life are important to have musical experiences (listening, playing for fun, singing...not necessarily formal lessons) These early musical experiences would "boost" the natural talent or ease things.

Of course musical experiences are important from an early age, but I find some of the do it while you're young or else you'll never get it "theories" to be a bit narrowminded.

Perhaps the advantage of beginning young on an instrument like violin is that you are training your muscles in their prime for gaining coordination and motor skills. So when your muscles are at their best for learning you are training them specific tasks related to music making which could be better engrained.

December 23, 2006 at 09:01 PM · I think in this case it was the case of a teachers who play "orchestra" instruments or piano looking down a bit on the non-orchestra instruments on offer (classical guitar, accordion, and txistu: a kind of local flute).

But it was to say that she did see something in the year she taught him to back his decision when he thought of the violin.

The interesting thing is that after this initiation year how decided most children become about what they want to learn. My daughter was just set on the clarinet (which she took) and has never had the least inclination towards trying out her brother's violin. But she did want to learn to play the viola, and someone told me that it is in a very similar range (sound wise) as the clarinet.

So I always think apart form all the talent and ability there is something in each person that responds more to a particular instrument or sound (hence my friend's daughter and the bassoon, now in her fifth year).

Our school insists that there is not much difference in starting before 7/8, but I think it is because then it fits in nicely with the school system. Schools in the towns down the road (also public) start at four.

December 24, 2006 at 02:17 AM · 1% of natural abilities plus 99% of hardwork.

December 24, 2006 at 02:31 AM · That phrase comes from Edison's definition of genius. It's true of Edison; energetic and bright and visionary, but probably no genius. Maybe not sufficiently educated. However, with his employee Tesla, it was the other way around. He only had to perspire 1%. Later in life his 1% was responsible for making Edison perspire 99% of his time maybe.

December 24, 2006 at 03:28 AM · Thank you! I didn't know this.

December 24, 2006 at 05:39 AM · I mention it since it's irrelevant.

December 25, 2006 at 01:44 PM · Hi,

I hadn't noticed this thread before, but I am thinking about this a lot lately after a few years of teaching. I don't teach beginners, mostly intermediate and advanced students. But, I do notice qualities in the good students.

Many students hit a breakthrough, some have turned around suddendly. Some, I would want out. Qualities of good students (IMHO):

- Dedication

- Enthousiasm for learning

- Responsible (owns up to his/her work, his/her good things, and his/her mistakes)

- Respect for oneself, others, our art

- A rational mind for learning and practicing technique

- Intelligence

- The ability to look at oneself objectively and realistically and focus on improvement and excellence (NOT PERFECTION!)

Not so good prospects (IMHO):

- Excessive perfectionists (huge mental blocks and inner hangups) - refuse to improve and cannot because they are set in their ways aiming for some illusionary perfection rather than playing better.

- The inability to keep one's mind calm (although in some cases that can be taught)

- Those with bad attitudes

- Irreponsible people (never admit to a mistake, never apologies for bad behavior - everything is everyone else's fault, never their own)

- Procrastinators

- Spoiled brats

- Parents who interfere too much OR who stand for their kid instead of the teacher

In the end, the important thing is the potential for growth. Yes, some people just don't have talent and the battle is huge. Sometimes, I am just not the right kind of teacher for a certain kind of student - that is neither of our faults.

A lot of things can be learned and improved. Perfect pitch is not a requisite. Ears can be trained to hear in tune. And most things can be improved if explained well and the student simply accepts it and does it. Attitude is key.


December 27, 2006 at 12:48 AM · In the beginnings stages, it seems to be either a love for the instrument combined with a desire to practice and excel, or an exceptional sense of coordination for the age, or both. At least that's been my experience with some students. I think later on the picture gets more complex as to who succeeds. And also, there are many types of talent.

December 28, 2006 at 07:16 PM · "Greetings,

I don@t have any thing better to offer thna the great thoughts above. One thing I can illsutartae form experience- being obviously talented doe snot necessarily mean a player has good itonation. When I wa sa kid one of my teacher sotehr students was clearly very talented but, his intonation was -awful-. He obviiously managed to dorretc this defetc ove rtime and is now a very highly rated British violnist with well recieved recordings to his credit. Perhaps talent also has something to do with perciveing and corretcing defects rather than swepeing them under the carpet?

(My spelling is great)



Yes, Buri. Your spelling is great, and it takes another talent to recognize it. :-) :-) :-)

My experience as an adult learn in violin player gave me a different perspective. I truly believe that an adult can be as good as a child prodigy. The difference between an adult and a child lies most likely not in that an adult loses physical advantage or talent, but in that adults usually have more other "mundane" priorities to fulfill or mess to take care of. Had we put the burden of paying bills and put food on the table on a child, what is the chance of that child become a prodigy? Let's not forget all the mess other people or institutions (e.g. banks) created to further make our (i.e. adults') lives miserable.

December 28, 2006 at 07:48 PM · I think that starting as a youth is an advantage for more reasons than just a head start in time or fewer distractions. Being able to put movements into your muscle memory while your muscles are still developing and growing has got to be an advantage over learning as an adult, when your muscles are essentially built.

That said, an adult beginner can achieve a very high level of playing. I know a woman who started the viola with some good teachers at the age of 45 and self-labelled herself a "geriatric prodigy" because everyone was astounded that she could play so well at 50. ;)

December 28, 2006 at 08:42 PM · "Being able to put movements into your muscle memory while your muscles are still developing and growing has got to be an advantage over learning as an adult, when your muscles are essentially built."

No doubt about it, Terry. However, that is not my point. As an adult beginner, you also have advantage of problem-solving or comprehension ability, which will save a lot of time. In addition, if an adult put in as much time as a child, the result cannot be ignored. That said, how many children starting at a young age really make it a top notch musician or performer?

December 28, 2006 at 10:49 PM · Sounds reasonable to me. Can't disagree with your points either.

Very few people make it to professional musician - even those who start at 5, or 4, or 3 years old, or whenever. I might further say it might be better for a broad variety of reasons for most people not to be professional musicians...but that's another discussion topic entirely!!

As for my friend the "geriatric prodigy" - she's a marvelous person, and a very good violist that many people enjoy playing with not just because of her personality, but also because she can really really play!

I liked Buri's comment - useful at any age...

"...Perhaps talent also has something to do with perciveing and corretcing defects rather than swepeing them under the carpet?"

December 28, 2006 at 10:56 PM · Cannot agree with you more, Terry.

Buri always has a Zen-like comments. Hmmmmmmm, what is his secret? DINK, DINK, DINK...Aha! Must be the sushi. :-)

December 28, 2006 at 11:49 PM · Greetings,

ost of my teachers would tell you it has more to do with emptiness , especially in my case....



December 29, 2006 at 12:19 AM · "Most of my teachers would tell you it has more to do with emptiness , especially in my case...."

Which case? Your violin case or bow case? May I borrow your case? I need both an empty violin case and a bow case. :-)

December 30, 2006 at 06:47 PM · Mmmmm...

Zen mind, beginner mind...

Empty mind, empty ears, empty case...

That means, Hands and heart full of violin...

Improving, not perfecting...


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