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What makes a talented musician?

(35 Posts)
Worriedandlost Sun 19-May-13 22:11:20

Dd is taking musical lessons which makes me think about music...grades....instruments....quite a lot! And naturally, I am curious now-what is it, that makes one a talented musician? There are millions of videos on youtube of very well trained tiny children but somehow it is difficult to call all of them talented, something lacks in their performance. So what is musical talent exactly-age? grades? number of instruments? speed of progression? performance? attitude of a child? can it be that child's performance is "spotless" but not talented and on the other hand, in spite of technical imperfection child is very talented in music? (These are general questions and not related no my DD smile)

perspective Mon 20-May-13 07:37:47

I believe you know it when you hear it. Certainly not just technical brilliance, you only need to listen to Brendal or Rubenstein to understand that. For me it's the ability to communicate something quite without words: to say something about not just the music but of the self too.

There was also an interesting study around what separated the very successful from the rest at music college and it came down to numbers of hours of practice! So a combination of factors.

morethanpotatoprints Fri 24-May-13 11:26:14

I agree with perspective.

Definitely the amount of practice has a lot to do with it but I also believe that some people are more musical than others and with all the practice in the world wouldn't make a good musician, because they don't have the right attitude, motivation, natural ability.
So I guess I'm saying a mix of it all.

Theas18 Fri 24-May-13 15:42:30

As all the above have said. I performance can be flawless and flat or technically not perfect but emotionally engaging and gripping.

I'm sure hours of practice in the " tiger mother" scheme of things ensures technical brilliance for any one (OK maybe not if you are truely tone deaf). Even " perfect pitch" can be pretty much a learned skill.

From the perspective of a mum with kids who are fairly able musically I'd also say as much experience as possible- listen as well as participate. Find out how other musicians do things, do music in different ways etc

morethanpotatoprints Sat 25-May-13 11:23:50


definitely agree about the technically not perfect but engaging and gripping.
My dd has the most amazing voice, so she is often told. However, technically she is not the best, not good at all. However, when in a particular competition she always wins above the technical players far beyond her in grades. Yes, the little 7 year old taking grade 7 is absolutely brilliant and what an achievement for one so young. However, emotionally her playing is soulless, no expression and certainly not engaging with the audience. A true musician makes the hairs stand up.

DoingItForMyself Sat 25-May-13 12:06:33

For me its a bit like art, you can copy something perfectly and make it look technically accurate but that isn't art, artistic ability is more about interpreting something, adding to what is there with an emotional element that enhance it, rather than making a carbon copy, which is a technical skill.

My DS is musically talented, he can hear a song and find the right notes to play it, he can create his own music and he has a natural rhythm and perfect pitch (i.e. he can tune a guitar without anything to refer to, not just in tune with itself, but in tune to other instruments in the house)

I can read music, can learn to play something and hear when something is wrong, but I don't feel that I have the same natural ability as he does.

wintertimeisfun Sat 25-May-13 12:57:10

i think a naturally talented child is one that is like a duck to water with the music ie they barely practice but are bloody good in an effortless way. you can often tell the deliberately hot housed kids who don't enjoy playing but do so on their parents behalf in the hope of getting a scholarship :-D

WastedTomatoGuts Sat 25-May-13 22:12:16

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

musicalfamily Sun 26-May-13 16:34:09

I also often wonder this. As with school levels, music can be all a bit of a race to the grade and you often hear horrible stories of children only learning grade pieces to rush through all the levels...

I agree that a talented musicians is one that communicates something special, one that makes you stop and listen or stir emotions. I don't think you can really learn that, although you can certainly learn to play to technical perfection with lots and lots of practice.

morethanpotatoprints Sun 26-May-13 20:17:19


I would also say that its a calling, my dh always tells his pupils they don't want to be musicians. They look shock, but he believes you become a musician when you physically can't do anything else.
By that he means you can be bright enough, or practical minded for other careers, but you couldn't do them.
I really couldn't imagine him doing anything else either, and he has a Degree (music), A levels (no music) A and B grade O' levels and only one grade 6 music exam. grin He didn't want to do them and only started playing at 16.

