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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)

oohdaddypig Tue 24-Sep-13 13:30:05

My old (very talented) music teacher told me it was 10 per cent natural ability and 90 per hard graft.

Sadly I had neither although I'm a reasonable amateur musician.

bachsingingmum Tue 24-Sep-13 13:18:30

Difficult to put a finger on - but easily recognisable when you see it, and quite rare. DH and I are both good amateur musicians. We both loved it as kids and worked hard at it, but I could never have made a career out of it - technique not good enough. Sadly I didn't start singing properly till I was [quite] old. Two DDs with musical talent a plenty, but wouldn't put the hours in. I'm not cut out as a tiger mum.

Now real musical talent I saw at close hand while singing at a Chets concert last summer. A bunch of teenagers with teenage attitude, but staggering technical and musical skill in all sections of the orchestra. And I overheard a group of them happily arguing about the merits or otherwise of Berg...!

RobC Thu 12-Sep-13 12:41:35

For me a talented person is some one who excels at something beyond your average expectation. It is the journey towards and beyond that average expectation which I think is important to develop any fluency in a skill. Individuals have to have the initial desire interest in a subject before they start learning and acquiring skills. It is nurturing that desire and firing that interest which I would say is unique to every individual. I my case it was playing in ensemble with other musicians whatever the level that stimulated my interest. I found that even as a beginner playing amongst my peers that I learnt very quickly when I had to play in tune on time at the right place with the appropriate dynamics. Of course I made mistakes as did every one else but it was a good foundation on which to start.

Souredstones Sat 13-Jul-13 07:55:48

I presume the 7 year olds taking g8 have their g5 theory to back it up too? By g8 you need to learn expression, tone and technique and tbh you need big hands lol

Souredstones Sat 13-Jul-13 07:54:35

For me a talented musician is expressive as well as technically accurate from a young age. Anyone can learn technique but expression and a feel for the music can't be taught

MummytoMog Tue 09-Jul-13 15:40:40

Is your son not able to read music, or just hasn't learned properly? He's unlikely to flourish in a music school unless he learns to read music to be honest. If he is able to learn to read music, the earlier the better. I've started teaching my three year old to read basic notation in the hope that it will help her learn to read music more easily once she begins formal lessons. DD is quite interested in music, and has perfect pitch, but I'm not keen at ALL for her to be a professional musician. DH is one, and it's not a life I'd want for my child ;)

I would consider myself a talented musician, probably more so than DH, but I definitely didn't apply myself, didn't practice enough, didn't have lessons enough (and had dradful teachers) and consequently I am pretty rubbish. DH was forced to practice by his mother, and kept it up even at university, making it his career quite successfully. I wouldn't say he loves it though.

debra79 Thu 04-Jul-13 20:32:29

Every music teacher and tutor my son has met gets excited about his ability and yet my son has an inability to read music. He started by teaching himself and I had never heard of pitch perfect and other technical phrases teachers have quoted. He learns only by ear and his tutors support this. I have never pushed him into doing anything but I find classes and groups for him to attend which he enjoys and he just seems to pick up everything instantly. I think when the time comes he will flourish in a music school but I do worry because he is gifted in maths and science also. I think I will leave the decision to him...whatever will be will be!

Worriedandlost Fri 31-May-13 01:46:59

Morethanpotatoprins-soooo well said, totally agree!

morethanpotatoprints Wed 29-May-13 12:46:49

Ah, Piano.

It must be a difficult choice. We are near enough to Chets, a short train journey. It is a beautiful school and the old buildings are full of character (and ghosts, I hear).
I am hoping it won't be so difficult for us and at least we can take the academic out of the equation as dd is below/ just about average.
I think musicians can be more effective learners if they have that brightness to begin with, or don't have spld. My dd is dyslexic and also quite slow on the uptake, but atm lives for music grin.
She wants to try for JD in a couple of years, we are lucky to be near RNCM too.
I wish your ds well, please come back and tell me what you and he decide. thanks

pianomama Wed 29-May-13 11:38:04

morethen - we will be thinking about Chets even though it would be too far from us. It will depend I guess how DS feels about it at the time .He is in JD at the moment and would not hear about moving/changing his teacher etc. But this is only once a week, long commutes etc. As far as academic subjects go - he won't be able to do all of the ones he does now to the same depth. Mind you , some people say that musicians are much more effective learners smile

wintertimeisfun - it is true, I know mothers like that with zombie-like looking children doing G8 at 7. Still, mothers are not professionals themselves, it is teachers job to decide which grades and pieces a child should do.

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.

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

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 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 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 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.

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.

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)))

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.

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.

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 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

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

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....

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.

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