Talent: what is it, who gets it, and how?
Posted Nov 18, 2010
Last summer, I talked about the power of The Moment... that crucial crossroad in our lives when we're given the reins of opportunity to turn right or left, to rise or fall... those choices that looking back, meant everything.
Most of us have had these moments in our professional and personal lives. But I believe that they're also present in a place you might never expect... in the formation of what we think of as 'talent'.
Of course, there's no conclusive proof of what makes a musical genius... the debate goes back and forth between some combination of genetics, environment, and practice (10,000 hours of it, according to Malcolm Gladwell). In fact, the only thing experts do agree on is what they're uncertain of.
I don't claim to have any definitive answers, though I would like to share some exciting- and perhaps startling- observations from my own practice over the past 15 years.
In my experience, brilliant musicians today... singers and instrumentalists that 'speak' the musical language intuitively, effortlessly, and naturally... all had initial language-less, non-technical, and generally teacher-less experiences. In other words, they approached music's door, and- finding it open- walked in silently and usually alone, and made themselves comfortable.
In that space, immersed inside of music's house, they observed and played without inhibition, rules or criticism from self or others, and developed their ability as an extension of their soul's own language. Certainly, many of these musicians went on to study technique and to read music, but it wasn't generally part of their initial experience or engagement.
Conversely, I've observed that those who began the study of an instrument or the voice with technical instruction- or as an individual, intellectual pursuit- seem to master only two rather than three dimensions of proficiency. Yes, they can read music. Yes, they can play songs. But they're not as fluent. It doesn't seem to come as naturally to these men and women. They have to think about it, the way someone who studied French or Spanish in school has to pause to translate from one language into the other before being able to fully connect.
For those scoffing at the idea that how we learn music might be as important as inherent talent, take a look at countries and cultures- Ireland, African-American churches, the Native American tradition- that celebrate singing as an uninhibited practice. It is astounding and inspiring to observe that most, if not all, bravely and comfortably 'speak the language' with powerful, beautiful voices.
This is not a function of a greater amount of inherent talent per capita, but rather, a difference in approach toward music. It is a cultural given that her door is open to any and everyone. As such, these groups' initial engagements bypass the technical, language and judgment oriented aspects of the mind, connecting directly and immediately with the creative and emotional centers. They go 'right' to the heart, whereas our current instruction models turn sharply to the 'left'.
None of us can go back and change the way we experienced our early musical and artistic engagements. But we can use this wisdom to our advantage as we approach new opportunities for learning, particularly those of a creative nature. Abandon language, judgment, and a sense of time. Ignore the temptation to name and perfect things. When the moment comes, sit in the house of your creative pursuit, make yourself at home, listen, and play...
To learn more about the psychology of singing and performing, click here to read Jennifer's book: "The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice"
To learn more about Jennifer's work and to schedule a session, click here to visit her website