Is musical talent the most important thing for an aspiring musician?

According to Laurie Niles, who has taught violin for 25 years, talent is really not the most important thing.

violinist
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

“So you have to be really talented to play the violin, don’t you?”

This was a question posed to me last week by an adult who is returning to the violin after a long absence, having played just a little bit as a child.

If you asked me that question when I first started teaching, some 25 years ago, I probably would have said, “You really do. There are certain things you just can’t teach.”

But my answer today is completely different. “It’s actually not the most important thing,” I told him. Via Violinist

In the past, talent was given so much importance that students who were considered non-talented would often be sidelined or altogether rejected by music trainers. For instance, potential students would sometimes be given tests to find out whether they could easily match rhythms and pitches. Aspiring violinists would have their hands examined to find out whether their hands were correctly shaped for the instrument.

This was a notoriously bad predictor of success. Take the case of the Chinese violinist Ning Feng, who was at first denied violin lessons due to a short pinkie, who then went on to learn the instrument at the highest virtuoso level and decorate his resume with prizes from multiple international violin competitions. Or Daniel Heifetz, who found out only after a successful career that he’d had a physical handicap all along. Via Violinist

In fact, talent can get in the way of the learning process. When you find learning too easy early on thanks to your talent, you may not learn the practice habits and techniques that are vital for future success. Similarly, when young students keep hearing that they are talented, they often think it means that they don’t have to work as hard as everyone else.

So what is more important than talent? Niles offers her list for aspiring violinists:

hard work
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When it comes to violin, what is more important than talent? Here are a few things:

  • Tenacity
  • Practice
  • Patience
  • Attention to detail
  • Accuracy
  • Time
  • Devotion
  • Support and encouragement from family or peers
  • Opportunities to perform
  • Opportunities to play with others
  • Role models
  • Inspiration
  • Quality instrument
  • Quality instruction
  • Courage to fail
  • Courage to succeed

Via Violinist

It’s not just professional musicians that agree on this – there’s research to back their views.

A recent study from Tel Aviv University found that when it comes to professional success, passion is more important than talent. Given the economic challenges that exist today, people often faced with a trade-off between intrinsic rewards (satisfaction with your chosen career) and extrinsic rewards (salary, work benefits).

Not surprisingly, the researchers focused on people that chose more challenging career paths (those in the arts) and assessed their chances of success.

Dr. Heller and Dr. Riza surveyed some 450 high-school music students at two elite US summer music programs over the course of 11 years (2001-2012) as they developed from adolescents to young adults to professional musicians.

“We found that participants with stronger callings toward music in adolescence were likely to assess their musical abilities more favorably and were more likely to pursue music professionally as adults regardless of actual musical ability,” said Dr. Heller. Via Science Daily

The researchers found that those who pursued music professionally faced difficulties in pursuing their dreams. For instance, they earned considerably less than their counterparts who pursued their musical interests as freelancers or outside work. However, they reported similar and sometimes greater satisfaction with their job and lives.

musician
Image Courtesy of Pixabay

In fact, those with strong callings find satisfaction with their work to be far more important than their income. According to the researchers, individuals with strong callings should be aware of their preferences for intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards when choosing their career paths.

“In general, society benefits from an excess of talented people competing for a limited number of positions in winner-take-all labor markets,” Dr. Heller continued. “Individuals who ‘win’ in this market are exemplary. Although individuals entering this type of market eventually ‘lose’ in extrinsic terms by definition, they still benefit from intrinsic rewards and garner subjective value and well-being, such as the satisfaction derived from attempting to fulfil their calling, even for a short time.” Via Science Daily

Poor career choices that lean more toward extrinsic rewards may be the reason why so many workers today are disengaged, unenthusiastic, uncommitted and uninvolved in their work. In fact, passion in certain fields actually gives you a competitive advantage over others, which will ultimately translate to both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards in equal measure.

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