V.com weekend vote: Is talent or practice more crucial in acquiring musical ability?

September 19, 2020, 11:18 PM · It's the old nature vs. nurture argument -- which will get your farther, practice or talent?


Certainly I've seen examples of both. It would seem that certain players have so much talent that they can go for long stretches without practice, then jump straight in and learn a concerto in a week, or nearly sight-read the concert - and still sound great. One might argue that this only happens in people who have banked a lot of practice at an early age, but I've even seen it in young students. I've had several who somehow were able to wait until a week before the recital, then suddenly turn on the steam and pull off a great performance, despite otherwise lackluster practice.

However, I've also seen students that did not necessarily exhibit "natural talent" go on to cultivate their abilities and far surpass others who seemed at first to be more naturally "talented." Consistent and focused practice can yield amazing results over time. It's also a much better way to build a good foundation for playing. Kind of like cramming for a test - the information doesn't always stick.

However, the talented person who also practices - watch out!

I'm also interested in the question of whether some people are simply more naturally inclined to practice - is that a form of talent?

What do you think, is talent or practice more crucial? Can a great deal of practice overcome a lack of "talent"? Is there even such a thing as "talent," or is it all about cultivating ability? (That's the Suzuki mindset!) Or is talent actually pretty important, to be able to ever really get good at music? Please participate in the vote and then tell us your thoughts. Feel free to tell us if you've seen studies or articles about this topic, or to share personal experiences.


September 20, 2020 at 09:51 AM · Talent works wonders until adolescence when growth spurts, hormones and assignments get in the way. Only those who take pleasure in practice, and are well guided, will carry on successfully.

The less "talented" however, deserve everything that a teacher can offer them. If talent is manifest, so be it; if not we must seek it out and cherish it.

September 20, 2020 at 01:22 PM · I can't understand what "talent" is in this context... can you substitute the word "magic?" Because that's how it's used here.

Clearly, the result one gets on the violin is the result of careful practice, alongside mental processing power and executive functioning skills. Let's leave magic out of it and define other characteristics with more precision.

September 20, 2020 at 01:57 PM · Let’s look closer to the talent and practice rhetorical question:

Nothing can happen without practice it is the fact, it is Physics

Talent is a term for using Emotional and intelligent way to get most of the practice routine. It can be one night, one day or 30 minutes

However, everyone need practicing as the sun goes up and down

September 20, 2020 at 02:26 PM · Four examples -

1. In the 1950's, The Beatles were a trio of singers who played for weddings and teenage clubs. They wrote hundreds of uninspired songs, and couldn't find anyone to play drums. Then they went to Hamburg, Germany in 1960, and between 1960 and 1962, they played 5 hour sets for 250 nights in seedy seaport bars. They brought along a drummer who couldn't keep a beat beyond 4/4. When they went back to Liverpool, England they were vastly improved as a band, but even then they were not the most popular band in the city. That honor went to Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, a cover band with an amazing drummer.

They were rejected by every recording company in England, but were given a final chance by a producer who was known for novelty comedy records and classical music. They fired their drummer, hired the drummer from Rory Storm's band, and put out a record. The record went to #17 on the charts. Then they took a slow song they'd written, sped it up, and suddenly they were a phenomenal act.

At that point people said they had talent.

2. Here is a wonderful poem by Marge Piercy, regarding talent and hard work.

For the young who want to


Talent is what they say

you have after the novel

is published and favorably

reviewed. Beforehand what

you have is a tedious

delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done

after the play is produced

and the audience claps.

Before that friends keep asking

when you are planning to go

out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you

had after the third volume

of remarkable poems. Earlier

they accuse you of withdrawing,

ask why you don’t have a baby,

call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,

take workshops with fancy names

when all you can really

learn is a few techniques,

typing instructions and some-

body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks

a license to hang on the wall

like your optician, your vet

proving you may be a clumsy sadist

whose fillings fall into the stew

but you’re certified a dentist.

The real writer is one

who really writes. Talent

is an invention like phlogiston

after the fact of fire.

Work is its own cure. You have to

like it better than being loved.

3. Kurt Vonnegut, said it best. "You can or you can't, and you do or you don't."

4. We'll leave this with Bret and Eddie of TwoSetViolin


Now, get off this computer/iPhone/whatever-it-is and go practice!

