Natural Talent Is a Myth, You Can Be Great at Piano
Don’t believe what people say about being naturally talented – this is why anyone can learn to become a great piano player.
by Michael Lane
“Natural talent”. The idea that some people are born with an incredible ability, or they learn faster than everybody else. We use it far too often as an excuse for why we shouldn’t do something, saying “I’m just not talented enough”. Or, we explain away the abilities of a friend with a simple “she’s so talented”. Even when it’s not explicit, the message is that talent is something we are born with. Something innate.
It’s a myth. Anyone can have talent.
Malcolm Gladwell talked about the myth of natural talent in the workplace fifteen years ago, and few years later he applied the idea to creative “talent”. Since then the principle has been debunked by a variety of researchers from cognitive psychologists to Olympians drawing on psychology and neuroscience.
Whether or not you agree that talent is “a myth”, when faced with scientific evidence it is hard to argue that it is something we are born with. Talent is something we develop, so anyone, of any age, can become musically “talented”.
So how do you develop “talent?”
The answer to success, unsurprisingly, is practice. Malcolm Gladwell puts it neatly:
“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good.
It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”
Whether Bill Gates the “coding prodigy” or the Beatles “appearing” on the scene as one of the best live bands in the world, the story is the same. Bill had been writing code since he was a child, and the Beatles were only that good after clocking in more than 1,200 hours of playing time in Hamburg, often six sets a day.
How much practice do you need? It depends on how good you want to be. If you want to be the best in the world, Gladwell defines the “10,000 Hour Rule” for areas including sport or music. But don’t panic, you don’t need to be the best in the world, and critics of the 10,000 Hour Rule agree that it takes a fraction of that time to become truly excellent.
They also agree that the quality of practice is far more important than the quantity, and back it up with medical research. So as long as you choose the best method for you, from the increasing range of options, then you can improve fast. Take James Rhodes, who learned piano as a child, then gave up entirely for a decade. Just two years later he performed at his first professional classical recital. Or Alan Rusbridger, the journalist who took to the piano for the first time aged 56. He succeeded in proving that given only a year he could play Chopin’s tricky Ballade No. 1 at a concert.
So look again at your “talented” friends. The ones who play two instruments or speak three languages. It’s not luck or genetics. That’s not an excuse anymore. All it takes is a little time and some quality practice to develop real musical “talent”.
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