Interest and "Talent"

Who benefits from private instrumental lessons?

I often comment that the intensive study of a musical instrument is not appropriate for all of the graduates from the group lesson program at my studio. Almost always, my statement is misconstrued. The listener thinks that I am saying that the intensive study of music is only for the "talented". On the contrary, I am saying something very different!

Interest is more important than "talent". After all, all talent means is that certain skills come easier for the "talented" than for the rest of the world. People are often "talented" in areas that they have little interest in pursuing. I am very "talented" in math, but have very little interest in the subject. On the other hand, I am very interested in the field of child development. I have had to study, and work hard at observation and practice because I am less "talented" in this area than in math. I have had great joy in my work in this area- far more than I would have had from pursuing the areas in which I have more "natural talent".

Many of my most successful piano students showed little "talent" in the beginning of their studies. They had to work many times harder than the more "talented" students. However, since they were so fascinated with the instrument and the study of music, they were willing to put in a great deal of hard work toward mastering the instrument. Now, after performances, they are often complimented on their "natural talent" in the very areas that were challenging to them. They experience a lot of joy and satisfaction in their musical work. At the same time, I have encouraged some very "talented" students to stop lessons since their interest had waned. I believe that it is incredibly painful to be forced to work hard at something in which we have little to no interest.

The serious study of any musical instrument requires the development of many skills- abstract reasoning, pattern recognition, physical memory, aural memory, tactile memory, aesthetic sensibility, expressiveness- to name a few. All of us bring a varied level of "talent" for each skill. Thus, some of my students find reading pitch notation very easy, while playing with a sense of the musical pulse is very challenging for them. Other students have opposite "talents". Some find almost every area challenging, while others find the whole subject easy. The commonality of their situations is the tremendous sense of satisfaction they experience through their music.

However, it seems obvious that less "talented" students must have a stronger interest. The equation below summarizes my observations about this play between "talent" and interest (remember, I did tell you that I am "talented" at math):

Talent X Interest = Satisfaction

If either talent or interest is very low- the sense of joy will be very low. Conversely, if either factor is very high, it is likely that the student will truly enjoy their work on the instrument, even if the other factor is somewhat low!

I'd like to end this discussion with one last observation. When I go to parties, several strangers always ask for my card. Generally, they are adults who always wanted to study, but were unable to for some reason, or they quit, and now want to get back into music. I have taught many adults who fit these two patterns and they always have a sense of joy in their musical accomplishments, no matter how low or high their initial "talent" is. On the other hand, there is always someone else at the party who looks askance as soon as they find out my profession. One man told me that the most joyous day of his life was when he discovered that the violin he was forced to play for 10 years had been eaten by termites after it had sat unused for 15 years. It seemed like such a waste, and a tragedy, that any interest he might have had was so completely stamped out by someone's misguided belief that the study of music is "good" for a child, whether or not they have any joy or interest in the work.