September 20, 2020 at 03:51 PM · I voted for practice, like everyone else is going to, but I think that the ability to practice well, and the ability to tolerate and even thrive under the amount of practice that is truly required, is itself a talent.

September 20, 2020 at 04:59 PM · Both practice and talent, although hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard enough.

September 20, 2020 at 05:04 PM · @ Michael, You said,

The Beatles wrote hundreds of uninspired songs. I reject that notion. Their music will live as long as people listen to music.

September 20, 2020 at 05:36 PM · It is the same for everything else, it takes a lot of hard work. I know when I am learning something - get deep sleep.

September 20, 2020 at 06:19 PM · We have this discussion regularly here on v.com: people who protest that talent does not exist, a position I find hard to understand, given that we see talent all around us all the time. Some people are simply quicker, better, smarter, more natural, and find it more fun to practice, certain tasks. That is the definition of "having a talent for X". Come on. You certainly know people with a talent for drawing, with a talent for cooking, with a talent for running, with a talent for languages, for math, for violin playing, the list goes on.

September 20, 2020 at 06:46 PM · There are many routes to success, and one needs some level of each, but the quote I remember a conservatory teacher telling a borderline student can be illuminating, "I've seen people with somewhat less talent make it, and I've seen people with a bit more, not."

With some level of talent, sure stubbornness can go a long ways, on the other hand, pure high level talent is not to be denied.

In sport, for comparison, as one coach said, "You can't make gold out of bedrock." Some talent is required. To wit, there are tales of famous artists with such an amazing type of talent, who were able to put down their instruments for YEARS and then take it up again never missing a beat, so to speak.

One can be highly musical, and average physical talent, one can be mentally strong, and practice smartly and diligently, one can have such facility at an early age that one is able to focus on the artistry at an early age, one can have very musical and supportive parents, that whether one inherits their musical genes or not, one just soaks up the whole ambience of being a musician on is off to the races.

For sure, it is not practice alone. It is not merely, "10,000 hours of practice." The original study, actually on violin playing at a high level, has been very misunderstood. Still, it has been disproven readily since then.

I think you've nailed it Laurie.

September 20, 2020 at 07:28 PM · I have been working as a teacher in different programs for talented children for more than 20 years. No music related.

And I see the situation differently.

Children are simply born with different abilities.

One has extreamly strong legs and can jump high. Of cause without proper technique and practice he never gets to Olimpic games.

Do you remember Bolt? Does not matter how hard you gonna practice now on, he will be faster than you.

Now about the music:

There are simply more sensitive people, who feel the music and can express their emotions by having no problem to control the fine motoric, that God gave them.

Sure, without practice they can not go far, but without the talent, no matter how hard they practice they do not produce music.

Everyone here votes for practice, because all of you have a talent (otherwise, you would not be at this forum ), and only the quality and quantaty of practice differentiate you.

But if you compare you with people from the train, the crucial factor to differentiate you will be a talent.

September 20, 2020 at 08:12 PM · For me the answer is: both. Practice, as my teacher constantly told me, makes permanent. Which is to say that you have to have the technical side because practice alone can grind in a mistake that you will never rid yourself of.

I see talent more in the sense of a "Calling" that, in the case of a musician, you simply cannot live fully without it. The problem of callings is that most people go though a period of rejecting the calling because you realize that when you make the journey through the door of commitment, there simply is no coming back and you find yourself in an parallel universe.

Of course, having "the calling" doesn't always translate into a career. Like the former prodigy who now restores boats and goes under the surname "Chandler" following the call into a career can break you down.

What we are really talking about is the measure of "Success." For some that word has to be spelled $uccce$$, others require it to be in lights on the marque, others require cheering fans, for some it is just doing what you need to do to be satisfied with yourself and comfortable in your own skin.

September 20, 2020 at 08:32 PM · Jeff, that my comment on the songs by the Beatles, was in regard to the songs they wrote while they were teenagers, and not the amazing material they wrote from 1962 onward. Unfortunately, those old teen written songs no longer exist. In 1965, when Paul McCartney's girlfriend, Jane Asher was living with him, she did some housecleaning. She found the old songs, thought they were trash and tossed them.