ThreeBeeOneGee Sun 26-May-13 20:23:21

Same as being very good at anything:

1. Natural aptitude.
2. Favourable circumstances.
3. Hard work.

For music specifically, I would add the ability to communicate through music the way the piece makes you feel.

Wallace Sun 26-May-13 20:31:38

No idea. dd plays the violin, and her teacher says she is talented. However she always gets the lowest marks in her group....

Worriedandlost Mon 27-May-13 13:35:35

Thanks to all of you for the answers, they mostly match to my own thoughts. And very comforting to know that technicality is not all (dd is having her first exam in June and I worry about technical part the most, as she is still very little to understand the importance of good technical performance-she can stop playing half way through if feels itchy for example smile).
Coming to particulars now-did you, parents, know that your children were gifted, or talented, or bright, or have high potential in music, etc without music teacher telling you? I personally believe that the more ability in smth child has the more child has to work in that direction, not to rely on natural talent but to take it further. But how does parent know that child is very able in music without being prejudiced? smile

morethanpotatoprints Mon 27-May-13 15:24:04

We knew when our dd was about 2 and when she was still at school the teachers told us.
I think it was her general behaviour towards music that made us realise. She was singing way before she could talk and used to repeat the dawn chorus in a morning. Then she just started repeating any noise she heard, especially outside or from the tv. Now she practices for between 3 and 4 hours a day, but not always working towards the next exam.
However, above all I still say music has to be fun otherwise what is the use of playing? Exams are good as a vague indicator of level but this is all.
Your dd will let you know how far she wants to take it and I think in the early stages this is the most important point. Follow her lead and don't push, but encourage. grin

musicalfamily Mon 27-May-13 17:33:30

Interestingly for the purpose of this discussion, my daughter didn't show any early sign of being talented in music, not even when she first started. We only started noticing when she auditioned for a scheme for "gifted musicians" and she got in. We were all really shocked even her teacher. It isn't always easy to tell with young children...

In fact we had the same with DS1, he is extremely academic but he started school unable to hold a pencil...!

morethanpotatoprints Mon 27-May-13 17:50:20


That is really interesting. Are you musical yourself? I was wondering if this was the reason you say that your dd didn't show any early signs of giftedness.
I think we only picked it up with dd because she had problems with speech and we were forever answering the professionals questions.
SALT and hv, etc. Plus, dh noticed the perfect pitch and sounds.
Then at school she was assessed in music and came out as working within level 8, this was during y3.
She isn't academic at all though, and struggles in some areas. Her drive and motivation to practice well though seem to me the reason for good progression, not innate talent.

Startail Mon 27-May-13 20:40:20

Enjoyment and sharing that enjoyment with the listener.

This can be both totally deliberate as with a couple of our sixth form who are out and out showmen or like DD and her pianist friend, who sing and play because that's what they do, it's part of them and you can't help being drawn in.

Worriedandlost Mon 27-May-13 23:57:07

Musicfamily, this is a perfect example! My dd could hardly sing in tune before she was 2.5 yo! You now press any piano key which she does not see and she immediately points to the correct one (this is after one year of training). Because she is bright academically she is very good at sign reading too. Her younger brother on the other hand was "singing" from about 9 months old, few false notes but otherwise very good. By about 1.2 he was signing totally in tune. You can definitely say that he is very musical 2yo. But I am not sure he can start learning music as early as dd and progress with the same speed as he is very different at learning. What makes me wonder whether dd is musically able or she is so good at logic and abstract things that it helps her to be good at music for the time being smile)))

musicalfamily Tue 28-May-13 10:29:28

I come from a long line of musicians (professional) with different histories and different patterns, so I am very open minded when it comes to my own children. I am not that musical myself, although I do play the piano and have a good ear - my brother is the musician in our family.

