The Talent Myth

On Sunday, I was at a health fair buying a health product. When I was talking with the salesperson, the conversation steered to my profession and the fact that I was a concert pianist. The salesperson immediately said “Oh you must be very talented then. I tried to play music when I was young but I didn’t have any talent so I didn’t pursue it”. This is a typical reaction I get from the majority of the people I talk to in professions other than art or music. I immediately thought of this very interesting book I have read called “The Talent Code”. It is by Daniel Coyle, and he says that what differentiates the people who reach to a professional level of a skill from the others is the formation of myelin AND the decision that they make at the start if they will have the hobby as a long term or a short term interest. That’s it.

But what is this mean??

Let’s take music for example. You first have to decide if you are in it for the long haul. Then you MUST have the right tools, the right teachings and the right way of learning. This will provide the right way of practice and therefore, stronger myelin. Myelin is a fatty substance that wraps around nerve fibers and helps to increase the speed of electrical communication between your neurons. And the more you train, the more myelin you grow. How do you train correctly? Well, in a nutshell, I can say that when you make mistakes, you approach the problem areas with the determination how to fix them rather than just playing through. The more you focus on playing the correct way and the more myelin you build.

When I was a kid, I have always found myself analyzing the problem areas and completely focusing on those parts. Then I would look at the entire piece and put the pieces together. I naturally did this because it was fun for me to analyze and also to get the work done faster. I practiced far less than the other pianists but in a super concentrated way. I was also sort of obliged to do it this way: I was going to a very demanding French Middle and High School for girls that came from a very strickt traditional nineteenth-century-French-Catholic educational background with extremely disciplined nuns teaching the girls. During my time, the school was secular, the nuns were rare and kids from all religious beliefs were students. But the philosophy of the school was still very deeply routed. I couldn’t have graduated from both grade school and music conservatory successfully if I didn’t practice this way. I had no time to waste.

Years later while teaching in my music studio, I had a student who came to me at the age of 69 with advanced arthritis on both of his hands. In only two years, he progressed from someone with just basic music skills to performing intermediate to advanced classical pieces. His arthritis reversed, his fingers straightened and he could play Rachmaninoff!!! He was committed and he practiced the way I would teach him in detail during our lessons.

My point is that you can start a new hobby and achieve high levels if you are committed and you use the right tools. Isn’t everything in life work this way to succeed? From relationships to parenting or acquiring new skills, don’t they all prosper when you are committed and you use the right tools?

I hope you allow yourself to learn a new skill and know that all you need is your decision to commit.

Stay musically…




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