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.” It’s the idea that some people are born with an incredible ability or they learn faster than everybody else. We often use it 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 clear:  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 a few years later he applied the idea to creative talent too. Since then, the principle has been debunked by a variety of researchers from cognitive psychologists to Olympic athletes 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 it’s 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 only got that good after clocking in more than 1,200 hours of playing time in Hamburg, often six sets a day. It takes time and effort to become good at something – and that includes learning to play the piano.

Camera man filming piano player

How much practice do you need, then? It depends on how good you want to be. If you want to be the best in the world, the 10,000-hour rule (popularized by Malcolm Gladwell) suggests that to become an expert you need to practice a skill for 10,000 hours. 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 only takes a fraction of that time to become truly excellent.

Experts also agree that the quality of practice is much more important than the quantity, and back it up with medical research. So, as long as you choose the best method for you – and luckily there are many options for learning piano – 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 decided to take back up piano  at the age of 56. He committed to practicing for just 20 minutes a day and, in little over a year, successfully performed   Chopin’s tricky Ballade No. 1 at a concert.

Keyboard player on 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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