September 20, 2020 at 10:37 PM · I won't say natural talent doesn't exist, but I would argue that most of what people call "talent" is a product of environment. Virtually all highly successful musicians were surrounded by music from a very early age, with parents who were either musicians or extraordinarily avid listeners. Opportunities for high quality private instruction and ensemble playing help immensely, as does a stable home environment.

September 21, 2020 at 12:18 AM · I think of talent as an accelerant for progress, more than the reason for success. I think of practice as more of the reason for success. Early nurture creates talent. I admit some seem to "have it" without that, but that is rare. Early and consistent nurture (instruction, bribery, encouragement etc) is winner every time. As a teacher, I tell myself that everyone has talent, in some it's just a little deeper down below the surface. I think it's all what you do with it, and what do with it depends on the five attributes I value above all others: creativity, organization, resourcefulness, grit, and discipline. I tell my students that each of the five has to be practiced, like scales :)

September 21, 2020 at 11:17 AM · What do I know?

But I voted 'talent' - though certainly talent without practice would be no good at all. Still, the question is 'which is more crucial'?

I think a great degree of competence can be achieved by practice without much talent. But excellence needs talent and at least some practice.

I haven't got anything to base this opinion on except a violin teacher who was extremely talented but who as a boy didn't do all that much practice. And also, I was a teacher of English - diligent pupils could produce some very pleasing creative writing, but the really good stuff neeeded someone with a feeling for language, and a strong imagination and originality of thought - i.e. talent.

September 21, 2020 at 04:32 PM · Since "both" was not an option, I voted for Talent.

I think "talent" refers to ease and efficiency in the learning process.

But I am convinced that environment (family, peer groups etc) have a huge role in emergence of talent and subsequent success.

September 21, 2020 at 05:23 PM ·

September 22, 2020 at 02:38 AM · I didn't vote because my option - both talent and practice are important - wasn't available.

Like all teachers, I am well aware of the child with perfect pitch who doesn't apply himself due to psychological issues, or the child with amazing posture and dexterity who is defeated by pitching difficulties. Or the adults in the community orchestra with amazing facility but who constantly rush because they lack a reliable inner pulse and/or don't listen to the rest of the orchestra.

Community orchestras are full of people who had potential but didn't take their music to the professional level because of a short pinkie, unremediated posture difficulties, shoulder/wrist/back problems, difficulties with rhythm, or a variety of emotional/social/ practical reasons that practice was neglected. I'm one of them - excellent rhythm and pitch but defeated by short pinkie and thumb, and tight ligaments making stratospheric playing forced and difficult.

Hopefully next time you ask readers this question, you'll provide more options in the vote.

September 22, 2020 at 07:47 PM · I am not sure it is the one or the other. Talent--as has been said--is hard to define. What are its elements? Beyond an aptitude for fine motoric skills (important, that one) I can't think of much.

I am a (now retired) scientist myself and used to think myself talented for the field. But now I am not so sure any more. To be sure I was good at what I did. I used to learn easily in school and was generally thought of as highly intelligent. But--if I was that or not--this wasn't what made me choose science in the first place nor let me succeed. I believe now that that driving force was my inborn curiosity. I always wanted to know things. So I learned easily because of my curiosity which made me focus on finding out what I so badly wanted to know. And yet, curiosity is hardly "talent", is it?

I would not know what sort of mental attitude would propel someone on a musical career in the way my curiosity propelled me into science. It may well be that it exists: If you want something badly you will focus your efforts.

September 22, 2020 at 08:43 PM · Ah, the old "nature vs. nurture" argument. I couldn't vote, because there was no "both" option.

September 25, 2020 at 06:49 PM · I voted Practice. Several commenters said they couldn't vote because their option -- "both" -- wasn't available. So I looked again at the title: "Is talent or practice MORE [emphasis added] crucial in acquiring musical ability?" If you believe that both are equally crucial -- or that one or the other doesn't factor in at all -- then I can see why you would sit this one out; but since the question is which is more crucial, it shouldn't be hard to pick one or the other.

I based my vote on personal experience. I was an early starter in piano, age 7; but the violin muse grabbed me soon afterward, and I switched to violin. I started by fingering and bowing simple tunes by ear on a half-sized fiddle before I had any lessons. How I managed to pull this off, I'd be at a loss to explain now. But I did it. