What is musical talent?

January 4, 2011 at 03:01 AM ·

When I began playing the violin again I wasn't very into it- I loved it but it was more of a hobby. Then, junior year of high school I felt some kind of a spark which continued to increase to the point where I would to love the make violin my career. My high school had no orchestra or string group of any kind so I was very happy when I found out from my theatre teacher that there would be a string quartet. I auditioned and I got in. To my luck, the quartet kicked off the year I left so I was never really "in" it.

I voiced my interest in majoring in music during my senior year. This thought was met well by my mother (though she was concerned about financial aspects) and met by a rather unpleasant reaction by my father (which we will not go into details about xD). My father called the musical director at my school asking whether I had talent or not. The teacher said he saw nothing special. I asked my violin teacher and she said "not only do you have talent but you have the determination and the drive."

This has brought me to the question: what is musical talent? How is it different from passion? How can I identify this in myself? Regardless of how my many teachers say I do/don't have talent I'll never believe until I believe it, until I see it for myself.

In regards to passion: In my last blog I expressed how shocked and angry I was that the piece I've been working on sounded horrible after working on it for a while. This made me wonder: if I really do have talent why am I not better? Am I just tragically chasing a dream that cannot come true? Every time I watch a video on YouTube of a musical or orchestra/solo performance I want to be on that stage or in that orchestra. I want it so bad that I actually hurts. And it hurts more when I know it will never be me.

Also, how to creativity, talent and passion differ?

Replies (59)

January 4, 2011 at 03:48 AM ·

Talent is hunger.  That's all it is.  If I'd invented the English language, they'd be the same word.

January 4, 2011 at 03:59 AM ·

 What do you mean by hunger? ...Like...food hunger or...? :/ Sorry for being dense.

January 4, 2011 at 04:04 AM ·

I daresay most working musicians do not have what we think of as prodigious talent.  What they do is work hard enough, efficiently enough, consistently enough, etc. to make up for being quite normal.

January 4, 2011 at 07:49 AM ·

I think passion is closer to hunger.  Its that feeling that you must immerse or die.  Perhaps the concept of passion in relationsihps is a better way to describe it - if you are old enough to have desired someone, you know what passion is.

Talent is not passion and I don't think its really related to hunger at all.  Talent is someone for whome a task is easy where others have to work to get there (and I think that was meant in the opening post).  We are all more talented at some things than others - such as converting a visual scene into a drawing or adopting a personna to act a part, but we generally use the word for someone who's native skill is superior to the average.

I really liked the way Sevde put the question - figuring out the difference between passion and talent.  I think a way to look at this is that to reach a goal you need both.  You obviously have passion (as described above), thats what gives you the hunger to succeed, and you must have some talent or you would not even be trying to play.  By raising the question one would have to assume that your talent is not out of the ordinary but (as indicated by your violin teacher) it may be sufficient if your passion will carry you through.

There is an age old aphorism that 'Genius is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration'  You can replace those two words with talent and passion - trouble is its hard to get anywhere without the 5% factor....

January 4, 2011 at 10:14 AM ·

Sevde, you could understand "talent" as the ability to understand a (musical) problem and resolve it. There is nothing special with being musically talented, this is normal for homo sapiens like the ability to see colours. Untalented people are the exception. And there are few people with a bigger talent, they  come farther with the same amount of dedicated work. But nobody becomes good without hard training.

If you want to test your talent, you've got to work more. It's as simple as that. Almost all of us should work more. I played violin a lifetime and was always sure I wasn't talented enough to be really good. Then, three years ago, with 47, I met a pianist who encouraged me to really dig into it. I am lucky to have the time, so I tried it out She worked with me for some time and tought me more than a violin teacher could have done in this situation. And last summer I had my first recital with Brahms and Beethoven, it was great, and I found that with more serious work than I would have expected I could be as good as many others. (I know my limits, of course. But it's not too late for serious chamber music, even I will never play the Brahms concert in the Philharmonie)

January 4, 2011 at 12:50 PM ·

I find this very interesting as a composer and amateur violinist and I've come to the conclusion that you can teach theoretical and technical proficiency but you CANNOT teach creative thought.

 A Paganini caprice can be performed with technical perfection by 3 performers but ONE stands out.

 A modern classical composition can be written with technical perfection by 3 composers but ONE stands out.

 This ONE thing that stands out, that touches you in such a way that you feel you've experience something that can't be described...This is TALENT...This is true ART.

January 4, 2011 at 04:14 PM ·

 i think it is important to have music as your major--if you really desire to do so-- but also have another discipline as a minor, just in case you have to swap them around later on.  we usually do not buy car insurance dreaming about having a wreck but things happen.  clearly you have enough passion for violin,  so i will leave it to the experts on how to nourish that further,,, smartly. with a minor in place, aka a safety net in place, go hard on your major interest.  to start,  you must 100% believe in the role that you dream to assume.  you want to go pro,,,start to act like one immediately.    

clearly talent is not what you have, just like when einstein was told in high school that  he was slow in math, or michael jordan cut from high school basketball team.  but  the more you hang around, the more you will appreciate that what really matters in the end, or during the process for that matter, is the fight.  specifically, how you fight.  how you plan your fight, how you execute your fight, how you look at the outcome.

on creativity, your father has a leg up on you.  he did his part of due diligence.  not taking your word for it, he went to investigate on his own by checking you out.  in terms of creatively creative what you want for your own future, besides practicing hours with results even you do not like, what have you done and what are you planning to do to change?  do more of the same? because essentially,  if you want change, you yourself have to change, fundamentally.  change the way you learn and practice and critically look at every violin habit you have and ask why. change the way you deal with parental pressure and desire.  change the way on how you look at yourself, from doubt to faith, from no chance at all to opportunities everywhere.  

there are many many prof musicians in big cities ( you are from nyc?).  please start researching what it is like to be one. go out and network.  ask for mentoring advices from as many as possible.  bother them.  ask for honest opinions.  if you are sincere, no one in his/her right mind will not extend a helping hand.  until and unless you really exhaustively check out what it is like to be a pro musician, your fantasy has no solid foundation and that is often the reason why people become disillusioned.  my biggest concern for you is whether you are currently learning the violin in the most efficient and correct way possible, since working hard is a given already.

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
Henry David Thoreau


imo, men are more stupid than women, so chances are you will do better! 

January 4, 2011 at 04:25 PM ·

Talent is the ability to quit a room or to get everyone dancing.I use to think it was the ease in the way someone learns, but not any more.

January 4, 2011 at 04:35 PM ·

 I had the opportunity to play an instrument because I was spotted for being 'talented'. Before then, music wasn't a massive part of my life - why should it have been, when nobody around me was musical? All I ever remember is wanting to play an instrument since a young age, but I never actually thought it would happen. 

I think talent is a big mixture of things. It is that spark in someone's eye when they are enjoying something, it is that interest and hunger they have for wanting more knowledge, it is that desire to become good at something. I think not everyone knows they have the talent for something - I certainly didn't know I had any talent for music before my first violin teacher insisted I did and kept sending letters to my parents saying she wanted to teach me privately! 

But at the same time, someone can have the want and the interest and even the spark in the eye for something they are passionate about... yet they lack talent. It is all rather strange. So is talent having the natural ability to pick something up and be good at it, AS WELL as having the spark and hunger etc.? There is always that point of what talent might be, but yet someone can't be good at everything.

All I can do is think back to when I was given the opportunity to play the violin... I loved it so much that I would beg my teacher to give me extra time (which she did do because people usually didn't bother turning up to their lessons!), and to the fact that I used to get frustrated with the very slow pace my friend used to go at when playing the violin whilst I would be way ahead. (I'm not trying to sound big-headed here by the way, just tell me if I am being!) I think the word 'talent' is just something to group up an awful lot of signs for someone who will be good at something or will pick something up easily. 

And yet another thing is even though some people don't realise they have a talent for something, other people do, yet those who do sometimes deny themselves that talent or ability because that isn't what they want, isn't what other people want or it isn't what they are passionate about. Strange, huh?

As someone above me said, it is the person who stands out amongst the crowd. It is the playing of the same piece but that one person is the person to catch people's attention, make them lift their heads and listen. It is that emotion that cannot be described. That may be what talent is.

However, I was never one for practising violin religiously. In fact, you could call me lazy when it comes to practise... it has only been the past couple of years (ironically since I STOPPED lessons) that I have REALLY got down to practising - I don't know, maybe it is a result of having to 'survive' by myself? Who knows? 

My dad has always said 'Remember Eloise, you have a talent, but talent can only take you so far. There comes a point where you have to work in order to be good at something, you can't ride on your talent for ever'. And he is totally right!

January 4, 2011 at 07:50 PM ·

The problem with "talent" (if we even arrive at a reasonable definition of what it is) is that it can be a curse -- both for those who are deemed to have it and those who don't. 

Recent studies (the details of which escape me) have shown that those with so-called "talent" often tend to (unconsciously) protect their designation by not challenging themselves as much as they might/not risking and only choosing tasks they feel certain they can accomplish, while their more ordinary brethren tend to work harder, more consistently, and take more chances -- and so end up, paradoxically, achieving more than their "talented" counterparts. 

On the other hand, I believe that being deemed of merely ordinary potential can be a negative as well, causing people to turn away from endeavors prematurely, and never allowing them to realize their true potential. 

Some folks show early promise that is later fulfilled through hard work and other factors.  Others show promise and go nowhere.  The same is true about those seen to possess only ordinary talent -- some exceed expectations, some don't.   The bottom line is that talent doesn't always reveal itself immediately, and in the end the designation is a flawed predictor of superior performance over the long term.   

No one -- not your teachers, not even you, perhaps least of all you -- knows what you're capable of achieving with passionate commitment to something you truly care about.  And (see Al Ku's post above) there's only one way to find out.



January 5, 2011 at 08:48 PM ·

Maybe there's two things: the love for something, and the willingness to wade through what I've call elsewhere the Swamp of Suck to get at it.  Yes, you love the violin.  Or the piano, or woodworking, or the idea of being 50 lbs lighter.  Do you love it so much that you're willing to wade through the Bog of Eternal Stench that now separates you from that thing?

For a lot of people, the answer is unfortunately no.  They love the idea of doing something, but not the actual working at it.

And there are also a lot of people who DO love it that much ... but don't realize that they just have to roll up their pant legs and wade through the swamp because they are wasting time waiting for "talent" to build a bridge over it for them.  There isn't one.  This is where a good teacher comes in, one that just tells them and shows them how to get through that swamp and deal with the mud on their shoes in the meantime.  A lot of people hamstring themselves because they think that if the magic bridge doesn't appear for them, they don't have "talent," and shouldn't bother.  This is garbage.

I really do think that that's what "natural talent" is -- it's one of three things, either a love of something so deep that they just don't care about the mud (this is what I call hunger), natural bullheadedness (which is an innate trait; some people just are stubborn), or a good set of life circumstances that got to them early such that they never learned to sit back and wait for the bridge to get built.  Maybe it's good role models, partly it's luck.  Did Mozart and Montero have "natural talent" that allowed them to improvise brilliantly at the drop of any hat because they were nurtured early by fortuitous circumstances (which they were)?  Did they have "natural talent" because they loved it so much that no negative circumstances could stop them?

Ultimately, who cares?  As long as you keep slogging through that swamp, you'll get through to the better musician you want to be.

There are a lot of people who won't do that, though.  This is the third category -- the people who fear the bog more than they love the thing they want to achieve.  They say that it's because they are "perfectionist," but they aren't.  They don't love perfection, they are frightened by imperfection.  Being attracted to something is not the same thing as being repelled by its opposite.  And in this case, perfection (or at least improvement) is surrounded by a giant moat of stink.  Do you fear the stink so badly that you won't set foot in it?  Or do you want the improvement so badly that wading through the stink is worth it to you?

Everyone has different names for these -- which part of the equation is "talent," which is "passion," which is "teaching," and whatever.  Call it whatever the h*ll you want, just pick up that thing and play while you do it.

I want it so bad that I actually hurts. And it hurts more when I know it will never be me.

Do you want it so bad that you are willing to stare that hurt in the face -- as you will need to do if you want to get past it?  Then, you'll be fine.

BTW, as a total stranger I'm telling you this: ignore your father.  He's another one who thinks that since no magic bridge is materializing before your eyes that you have no "talent" and shouldn't bother.  Ignore him.  I'm not saying he's a bad guy or a bad father, I'm just saying he's not giving you good advice in this situation.

January 5, 2011 at 10:13 PM ·

 You might be interested in Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers".  His point is that there is little difference between talent and passion, and that the major thing talented and accomplished people have in common is the willingness and ability to put in the time to master their endeavor. 


Amazon.com: Outliers: The Story of Success (9780316017923 ...

January 5, 2011 at 10:16 PM ·

 Talent in music does not refer to one specific thing, and nor does it refer to passion or the capacity for hard work. Instead, talent for a musical career consists of a number of separate specific qualities, each necessary for success:

These are some specific skills that fall under "talent":

-basic hand-eye coordination

-above-average motor control

-ability to concentrate for long periods of time

-ability to not let nerves interfere in execution

-ability to hear and judge intervals

-good memory

-ability to change behavior (ability to learn)

-ability to vibrate in a pleasing manner

-ability to trill

-ability to maintain internal pulse

-ability to mimic/absorb style characteristics

Saying that someone has talent (or not) doesn't really say anything. There are any number of good musicians who have most of the above. You only have to lack one specific skill to fail. Imagine, for example, having it all--except a good trill. You'll never play a convincing Mozart concerto, and never win a professional audition.

That's why hard work alone without the above will only take one so far.

January 5, 2011 at 11:51 PM ·

 Scott, good list, but what about when someone spots a child/adult beginner who is 'talented' when they do not yet know these things? You can be talented in many ways, you don't need to know how to trill or do vibrato etc until a little bit later on.

January 6, 2011 at 12:33 AM ·

And having "ability to trill" is not quite like having green eyes.  You learn these things.  At the age of 44, I've learned how to handle the long zillionth-note runs that always drove me crazy on the piano as a kid not because The Talent Fairy suddenly hit me on the head with her wand, but because I learned how to master them.  And at the age where most people would point to a half-chewed pop-science column in People Magazine to explain why I shouldn't have been able to do it.  Skills are learned well or poorly and mastered or not.  This isn't a polyanna attitude, it's a fact.

January 6, 2011 at 02:13 AM ·


I think people label a young student "talented" because they exhibit many of the innate skills on my list. Naturally, our perception of talent depends on age and where we expect someone to be at that age relative to others in the same age group.


January 6, 2011 at 03:48 AM ·

Hello. I am a 14 year-old violinist, and I am going through a situation similar to yours. I started violin at age 11 without a teacher for three years. I have a teacher now who teaches me for free because he believes I have potential, even though I sound like crud! The point is that talent isn't always readily identified like in violinists such as Itzhak Perlman or Vengerov, but the fact that you have drive is what gives you the potential to do something, if that makes sense. Ever hear of the saying "You can do anything if you set your mind to it." I am going through the same thing, and you're not supposed to quit at something that you really love. If you believe that you  were born to be a violinist, do it. Anything is possible, and there are too many people in this world that do give up on their dreams, and then they regret when they're older. So, don't make second thoughts. DO WHAT YOU MUST!!!

January 6, 2011 at 04:32 AM ·

Musical Talent? Something I envy, but I recognize I don't have.
I may be able to recognize it by sound, but I ain't got it.
I may become an accomplished technician (not likely, but possible), but I don't have the nuanced capability that evokes a communication between the artist and his/her soul. 

I enjoy music, I chose the violin because I loved it, and I do not regret it.

I also recognize the difference between a craftsman and an artist. A craftsman can recreate anything ever made. An artist can create something new.
That, is true talent.
Even when playing a piece that has been played before, an artist will evoke something new from it. That is why there can never be a 'definitive' work played; why another recording of the Caprices may still have merit.

But then, I'm just a fiddler; what do I know.

January 6, 2011 at 08:17 AM ·


I may be a rank amateur but I'm a wizened and experienced listener with fifty hm-hmmm years of music in my mind and heart.  I offer the idea that talent is _not_ a have vs. have-not dichotomy, but a continuum of a sort of intelligence that transcends description.  Have I been smoking rosin?  No.  I've spent years in academia studying the human mind and every new imaging study or cognitive experiment on humans I've run across deepens my appreciation for what you _don't_ think you have.

Put together some recordings of yourself doing the same concerto movement or a song you just plain like and I'm sure the results will differ a bit each time.  Technical flaws aside, you and every one (excluding a cousin of mine who is tone deaf) insert a bit of their own "essence" into each utterance of that music.  Now that to me is talent, be it small or great in the eyes of others.

I hope that the flowery essence of rosin dust isn't too thick for y'all.  I'm just reflective at 2 am.

January 6, 2011 at 10:22 AM ·

@ Roland: [talent is] the nuanced capability that evokes a communication between the artist and his/her soul

Best one yet.

And (unrelated to Rolands which was decidedly different)

I've never seen a topic where the posts repeated in essence the same ideas so often - each one seemingly saying it for the first time and each with a slightly different perspective!  Which is why I liked R's line above so much.  It transcends the physical aspects of 'talent', many of which can be circumvented by patient effort, and goes to the heart of the issue.  Exactly that - talent in music is the ability to connect the played music to the soul.  And I posit that no amount of practice will allow you to achieve that if you ain't got it (which is why there really are so few stars in any music form...). 

January 6, 2011 at 02:27 PM ·

" I also recognize the difference between a craftsman and an artist. A craftsman can recreate anything ever made. An artist can create something new. 

That, is true talent."

that line reads to me as if a craftsman is not or cannot be a true talent.  perhaps there is more to that.

one thing to keep in mind is that in the context of helping a young person to explore music as a lifelong pursuit,  what information and perspective is truly helpful to the person who is undecided if not confused?  how do we guard against using inspirational stories to scare off the next generation?

for the most part, almost everyone is a craftsman of some sort, and there are indeed many, many true talents in the craftsman pool.  i would like to think heifetz ate his bread, practiced his scales and more importantly,  he thought or was made to believe that he was going to places.   perhaps for the academic reason of putting things in either black or white, or  having  the same rhetoric passed down for generations,  we try to separate the very very top from the rest, to make idols out of them, to make gods out of them, to scare little children with them,  because they have touched us like no other.  that others can try but never will get there, never come close.  that,  imo,  is the problem, the fallacy.   there is true talent in each level of the process, some young, some old; some beginners, some accomplished.  with time, a genius will pop out, a new paradigm brought forth.  not knowing who and when and where,  we should expect that it can be anyone and that mentality alone can and  will bring up the level of an entire population or generation.  we see that with dudamel's effort and influence.  we see that with crops of outstanding young players from countries where classical music, not their own heritage, caught on only recently.  people with the least amt of "talent" have made the biggest stride with passion and creativity.   those people knew about the 10000 hrs before the puffy head wrote about it. 

therefore, i find this type of splitting hair mentality-that some are true artists, some are not- confusing and discouraging to those budding true talents among us and within each of us.  it is simply self defeating to everyone.  do we really mean to inspire or just want to listen to ourselves talk when we label others?   this attitude,  pervasive enough in classical music and almost universally accepted as the norm, is destroying the future of the field with incredible effectiveness.   more often than not, those born with an earlier start tend to mind their own businesses, but those with a late start,  with jealousy, insecurity, anxiety, etc,  tend to become extremely sensitive about the lagging distance and invariably develop an inferiority complex.  and invariably they become philosophers: if we don't have blond hair it is our mission to preach others that they don't know how to have fun,,,that they don't know what real fun is.  

it is therefore the duty for morons like me to call BS on it  and suggest to those interested in music (or whatever field for that matter)  to keep their heads down, ears shut from the noises and just do the work.  it is not their time to compare with others yet because they have not given themselves a chance to show their determination and effort.   it will be surprising to many that if they really do that--jump into the water to learn to swim-- or just a percentage of that,  how far they will have traveled in a short span of time.  classical music is indeed hard;  besides this and that, every step of the way, someone well meaning, be it a parent, a teacher, or a friend puts up a stop sign in our face.  isn't that something?  

try not advocate progress in the classical field while at the same time inadvertently limit its growth.  

ps,,,just saw dudamel tonight tape.  i am terribly disappointed that at the ripe age of 5, he was still laughable at conducting!

January 6, 2011 at 08:58 PM ·

@ Sevde Guzel~ Wow! What an impressive post! For you to have the ability to have the concepts in order to ask the questions that you you are asking... you are very intelligent! I wish I was half as smart as you! Man, as a writer and a thinker You Are Talented! And I sincerly mean this!


January 6, 2011 at 09:15 PM ·

I think the concept of a continuum and that talent is a part of a process is not accurate, but it may be a matter of semantics.

I perceive the description of skill as a continuum, with a flow from novice to expert, with the capability of more critical and abstract expression at the higher end.

Does talent exist without training? Does Talent exist before the capacity to express? I think there is something else, that talent is a supreset of skill and training. You can have skill without talent, but without an extra factor that no amount of training can provide; something that lets you integrate the higher capabilities of the abstractions of feelings and music. Talent does exist in degree, however I do not think it can be trained.
Training can help bring it out, and can work to increase the expression of talent, but it is a separate thing from skill.

Now can I go back to being a simple fiddler, with jokes and lampoons? All this thinking hurts my head...

January 6, 2011 at 09:53 PM ·

semantics or not,  i wonder how can someone be accurate in telling whether JOHN or JANE is talented or not for something, especially when he/she is still actively evolving in the development years?   mind you, we are not talking about the vengerovs of today, but the vengerovs of yesteryear before they started to shine.  if skills deserve development, doesn't  talent need refinement as well?  what if we make a mistake and label someone as not talented when in fact she is, just that we catch her on the wrong period of time, or that we have misjudged?  can we say, sorry,,,come back next life?

people have goofed before.  as i said earlier, they were about to write off michael jordan and albert einstein.  

it is precisely  the semantics that is setting up road blocks for those young or old when they are about to give it a try.   you are too old,,,you come too late,,,right now you cannot do something as well as someone even younger than you are, therefore i have no time for you,,,  

how can a teacher possibly tell a student that she or he does not have the talent for something? 

the op did not naively want to solo in carnegie hall next week,,,she simply wanted to pursue a music major.   how likely is it that the teacher does not have the chop to teach but the student has  the chop to learn?  perhaps  the teacher has, um, no talent?  



January 7, 2011 at 02:58 AM ·

 Very interesting question. Personally, I'd say talent is the unbelievable compulsion to play your violin almost all the time, and the thirst for listening to the music that you aspire to, or love to play, but also talent is the ability to hear how you want yourself to sound, and then sound that way. I've only started to begin to sound how I want myself to sound, being that I've only seriously studied for a year and a half, but talent, in many ways, along with the hunger, and the dedication, is a certain degree of satisfaction with your playing without ever being satisfied. Like I said, I've been playing for a year and a half, really, but when I play the Bruch concerto, it's certainly not perfect, but now it's certainly not bad either, and it's very satisfying. I wake up at 5:30 every morning before school, and I practice until 7, I can't do anything without the violin constantly on my mind. I've developed a bit of a reputation due to it, as the person with an obsession with the violin, but I'm constantly paranoid that I'm not talented, or that my talents simply aren't enough, but at the same time, I'm quite happy with how I'm doing, and proud of the violinist I've become, at least, for a 15-year-old ameteur. It's the ablilty to enjoy the way you play in the context of the fact that you have a long future ahead of you. 

January 7, 2011 at 03:37 AM ·

 It's probably something I take for granted every time I pick up my violin. 

January 7, 2011 at 04:01 AM ·

The really scary thing about talent is that the more you have, the better you can see when others have more...

January 7, 2011 at 07:15 AM ·

The other aspect to talent is it can make a person lazy.  Natural talent will take you so far...after that it's hard work to keep improving and stay motivated to pursue the dream.

Talent + passion for the craft + hard work = success

January 7, 2011 at 08:46 AM ·

Talent - you recognise it if you hear or see it in another.

Those who have talent don't always know they have it.

Those who don't have talent don't always know they don't.

January 7, 2011 at 09:23 AM ·

Julian: Those who don't have talent don't always know they don't.

LOL.  And worse - often think they are the most talented.  Of course we all have to worry that we might be examples of that! 

If two people are racing up many flights of stairs the talented one both starts a flight up and can goes two steps at a time.  However, an avergae racer will still beat him if he has more stamina and determination....

January 7, 2011 at 09:32 AM ·

Elise: And worse - often think they are the most talented.  Of course we all have to worry that we might be examples of that!

Yes - and doesn't that little nagging demon of self-doubt love to whisper it into our ears?.

But there rests my case - the truly unknowing untalented have such bone-like skulls that even a whole choir of demons yelling at full volume through a public address system can't get through to them.

January 7, 2011 at 12:45 PM ·

talent is everything i do not have when i am trying to learn the &#^$%#&^@& 3rd movement of the Strauss violin sonata.

January 7, 2011 at 03:19 PM ·

"Talent - you recognise it if you hear or see it in another.

Those who have talent don't always know they have it.

Those who don't have talent don't always know they don't"

Not so sure about the first -- You recognize talent in someone else when you hear or see it...  but it's not always on display for you to see or hear...particularly with those just beginning to play. Perhaps it's like those tests that don't yield false positives but they can and do yield false negatives.  And those false negatives can be killers. The young tend to see talent/abilities in black-and-white terms -- "oh, he's good at math, I'm not" -- instead of something that isn't really fixed, something that can change, that they can change. 

For practictioners of any art, worrying about "talent" is simply not helpful.  For practioners, there is only how well you play -- and it doesn't matter how you get there.  

So if you play the violin, and you care about it, forget about the talent trap. Think instead of potential, and the fact that no one -- NO ONE -- knows at the outset your true potential.  It is not self-evident.  Focus instead on finding your way to -- and then developing -- your own unique, authentic personal "voice."  And then speaking.


January 7, 2011 at 06:49 PM ·

It's also easier to think that someone else has "talent" because we're just not inside their skulls seeing how hard they're working.  There was an article about Dylana Jenson a while back where her mother made a comment about people who called her a "miracle."  She said they had "no idea how hard that child works" to do what she did.  But people didn't see that, so they called it talent.  We see our own struggles from the inside, so they seem less romantic to us.

I heard about Yo Yo Ma once thinking about how to solve a problem with his cello when he was riding the subway.  It's not like he was playing the thing then and there -- he was just thinking about the problem.  To the outside, it just looked like some kid staring into space riding a subway.

Talent is the word a lot of people use to describe hard work that they don't actually see getting done.  And a lot of this work is work we can't physically see, because we can't lift the lid and watch the gears of another person's mind.

January 7, 2011 at 08:09 PM ·

@ Janis: it is just that some people have nothing going on inside their skulls... (Just speaking generally.)

January 7, 2011 at 08:24 PM ·

And just the general human tendency to think that what someone else goes through is less because "I" didn't go through it.  We all tend to think that other people have it easier, only because we go through our struggles from the inside.

But yes -- I have absolutely dented my nose personally on the assumption that it's "not fair" that I could pick things up well ... thrown at me by people who sit on their butts all day.  It just doesn't hold water when it comes from that quarter.

January 7, 2011 at 08:41 PM ·

 Earlier it was mentioned about the ability to learn - I think this is the key.  I am yet to see a really good player, who's dumb. this is at all levels (from what I glean between the lines on you-tube, direct experience in community orchestra, direct experience outside of community orchestra) they aren't just good at violin, they're good at ... stuff. Intelligent if you like. I'm not saying that all good learners are good musicians, but I bet that all good musicians are good learners.

When I started learning, I didn't think much about the term 'talent'. It was something I would have liked heard applied to myself, but as an adult learner i don't think should need to hear that, and I get the feeling that teachers of adults don't think in this way.  As time has passed, the concept of what 'talent' is has become more vague and whispy. I know longer have any idea at all what I'm talking about when I use the term.

January 7, 2011 at 09:47 PM ·

well, for starters, I think we should agree that everyone on this topic is tallented.  Lousy at spelling perhaps but very very talennted.  Talneted... t..   Smart.

January 7, 2011 at 10:16 PM ·

 Wow, everyone O.O I'm definitely printing these responses out and reading them in depth. I realized that even if I become the worst musician I can't stop playing, which can lead to a destructive cycle :/. But these responses are awesome! :).

January 7, 2011 at 10:25 PM ·

I realized that even if I become the worst musician I can't stop playing, which can lead to a destructive cycle :/.

Believe me, dedication can't lead you anywhere destructive.  You'll be fine.  :-)

January 7, 2011 at 11:27 PM ·

January 8, 2011 at 12:13 AM ·

 "In order to become a great violinist you must have both."

but the point here is, pierre, that we are not saying we are aiming to become a GREAT violinist. how about just good, proficient  violinists that can get a job?  is that that impossible if one is short on omg talent--still some level of talent-- but very dedicated and willing to work very hard,,,,with a great instructor?   i think the answer is YES!   a well trained violinist can try to get a performing job,,,if not, he/she can also teach. 

sean  earlier talked about this type 1 vs type 2 stat error on judging talent which i think is an interesting perspective.

false positive, type 1: in fact no talent, but by mistake we think there is talent.

false negative, type 2: in fact there is talent, but we goof and declare there is no talent.

look at those 2 options, and assume we are all humans and therefore are prone to make mistakes,  when a young person's future and aspiration is on the line,  which error is "better" to make?

i would prefer to make type 1:  if i am right,  the person, really with no talent, goes some distance but not far.

if i am wrong, excellent!  the person is indeed talented!

on the other hand, when authority figures make the type 2 error, it has a huge consequence. one gesture, one dialogue can essentially mislead someone away from a chosen path.

think about it.

some say doctors play the role of god.  i say some violinists also do:)

further, i think it is likely that some teachers are simply very focused and particular with what they think are the ideal type of students.  can we blame them to have the freedom to pick and choose?  how they want to use their energy and time?  how they envision what they can do with their ideal students?  we can't.  the only thing we can do is to keep knocking on doors until we find one that fits mutually.  




January 8, 2011 at 12:34 AM ·

 i can imagine with less talented ones, you probably grow more white hair and develop high blood pressure earlier.  but you can charge more for the pain and suffering:)  or ask them to wash your cars, clothes or mow the lawn or something...:):)

if i were a music teacher, i will teach accordingly, meaning, try my best but put people on different tracks.  i don't want to hear empty talk and wishes. if the students mean business, they have to work very very hard to show me that they mean it.    if they can manage to do that, i will bump them up to the premier league.  if not, i will drop them back to the pee wee league.  bottom line, if i do my best, you have to do your very very best:)

but i will never tell those on the premier league where they are,,,to keep them burning:)

a student that is humble and hungry is fun to deal with.


January 8, 2011 at 12:53 AM ·

I'm inclined to think that a teacher will simply call the following types of students "less talented":

1) students they don't connect well with, who would do better with a different teacher or style of approach, and

2) students who don't really want to be there ("I'm only doing this because my parents won't let me quit.")

I think 1 is unfortunately more common than people think.  Even when I taught in grad school, I saw a lot of students who had bumped up against something frustrating for them for a long time and who simply needed a different approach to suddenly make the clouds part.  There were other students who I couldn't reach, but who I knew went to other TAs and got the explanations that worked for them.  I wouldn't dream of saying that just because I wasn't the one to get through to them that they were "less talented," as if one grad school punk at a UC (me) were the arbiter of another's destiny in a millennia-old discipline.  Those kids just needed an approach I wasn't giving them.

When even that doesn't work, I think that's where category 2 comes into play.  The kid in question just doesn't want to do it.  If they pursued something they wanted more, they would do better at it.

January 8, 2011 at 01:05 AM ·

 i think janis brought up a good point and i will expand on that.

i would consider someone on the "talented" side if that person can be flexible enough to adapt to different teaching styles.  he/she can easily switch gears to absorb what is important while ignoring minor distractions.  more like higher EQ.

it is probably easier for an older kid to do that, so if a very young kid has that mental and cognitive capacity, then the sailing will be smoother.

January 8, 2011 at 03:08 AM ·

I re-read through all the comments. Wow. Thanks for intentionally/unintentionally helping me. If I were to major in Music I would double major with English Literature, as well. I'd probably add a minor for Spanish, too...because I'm an academic masochist.

I plan on auditioning at the end of the coming semester. If I get it (with good points) I'll do it. If not, well, I don't have a choice, haha.

In regards to my dad: I didn't take his comments seriously as he said "music is not a serious job."

I don't expect myself to become a soloist (as I would have had my debut quite a while ago if I had any chance to be one). My goal would be to teach violin and play in a few orchestras/groups. Also, if I were to go into Music, I would work towards my doctorate so I could also become a professor (probably in Composition).

January 8, 2011 at 08:43 AM ·

Sevde: so you're saying you are talented in composition? :p :D

January 8, 2011 at 03:59 PM ·

" If I were to major in Music I would double major with English Literature, as well."

i wonder if the dad will consider english literaturist as a serious job, or is it double jeopardy? :)

January 8, 2011 at 06:54 PM ·

We have seen so many violinists over the past decades to be able to distinguish from true musical genius over others,with great digital abilities.

Now, with so many soloists performing around the world, and on a lot of fifty you should withdraw about 40 who are not deserving a career ,as so justly pointed out by the late Philip Hirschorn.True talent like Argerich or Freire at the piano, Heifetz,Oistrach, Kreisler, Neveu at the violin, is rare.

As long as the show goes on and money comes in, the rest is not significant...I mean, who are today the truly gifted ones,who perform Bach Beethoven, Brahms, Bartok with such a high level of musicality and a truly distinctive sound. Lets put aside the Paganini and Ernst specialists who can't give a decent chamber music performance of the complete Beethoven sonatas, alike Grumiaux, Oistrach and Kreisler... ( I do not mean that being a skillful virtuoso exclude great musicianship)

Before the 60,s, only real talent pop out and a great career was offered only to the the very best...

January 8, 2011 at 07:02 PM ·

Al, I would sooner say that a truly talented teacher is one that can adapt to different learning styles.  :-)  It's up to the teacher to display the greater adaptability, I think.  By definition, they do have more experience than their students.

