What is talent?

May 8, 2011 at 11:00 PM ·

I have been playing the violin for about 2 years now. I LOVE the instrument and I want to study at university and do my Bachelor of Music. How do I know if I actually have talent? People say I do but... I am doing grade five in Trinity this year however some of the pieces I am playing are harder than that. I have only been having lessons for just over a year. I have a background in music and have been playing the piano for over 10 years. I know I'm not a prodegie or anything like that but I am just wondering can I actually get somewhere with my music in life?

What is the definition of talent? Is there one?

Replies (52)

May 8, 2011 at 11:18 PM ·

Well, I always repeat 3% talent, 97% work, so imo, it doesn't really matter. As you move along, if you are able to keep up your effort & enthusiasm even when faced with really difficult music, difficult teachers, competitive (and mean) schoolmates and such, you should be fine. Sue  

May 9, 2011 at 12:24 AM ·

These days there is documented proof that the amount of time a human needs to achieve extremely high mastery is 10,000 repetitions or perhaps hours. Talent or no talent.

Also - keep in mind the Suzuki method is called Talent Education. You can be educated to be talented.

May 9, 2011 at 12:26 AM ·

 The only way for us to know involves you posting a video of yourself playing and us watching it.

If you're not comfortable with that for any or many reason(s), which is fine, and are of an age at which you are beginning to look at colleges and conservatories, go and play for some teachers who teach at schools that you might be interested in and ask them.

May 9, 2011 at 12:29 AM ·

 I couldn't agree more. My violin teacher hates the word talent. She said once that I had talent and has never told me that since. She says that the reason I can play well is because I work very hard and have a passion for the instrument. Really you don't need talent to be a great violinist. It helps, but working hard is what really pays off.

May 9, 2011 at 12:57 AM ·

 As a teacher, I don't hate the word talent, but I definitely don't tell students they do or don't have it.

Talent is a bell curve--most people have some moderate amount to play an instrument, a few have a lot, and a few have none. For those who have none, no amount of hard work will enable them to perform in an artistic manner. The ability to practice effectively is surely part of what we call "talent."

Someone may have a great work ethic, but if they simply aren't bothered by poor intonation, cannot control their bow, or lack the imagination to solve their own problems and overcome technical hurdles, or cannot change bad habits, no amount of work will suffice. 

Playing a string instrument starts with digital facility, and clearly not everyone has the same brain-finger neural connections. The 10,000 hour "rule" has enjoyed some popularity recently, thanks in part to Malcolm Gladwell, but I think it's a vast oversimplification. Some people require 3,000 hours, and some require 30,000.

It would be like saying that I can run a 4" mile regardless of my level of talent, that all I need is 10,000 hours of running. That would be just as preposterous. That is simply not part of my physical makeup--I'm a sprinter. The same is true for every human activity. 

Talent does exist. I know it when I see it.

May 9, 2011 at 03:18 PM ·

Talent matters (and I don't believe it's imaginary), but only a little bit.  There's a certain affinity one can have for a particular instrument, or for making music, and maybe certain physical gifts that can make a difference (stretchy fingers for a violinist or huge lungs for a brass player), but IMO what most people call "talent" is a combination of 2 things:  interest, and work.

I think it's natural to get good at what you're interested in.  Most teachers, for instance, have experience(s) with the student who seems to be sight-reading his/her lesson every week, but is a whiz at memorizing song lyrics, baseball statistics, or whatever.   For example:

In 9th grade, when I was struggling --- not very hard --- to get a C in algebra, I had all the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress down cold.  If there was a class in that, I would have had a much better GPA.  I put a lot of time & effort into tracking down that information, since there was no internet and I didn't have money to buy the books that might have it.  (Math, on the other hand, was confusing, and got more confusing the harder I tried, possibly because of a deep-down conviction that it fundamentally made no sense.)  Also music.  I knew several pieces and a couple of complete concerti from memory by then, besides all my scales & arpeggios.  I was really good at the stuff that interested me, and kind of borderline-special-ed at the stuff that didn't.   I'm sure that, if my flute teacher had met my algebra teacher, neither one of them would have recognized me in the student that the other one was talking about.

If you like --- no, love --- what you're doing, then you will put in the effort that it takes to get good at it.  That also works the other way around:  the way you can tell if you love it that much is if you're willing to make that effort.  As far as "talent" goes, some people's brains seem to pick up certain things more easily, so that one person needs three hours of practice to accomplish what somebody else can do in one. 

BUT!  If the person who can accomplish the task in one hour can't even be bothered to practice that much, then it doesn't matter how much talent s/he has.  And vice-versa:  if the "less-talented" person is willing to practice 6 hours, then they will become a better player than the "talented" lazy one.  (Eventually.)

I used quotation marks above because, once you're on the stage performing, nobody cares (except possibly you) how much you had to practice.  The only thing that matters is whether you have put in the effort that you need to put in to make it good.

That's my worthless $.02, anyway...

May 9, 2011 at 04:49 PM ·

If you had no talent, you would not loved the instrument and study for sure.

May 9, 2011 at 05:09 PM ·

When I watch my young students play, I really see who has "talent", so to speak, and who does not. There are some kids who just "get it," all the nuanced and esoteric techniques one has to do to make the violin sound decent.

Talent = The ability to logically understand the instrument + Love

That's my estimation.

May 10, 2011 at 02:57 AM ·

 I agree with Mr. Warchal. It seems to me that if this is something you really love to do and you are willing to commit the amount of time it takes then don't worry about whether or not you have talent. You probably have as much as you need. The rest is effort, luck and training.

May 10, 2011 at 04:14 AM ·

Talent is exceedingly important. But it always requires work Talent simply means you move faster:-)

Obviously you have talent. You move faster. Keep it up and enjoy it!:-)

May 10, 2011 at 05:03 AM ·

I am doing grade five in Trinity this year however some of the pieces I am playing are harder than that.

Just out of curiosity, what does grade five in Trinity mean? What pieces are you referring too?

I'm giving a vote for the importance of talent if you expect to succeed as a professional violinist. Granted, there are extreme differing degrees of talent and a very important question is "what are your goals?"



May 10, 2011 at 01:27 PM ·

 i think this thread is more about commercial success or employability with certain musical skills than about the rudimentary definition of talent.  

in other words, if i am this age and play this piece, in time, can i be a violin pro?

the answer is yes, in time with lot of practice, one can make a living as a pro violinist.

depending on the luck factor, health condition, charisma level, tech level, interpersonal networking ability, there are always jobs for a violinist.  some are off stage, others on stage.  

there is no such a thing as not being able to find a job.  the issue is whether a person is willing to take a job.



May 10, 2011 at 01:46 PM ·

I noticed a significant diffrence between USA and Europe. In Europe, the musical education use to be quite strictly separated form other disciplines. the students, who aim for professonal career start in age of 6 - 8 and they have mostly to do the crucial decision in age of 15 or so. Thus there is some popular opinion, that no one can start later than at the age of 8 - 9 if he/she wants to become a pro.

In the USA seems to be much more late beginners or even adult beginners. (There are also some in Europe, but they do it just for fun). Thus  I would like to ask you - what is the latest age one still may acieve professional level (and career)?  - based on the US praxis.

May 10, 2011 at 04:09 PM ·

There is a definate apptitude for music (as there is for most 'skills'). 

Sadly, I have very little.  I don't know how many hours a day I'd have to practice to become really good, but probably much more than is doable.  So I trudge along.

May 11, 2011 at 03:05 AM ·

I wouldn't get too hung up on the idea of talent.  If you're interested, keep your nose to the grindstone.  Equally important as hard work, I think, is endurance -- as an earlier poster was getting at.  It's a marathon, not a sprint.  If life/school/the music profession etc. can kick you in the gut and you still feel that a bad day playing music is better than the best day doing anything else, you may not go nuts.  This is something you will find out as you go along.

May 11, 2011 at 02:58 PM ·

 In the USA seems to be much more late beginners or even adult beginners. (There are also some in Europe, but they do it just for fun). Thus  I would like to ask you - what is the latest age one still may acieve professional level (and career)?  - based on the US praxis.


There's simply no answer to this question. There are too many variable, and too many opinions what "professional level" mean. To one person, making $20,000 would qualify as a "professional" career. To another, anything less than $80,000 wouldn't.

The only thing one can say is that the later one waits, the less one's chances.

May 11, 2011 at 04:32 PM ·

I like Jeremy Buzash's definition, above - that's the most clear and concise I've ever seen, and it makes a lot of sense.

May 11, 2011 at 06:42 PM ·

I consider a professional to be a person, whose musical job it the only or at least the main source of income (regardless of the annual aount). Is there somebody here, who plays professionally and started at the age - say 20 or even later?

May 11, 2011 at 11:06 PM ·

 Talent is EXTREMLY important. But it is not everything. Talent is NOTHING without HARDWORK!!!!!! I have had my instructor for 12 months. before I had a instructor, I let talent take me to everything. My playing deterioted. Now I work hard, and @ 14 am trying to play the Brandenburgs on  a professional level in the symphony my instructor is in, that I am in now.

May 11, 2011 at 11:13 PM ·

I think the only answer is 'It Depends....'.

Talent is not a single and objective thing. Rather, it is a word used to describe a set of circumstances where someone does something well.

This levell of performance can be achieved by work, natural ability, focused skill training, or a combination of these. Natural ability, as well as the other two methods, all have limitations, and are apparent in various levels as a spectrum. Less natural ability, more work and focused skill training, and you can reach or exceed the talent of someone with more natural ability but a lack of focused skill training.

Natural ability is also a complex thing; you can have a good ear, but not be able to easily get your hands in sync with what you know produces the sound. You may have excellent intonation, but have problems with bowing, or the judgement on how to phrase a peice. That is where focused training and work can really help.

Short version; don't worry about what talent you have now. Think of the talent you want to achieve.

May 11, 2011 at 11:15 PM ·

Hardwork will beat talent any day.

We'd all love to believe that, but talent is real, and people with talent are not all slackers... This is how a teacher described one of her former students: "Something that takes others 1 to 2 months to master only takes him 10 minutes."  This student believes in hard work too and has been practicing up to 6 hours a day since very young. So, how many hours a day do an average or even a fairly talented student have to work to beat this guy?

Of course,  one does not need to be that talented to be successful in music, but even with his talent and hard work, there is no guarantee that he will become successful - luck, connections, and other factors also come into play.  I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from pursuing their dreams, just trying to balance idealism with reality.

May 12, 2011 at 03:29 AM ·

I agree with Joyce. Talent is real, and it shows. Many would like to believe that everyone has the potential to play at a concert level. Even with the right conditions, it is hardly true. Everyone has the potential to master something with equal skill, but not everyone can play the violin at a high level. Some people just aren't set up mentally, or physically for it.

While it is true that the violin is one of the most difficult instruments, it is also a very simple one. It's basically a box with strings and a stick with hair. The skills that require us to make this simple instrument sound incredibly complex are so terribly hard, that not everyone has the right mental set up to be able to do it, even with this preposterous notion that it only takes 10,000 hours to master something. You have to have the right set up from the get go. Some people spend their whole lives on this little instrument and barely achieve what we would call mastery, whereas someone like Heifetz had already mastered it by the time he was 17.

Without this innate understanding, or talent, this instrument can be a bloody struggle. Now, with that said, talent alone is not much on its own. It has to be correctly nurtured by a good teacher to be of any use. It is the job of a parent to realize what their child is talented in, and it is the teacher's job to nurture it.

May 12, 2011 at 08:45 AM ·

I didnt read all, maybe you already mentioned it: Goeff Colvin's book "talent is overrated" i can recommend. Also Anders Ericcsons Articles about "Deliberate practice" and "expert performance". They say that you have to develope your skills by taking constant challenge and being teached by the most demanding teachers availible. The actual "Talent" or the undefined part of the question, why does one success and another dont, is the ability to motivate yourself over ca. 10 years of deliberate practice.

Obviously everybody is different, but finding solutions is part of human existence and cannot be a reason to stop trying hard. If you do indeed stop, your motivation wasnt high enough. if you dont stop, people will later call you talented, missing the fact af your hard work. ;)

I need to add the Importance of family backround: Every really "talented" student seems to come from a family wich has its reasons to support the instrument-playing very intense. Doesnt matter if its for prestige reason, believe in the music or just as a part of education. The violinist wich had no strong support at the early ages and playing on worlds concert stages doesnt exist yet. There is no talent wich can replace hard demanding work. And also there is no obstacle too high if you really burn for the music and if you have the right family background to support you financially and musically. Talent itself just works in the quiet chamber, not on the stage. More important than talent is a good (!) teacher and in the early ages parents wich have time to support, control and motivate the practice. Later comes the greatest importance of being able to be critical with yourself, being able to learn from others and educate yourself not only in music. These are some of the foundations of developing some kind of talent. When it comes together with good nerves, intelligence and health (wich is also part of lifestyle), there maybe will be something special. 

I dont believe an inch about all the talent storys in the world. Even W.A.Mozart was a child of a most demanding father, who was composer and violinist. Im not saying W.A. Mozart did not develope his own style, but in the early ages he was surely under the heavy influence of his father and therefore not yet a great composer or pianist, just a very hard and well educated young musician.

On the other hand this kind of talent hype makes some people believe more in themself and push it even harder. The results are obviously even better achievments.


One more thing to add: I know that there are different kind of "talent levels" in young people. But if you have a very talented and a very untalented pupil (wich I have), then you may look at the parents and their support and all the talent discussion is nonsense! Well organised, patient and demanding parents will bring out "talented" children lets say 80 times more often then unorganised, uneducated, aimless and careless parents will. i don't blame the last group, because I know having children is a hard job and probably the parents are as much of victims then their children sometimes.

Listen to this, in the end!


May 12, 2011 at 11:02 AM ·

 simon's brilliant post on this topic quite concisely covered pretty much all the latest out there.  it is a great synthesis.

one thing i would like to add is that some people are simply more talented in performing than others, to start with, like a dog with a great nose, a cat that can sneak up behind you.  they seem to be wired for the stage, with just the right amt of focus and relaxation.  at hour zero instead of hour 10,000, they start at a frequency fitting for the profession.

there is a whole self help industry to teach people to enter this zone, but in my experience, some are way ahead of others because they have talent for performing.  some teachers play favorites simply because they sense this quality in some students.  

in fact, what is sick is that they are not necessarily the smartest, or the most intellectual or the most thoughtful because all of which may work against being a natural on the stage.  they just walk onto the stage and feel at home with this inborn temperament while others think left and right, up and down about how to perform and then go onto stage with a great plan only to freeze.   both parties use the fingers and limbs, but i suspect they use different parts of the brain!

not fair.  

May 12, 2011 at 11:26 AM ·

"What is the definition of talent"

The posters on this thread certainly have the talent to define talent. 

 A special natural ability or aptitude; a capacity for achievement or success.

Talent in action;-  Torvill and Dean dancing the Bolero at the 1984 Winter Olympic.





May 12, 2011 at 11:35 PM ·

Thank you for your kind words. Especially because its not my mothertongue its nice to hear that my thoughts come through ;)

I think that there can exist some natural abilities to perform on stage especially good like you say. Its a very personal aspect. Also interesting under the eye of narcism, not only negative... some just love the music so much that they can convey it very convincingly. But as many old teachers (like C.Flesch) write there are different types of persormers anyways. One is more analytical and the other is more spontaneous. A. Ericsson writes that a sign for great artistry is reproducibility, wich I also like. But the touching moment is of course something different and can only be achieved if you create something emotional.

Also I think there are much more aspects of natural gifts wich one can have: good hand coordination, sensible ears, a good voice, or lively phantasy (wich is most important also for motivation and conveying the music). But most of this things, like stage presence you can develope in a great amount. Or exaggerated like the bible sais: "believe can change the place of montains" (bad translation maybe ;) "Glaube versetzt Berge" in german.

Greetings to overseas!


May 13, 2011 at 11:34 PM ·

Talent is something God gives you. A standing ovation, the ability to quit a noisy room or a person coming up to you, and telling you that you are amazing is something you earn.

May 14, 2011 at 03:10 AM ·

Thanks so much to everyone who has commented on this post - it really has been very helpful :)

May 14, 2011 at 10:42 AM ·

Don't think too much about something called "god". It's all in yourself!

May 14, 2011 at 09:23 PM ·

Hi I'm actually very very sorry to disagree with all that stuff that everyone can, every child can if well trained or with 10 000 hours under the belt...

Just imho,

Good training will perform marvels with anyone true... but real success in high achivments is just given to a few and we can see that in animals.  We are animals too... (even if most hate to admit it)

If everyone could be great...

All trained horses would run like Secretariat

All trained swimmers would swim as Michael Phelps

All trained violinists would play like Heifetzh and Oistrakh : ) 


That beeing said, one can have more talent than average even if not a legend!  Perhaps, everyone is located somewhere on a scale from no talent at all to superstar talent. 

And a good training system will help to find these talented individuals...


May 14, 2011 at 11:03 PM ·

I suppose, in retrospect, there are 3 components to your success in any endeavour.

1.  Talent, which we've discussed.  Or call it innate ability.  Some of us have more than others.

2. Time.  The more you put into something the more you take out.  Those that practice more will likely be better than those that practice less, given that the talent level is the same.

3.  Desire.  You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you don't WANT to be in that profession, it doesn't really matter how good you are at it.

So if you have talent, put in the work and have the desire - you have it made.

Otherwise, you may still get to where you want to be, given you put in the work and have the desire to get there.  Often times the people that succeed are those that just keep plodding along.  While we admire genius - it's often hard to live with, practically speaking.

Keep in mind too..those that are the 'best' at something may not be the best at all aspects of it.  For example, there are some top-level athletic coaches out there that are just not good coaches.  They may have been the best athletes - but don't have the patience or understanding to pass information onto students.  No one person necessarily has it all.


May 15, 2011 at 01:18 AM ·

N.A. Mohr that's so true...


In violin, a less advanced student can have some aspects of his/her playing better than a more advanced student.

Per example, a less advanced student with a good ear could have a better intonation, tone, vibrato and sound power than a more advanced student playing harder things who still has a "goaty" and weak sound.  (just an example) 


May 15, 2011 at 02:16 PM ·

Even a good ear is part of musical education. Even absolute pitch is teachable. Also You have to know how it should sound from examples around you, may it a concert or the mother singing at your bed when you are young, to sing "in tune".

"Talent" is such a unnecessary thing when it comes to professional playing because it doesn't include the understanding of something new. You cannot play a new concerto with complex harmonics and maybe different tuning just with talent. Its totally necessary that you are fully into it, that you work on it and study theory as much as possible. And if you are in some ways  "not talented" the most important thing is to know your weaknesses and work on it consistantly. Classical music and music in general is so complex that you have to be always on the move to discover new things: You have to discover new literature and you have to discover and solve your instrumantal disabilities. There is no "talent" wich can replace that when it comes to real music making. Also you have to keep in touch with matters of taste and with your own sence of music.

Talent really just works for a year of beginners practice. At least then the serious work must start to achieve something great.

Just think about people that lose their talent after 2 years of bad practice or some other problem. it happens often, that players change a lot depending how they practice. You can be a really good player at the age of 10, then you start caring for other things and your playing will get worse. Later you start again with serious practise and your "talent" comes back?!

And the difference between a human being and a horse is, that we can design our practice. Have you ever seen a horse practicing something? Of course animals play around in practice games when they are young, but they never use their brain to discover their weaknesses and they never search for a better teacher...

Because we can do all this we have things like music in its developed form. Without people like Heifetz and Oistrakh, who both were hard working people, we would whistle on one tune still. ;)

but developement comes with hard work, because you have to know what was before you before you can erect something new and important. I dont believe that there is something wich could replace that knowledge. Even Menuhin was at his young age a very well educated child, musically and generally. There is now way of being a Wunderkind without education!

May 15, 2011 at 02:28 PM ·

Still when you hear it, you still have to be able to play it and that's where our wonderful Darwin's theory enters in the game : )    Can anyone play Brahm's 3 mvt at full speed with a grandiose sound??? Some will have it easier than others even with the same teaching background.  I heard Menuhin say that yesterday... 

That was the part I was refering to in my previous post about Secretariat, Michael Phelps, Heifetzh and Oistrakh.  

That beeing said, no need to be like them to enjoy very much music and violin + have loads of fun playing music with others!

May 15, 2011 at 10:42 PM ·

That it comes easy for someone is often said by people who are themself have been educated very early and intensed by their parents (they dont know different). Obviously we are all not the same neither in speed of learning nor in the depth of it. But we all have our weaknesses, and the one who are forced or force themself to encounter their weaknesses are going to be great. At high level you only meet in their aspect "talented" people, but wich makes the small detail between an Oistrakh and maybe some semi finalist of a not minor competition is not just talent but luck in case of good or best teachers and most important the family background. Even if you are mentally and physically well equipped for violin playing you will not even get professional, even if you really want, when you come from a poor family wich cannot pay a good teacher or even where the parents don't have the time for it, not speaking of an good instrument...

The most honest statement I know depending what it needs to have a "great career" is from phillipe hirshhorn I posted in my first comment. He answers the question with: "beeing a hard worker, really--hard--work!" and to the question "what else" he sais "lucky"

Please think about it. We often forget what lucky sons and daughters we are. i owe many things to my mother, who kept me into music and stuff. i see similar stories everywhere. Just read about the greats and their parents professions. most of them come from a professional musical background.

Also a problem with the talent-term is, that it doesnt include persistance wich is the most important factor to success in any branche.

I'm not sure why everyone wants to see some "talent" where something great is done. Why dont you ask about the work behind it? because there will always be great amount of work and passion behind something, wich is common accepted to be a genius accomplishment.

If you dont want to believe me, listen to Heifetz ;) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jf7yF9Fzd5w

i think the most important factor to play good violin is persistance compined with constant challenge and most important believe in yourself! If yomething like talent in a "god given" way exists it seems that you only get it after years of hard work?! ;)

May 16, 2011 at 03:36 AM ·

Relative to talent and early training of family trait, I think that again, there is no simple answer.
Talent could be from having excellent physical response and control, so you can do what your mind directs; without the physical control, no matter how well your mind sees the task, your body can't complete it well.
Talent could be from having a good link between your ears and your brain, so you can associate the pitch easier; training can develop it, but some people require more effort than others.
Talent could be from growing up with music, and musical concepts; like algebra or other things, once your mind can comprehend the concept, you have a structure to place the knowledge. With training, some can grasp it better than others.

The last is my greatest downfall; I can hear the sounds, I can understand somewhat the interplays of different things, and I can practice and study and understand them better. There is a wall, somewhere inside of me that keeps it from being a language, and makes it an arcane art. I can see it, I can translate it, but it is a foreign language that I have no fluency. It moves me, but the part the hears it is walled from the part that creates it. I play for myself, and I enjoy it, but I have no mis-perceptions that I would be able to play at a professional level. Still, I would not give it up.

May 16, 2011 at 10:10 PM ·

I would suggest to you that you stop trying to understand with your brain but with your feelings. I dont mean it in an romantical way. Just very simple: just listen to your emotions when you hear or perform a music. Everybody reacts to music and its always personal. So you cannot find your inner understanding through theory alone (although theory can give you a deeper insight in the intellectual part of music) you really have to start with something simple: imagine you are happy and whistle a funny piece, and then imagine you are really sad and try to figure what melody will come out. YOu have to understand your own reactions to the language of music i think. The beautiful thing of music is, that everybody hears it but everybody has its personal emotional reaction. Try to listen to Bach much. For me Bach is like speaking when I concentrate. Like a story beeing told by a very wise and emotional man.

May 17, 2011 at 07:19 AM ·

I can see why Bach had eighteen children, he loved repetition.

January 10, 2012 at 07:34 AM · Keep my words:

Talent is the ability to express emotion through the instrument. That's why certain players can bring tears to our eyes.

January 10, 2012 at 03:12 PM · "I dont believe an inch about all the talent storys in the world. Even W.A.Mozart was a child of a most demanding father, who was composer and violinist. Im not saying W.A. Mozart did not develope his own style, but in the early ages he was surely under the heavy influence of his father and therefore not yet a great composer or pianist, just a very hard and well educated young musician."

Scott is exactly right when he related talent to a bell curve. You could also rate a person's ability to work with purpose and focus on a bell curve. There are so many young musicians who are extremely talented that we will never hear of. If you walk into a rehearsal at most college programs, you will see a room full of young players who grew up being the best around them. A lot of them got there with much less work than their peers and they have therefore never needed to work hard.

Mozart, Liszt, Heifetz... these are individuals who were at the very top of the bell curve in both talent and work ethic. You cannot reach those heights without such a rare combination. How many fathers in the 1780s and 90s made their children practice endlessly, hoping their boy would be another Mozart? Could we name more than a few of them today?

January 10, 2012 at 03:52 PM · Does every child have the physical and mental capacity to play the violin like Heifetz? This we will never know. Dr. Suzuki probably would have said that most have the innate ability to play at a high level -- professional orchestral player perhaps. So how does one child wind up in Suzuki Book four after three years of study while another is auditioning for the Curtis Institute?

Motivation and effort are both necessary but are apparently insufficient. That magical 10000-hour figure is probably the centroid of a wide distribution -- like every other aspect of human behavior there will be a range. Is the standard deviation of that distribution 100, or is it, as I suspect, more like 5000?

The missing link is the internal sensitivity to how one's brain is wired. Like concentration, whether this sensitivity is purely innate or whether it can be learned is a matter of debate but my own personal sense is that it is possible but probably variable among individuals.

Take a piece like Corelli's "La Folia" which is the first piece in Suzuki Book 6, just for the sake of having a concrete example. If you know this piece, which many of you will, then imagine the specific set of technical and musical demands that it places upon the student. Some students just seem to be better at wiring together the right neurons to operate their muscles and make the music emerge from the violin -- the fast 16th notes, the double stops at the end, the different tonal moods, etc.

Perhaps, then, talent is the individual's ability to adapt and organize his or her mental and physical resources toward what he or she is attempting to do. In informal terms it's your ability to apply yourself -- to find the mental connections that need to be made and solder them together.

January 11, 2012 at 10:58 PM · This complete thread lacks one main thing in the discussion.

Talent + hard work wont make you more than a trained monkey playing the violin well. It is about being an ARTIST. Whether it is talent or hard work or luck who has brought a violinist to a technically and musically equally high level as Mutter, Perlman, Bell, etc, it really does not matter. It is completely uninteresting.

What is interesting, is your IMAGINATION and CREATIVITY. Creative you can be even if you have a reduced "natural ability" for the instrument and is a gift you either get or do not get (some more than others). Many people can be greatly talented in music, without having a spot of imagination, and will only advance as long as they have a coach who tells them precisely what to do. CREATIVITY, is what separates the true musician and the artist from the trained monkey.

I like going to the zoo.

January 11, 2012 at 11:10 PM · Can you separate talent from imagination and artistry? I would have thought the latter were (or at least could be) elements of talent.

January 11, 2012 at 11:30 PM · Elise,

I would say creativity is a part of being talented, but from the discussion above I see that talent mainly is defined in the thread more as something related to the learning process itself.

January 12, 2012 at 02:39 AM · So lets you and I get together and correct the record!

Talent: a predeliction for success.

Note, that that includes any advantage.... which is, I think, what we usually mean.

January 12, 2012 at 03:33 AM · The great piano pedagogue Cecile Gendardt said that it took talent, training and background to make an artist and training and background were the most important. However no one was worth training if they didn't have talent.

January 12, 2012 at 03:57 AM · I'm with Cecile, Corwin. on the understanding, of course, that everyone on V.com is brimming with talent :)

January 12, 2012 at 03:48 PM · Well I don't think I'm brimming with talent (in fact I think I can prove it) but I enjoy the heck out of playing the violin anyway. Howzabout that!!

January 12, 2012 at 03:55 PM · I can say with certainty that I am not brimming with talent.

January 13, 2012 at 08:24 PM · I know I don't have a lot of talent. My violin teacher told me that decades ago. Of course, I rarely practiced in high school. About the only time I took the fiddle out of its iron maiden was at lessons.

So if I don't have enough talent, that means that talent exists. QED.

Hard work can make up for less-than-stellar talent. Talent can make up for a lack of hard work. Talent + hard work? Now you're talking...

January 13, 2012 at 08:37 PM · "So if I don't have enough talent, that means that talent exists. QED"

If I don't have gremlins in my hands, that means grimlins must exist:)

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