The Illusion of Natural Talent
Updated: Sep 11
Family, friends, students and parents have often asked me how old I was when I started studying music. This statement is often applied in the context of trying to obtain knowledge of how long it takes to become a successful performer, musician or educator. They ask if I had "Natural Talent" or if my parents pushed me really hard to attend lessons or participate in performances. These can be difficult questions to answer as educators need to be wary that their answers may have an impact on how parents approach music education for their children or how individuals perceive their own musical talents, goals or achievements.
To be honest every person experiences music education, live music and performing with completely different reactions to exactly the same material. However there are similarities between some personality traits of musicians and performers that I have witnessed in over a decade of performing and two decades of music education.
As with any subject, sport, art form etc. there has to be an initial exposure to cause a person to connect with the actions or products associated with it.
'I did not grow up in a household of musicians or performers. I simply grew up in a household that played music for the sake of company or fun. Exposed to artists such as Elton John, Bryan Adams, Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, ELO etc. my family would sing along with these songs in the car for hours on long trips, or invite friends over for parties and dance to them. From a very young age music became associated with fun, freedom and positive emotions. Having attached these emotions to music I sat with my tape recorder at about 6 years old and sang along with these artists over and over. As well as the disney movies of the late 80s and 90s. During this time my mother observed this behaviour and she began asking around for advice regarding music education. Thus my training began. First in Australian Girls Choir and a few years later private voice and piano lessons. Between the ages of approximately 8-12 many of my teachers were astonished with the sounds and vocal range that I was creating very early in my training. They too began to talk about natural talent. '
After years of education, teaching and performing I still see some of the subtle traits I experienced as a child in the very gifted performers, students and teachers around me. Although there are many variables in individuals personalities, most of them exude a loving connection with the lyrics and music that they listen to or write. This can be such a personal connection that it becomes a kind of unseen entity that acts like a friend or security blanket in troubled or emotional times.
This connection is what I believe aids what people are calling 'Natural Talent'. I personally feel this attachment to music, however I am sure that this exhilaration may well be attached to other things in life depending on the person.
As a young child this connection or entity fueled my inspiration and I was constantly uplifted by music. This resulted in many hours, days, weeks listening, practising, copying and attempting to understand what the artists were feeling when they wrote or performed a song. Therefore once I reached double digits those around me began to notice me excelling without much formal training. I began developing vocal techniques purely through the power of mimic and understanding musical styles seeming beyond my age due to listening.
I have seen these traits in some students with no previous formal training. Performers with no formal training, and composers with ('guess what') no formal training. In later years I have observed my own development halting at times (When life gets in the way). The moment I begin to practise a lot; immersing myself for long periods, my progress picks up again. I am then inspired by how far there is still to go and how much more learning I have capacity for.
It is my belief that what people perceive in others as 'natural talent' is a deep love and devotion to something for long periods of time, sometimes regardless of education or training methods.
Therefore my answers or advise to young musicians, performers or parents regarding "Natural Talent" is to pay attention to yours or your child's emotions. Not everyone will become a great vocalist, musician or performer, but that is not because they do not have the capacity or the intelligence to do so. They simply have not developed the drive that comes from a powerful emotional connection with music. But to parents especially 'Observe your children, because they may exude these traits towards many other things in their life and you can assist them to dedicate to an emotional entity that will serve them well into adulthood.' This could result in a wonderful career or even more important - a happy life.
Please let me know what your opinions are of my thoughts and experiences.