January 8, 2011 at 09:54 PM ·

I looked up on line and my own dictionary how Talent is defined and also reflected on my own. Those that are defined as talented realize their full potentials and continually seed and cultivate more potentials! These potentials realized surpass many & most other persons in their respective field. If any of this makes any since?

January 9, 2011 at 12:50 AM ·

 @Elise: Haha, I began composing before I had musical instruction (as in theory). I don't think those pieces are too bad. If I began formal instruction I think it would be decent. Though, I think it's impossible for me to write in a major key...I started a piano and cello duet in D major...and I realized I went into d minor x).

@al ku: Haaaaa, for some reason, English is a serious thing. I'm really happy he considers it serious though, because it's at least something we can agree on when it comes to college education.

@Janis, I gave a lesson to a friend today! It was wonderful. She had a teacher who didn't teach her anything (and played music that was irrelevant to the lesson for half the lesson). She didn't even learn third position after two years! It sounds like she might have perfect pitch, or something close to it. I was so happy teaching/helping her. Not only because she's my friend, though. I was trying to help a friend get a simple song we had to play with chords for a midterm (she was thinking to much instead of just letting it go). I just love helping people with music. With my friend's lesson, I just went over the book and looked to see where she was. Once she began struggling I worked the songs out with her (i.e. told her to play without slurs and take her time). After a few tries, she got it. Hopefully we'll be able to have a "lesson" once a week. (Of course, these lessons are free, as she's my friend.)

January 9, 2011 at 01:05 AM ·

@Svede: tell me, what kind of pieces did you write, for which instruments and form of writing??? You see, you can be very much creative in the field of composition and become very skillful... but to do so, you must master the Art of the Fugue if you wish to reach the highest level. You can exercise yourself by writing short ones at the beginning. Of course, the instrument you choose must be polyphonic if you want to write solo fugues , like the piano or the violin... it is the only way to reach the necessary technique if your goal,one day, is to write a symphonic work. Many composers today have neglected this important step to master the fugue. And that is the main reason why everything sounds weak... You can find the Art of the Fugue by J.S.Bach and study this work carefully, all your life... It is the key to great achievement in the field of composition.

January 9, 2011 at 01:16 AM ·

 @Marc, I write for classical/western instruments for now. I have my compositions on noteflight.com. My username is CupOfTea. We actually studied Art of Fugue in my music history class briefly. We also had to write a spoken fugue with a group. The spoken fugue was very simple, though. We also "spoke" it to the class. So far, I've finished a few minuets. I'm working on a few sonatas and a viola concerto. I love using piano. I found that I need a soprano/tenor and a bass for everything I write. I think of the melody (which is usually in a treble clef) as the thought and the harmony (which is usually the bass) as the reason behind the thought/emotion...like the heart of it. One composition("Manipulation") has violin, flute, cello and upright bass. "Simply Fine" has vocals, piano, violin, electric bass and drums. "No Longer Hopeful" has flute, cello, guitar, violin, electric bass and drums. The last two were written before music theory classes. I'm also working on Symphony No. 1.

January 9, 2011 at 01:34 AM ·

Great...I will take a look...  My website as a composer is http://www.violinistcomposer.com

I wrote five symphonies so far and number six is in the making...

The first five symphonies are a complete cycle: baroque-Classical-Romantic-Impressionnist and finally serial dodecaphonic...

They are all featured on my website (audio-symphonies)

January 9, 2011 at 02:19 AM ·

 i am very happy with the way this thread is heading!    best luck to the future professor:)

to mark, heard some of your compositions,,you are something.  i feel more untalented. :)

January 9, 2011 at 02:30 AM ·

 I like "Pizzicati" from Symphony No. 1 and "Ete" from Symphony No. 2. Baroque is my favorite.

Some things on noteflight.com aren't public because I'm still working on them (like the symphony). I appreciate it, though, thank you.

January 9, 2011 at 02:58 AM ·

...and I listened to "No longer hopeful"...imaginative... I like the part with the continued bass in the middle...it sounds baroque... will listen to the other items tomorrow... The Art of improvisation is also very helpful in the process of writing...this has to be practice everyday... At the beginning, and this is a long time ago, I use to write short pieces like "No longer hopeful" with few instruments... I wrote hundreds of these small pieces and also some compositions for violin and piano, with harmonics and left-hand pizzicati, alla Sarasate... I use to play my own compositions at the end of my recitals and won a prize in the festival of music of Canada at 15 with my own arrangment for violin and piano of the Witches dance by Paganini and Lalo Symphonie Espagnole...

January 9, 2011 at 04:42 AM ·

 That's awesome! At age 15? An award? You must have been composing for quite a while, then. I began improvising...I don't even know when, hah, maybe two and a half years into playing? I'd just pick the violin up and play random notes and lose myself in them. I noticed they sounded good and tried to write them down which was difficult. A friend showed me noteflight last year which made composing much, much easier.

If you listen to "Simply Fine," the lyrics are not literal...they're meant to be taken metaphorically...thought I should clarify that!

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