What is Talent?
Teaching for the past couple years has taught me a lot. I have students with lots of talent, and students with seemingly very little. Same goes for playing out with people. But I’ve noticed a few things about the factors that actually make up talent in my best students and those that I work with professionally:
1) Listening Ability - My best students listen intently. They make the most of their lessons by making sure they absorb what I’m teaching. Instead of noodling while I’m talking, they stop playing and really listen to the concepts. When I demonstrate something they listen AND watch. No big shock that these are the students who play better, faster. The ability to listen well is key for any musician, but it is particularly important when you are learning, practicing and rehearsing.
2) Focus - In our current attention deficit world, it’s a lot easier to find people who don’t focus than those who do. But focus is a huge part of talent. A scattered mind results in scattered playing and scattered ideas. Without the ability to focus intently on your musical task at hand, whatever it is - learning a scale, learning a song, composing lyrics or learning to use your home studio - you just don’t really go anywhere with your gifts.
3) Passion - A lot of people think of passion as desire for something. But our current society is so obsessed with our wants and needs, that people might mistakenly mislabel their desire to BE a musician for other reasons with passion. Passion is the drive to play FOR ABSOLUTELY NO REASON WHATSOEVER. You have passion when you play for the sake of playing - not because it will result in a musical or personal goal or get you respect, or get you paid - or, and this one is important - get you ONSTAGE. Want to become a rock star? Great. You want recognition. But that’s not passion. Need to pick up your guitar everyday just because it makes you feel “right” - that is. It’s important to get the mind straight about these things, because I see a lot of students and know a lot of musicians who mistakenly believe they want to be musicians, but who don’t play or practice, or do this thing that they supposedly love so much at all. With passion, playing is easy and a joy, because it’s what you truly live for.
4) Patience - It’s no shock that people with impatient personalities don’t make great musicians. Becoming a great player or singer requires real diligence - patience with yourself to learn things correctly, and the same with other people to work together to get ensemble playing right as a team. I’ve played with some great players, but I can tell you, it’s very rare when you get together with a bunch of musicians and everything is a complete walk in the park. Without patience, the desire to give up becomes your primary focus and you will likely just put down your instrument and do something else, and it’s very difficult to get anywhere musically from that perspective. This impatience accounts for why almost 100% of my adult students quit lessons after just two months.
5) Things Come Naturally - This last one is how most people define “talent” all together. What you’re doing is “easy.” Or at least easier for you than it is for others. But if you think about it in depth, you’ll find that this last one really only exists because of the presence of the previous 4.
So do you have “talent?” The truth is you probably don’t know. Some very naturally gifted people go nowhere because they believe in the magic of #5. I’ve also had some students that I thought in the beginning had no talent at all, but through using numbers 1 through 4, have turned out to be my best students.
Use the list to figure out where your weaknesses are in improving or discovering your talent. Or...maybe even figuring out what you shouldn’t waste your time trying to do in life.
Check out the video of composer Sxip Shirey and imagine how much of numbers 1 through 4, he must have applied in discovering his “talent.”