I definitely think you need a degree of musicality to have a chance at becoming very good, especially as it is so incredibly competitive these days.

A lot is also to do with excellent tuition, my brother was extremely talented but suffered from mediocre teaching, whilst for example my grandmother was introduced (as a teenager) to a very talented/famous musician who took her on as a pupil, and spent years correcting technique and teaching performance.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 28-May-13 15:09:16


I think you raise some important points there.

Firstly how siblings differ in ability, both you and your brother must be musical but you seem to be saying he is better.
Also the standard of tuition varies dramatically as with any subject, and I think can make a difference to whether a person becomes self motivated to continue. However, there are always a few very good musicians who are self taught and never had a lesson.

pianomama Tue 28-May-13 17:43:09

Completely agree with ThreeBee - you absolutely need all 3 - talent, good teacher + dedicated parent and lots of hard work.

DS so far managed to get away with 2 out 3 - hard work is very much optional in his case grin

I would not fully support that "real musician" can't do anything else - I know lots of DC who excel academically as well as musically.

There was a well-known composer Borodin who was also a professor of chemistry.

To be honest, I would not blame those kids who have been "tiger-mothered" and play fast complex pieces like little robots - I would blame it more on the teacher.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 28-May-13 19:44:05


When I said a real musician can't do anything else, I added not because they aren't capable but they don't really want to do anything else. Yes, a person can become accomplished at more than one thing but I think you usually find they choose one over the other.
Personally, I do think its a calling and something that chooses you, rather than you choosing it.

pianomama Wed 29-May-13 08:00:44

morethen - I often wonder about that.

I know for some people music is the natural and the only way to express themselves but not always.

Just had a conversation with DS about his future, we need to decide where to go to school at 13 - he will definitely get a music scholarship to an academic school (already has) but then will not get enough professional music training.

He said he knows that it would be good to go to a specialist music school but he will miss all the academic subjects he would have to give up.
You just can't have both.

I wonder if the good indicator is like you said - do music only if you cant imagine/don't want to do anything else

Difficult decision..

morethanpotatoprints Wed 29-May-13 10:53:20


Is it really like that with specialist music schools? I had no idea.
i don't relish your ds decision.
I would have imagined that the academic subjects would have been good at a specialist music school.
I don't know where you are but have you looked at Chets? My dd wanted to go here but loves singing as first instrument and they don't take until upper 6th. Long way to go yet grin

wintertimeisfun Wed 29-May-13 10:56:44

piano i disagree, i blame it on the mothers, definately. i regularly hear competative mothers showing off vocally whilst waiting for their mothers to collect their child from music class. i am friendly with a few music teachers and regularly hear tales of various pushy mothers complaining about one thing or another ie a mother complaining that her 4 year old (who wasn't any good) wasn't getting more than half an hour lesson etc etc. a common complaint is that they want their child to go from one exam to another missing out some exams (when they are not a good natural learner) purely to impress when trying for a music scholarship ie grade 3 learner being pushed to learn grade 5 pieces etc etc. personally i think it is pathetic and makes me cringe, that whole scene. you can often tell these children too, faces look like smacked arses, bored and unhappy. dd knows a girl whose mother is the queen of pushy mothers. she has ticked every box there is to tick with regard to getting a music scholarship. i do the opposite, dd either gets one or she doesn't. this girl can't be that good despite practising an hour before school every day as dd is at the same level and started to learn two years later than this girl but i am loads more laid back about it. i wouldn't be bothere if she didn't get a scholarship tbh but may as well try for one. this little girl isn't happy, i know this for a fact as she confided this to a friend of mine who is close to her :-( her mother on the other hand lies to me, trying to disguise her pushyness as it being something her daughter wants (she has singing lessons even though she can't really sing, plays loads of other instruments etc.

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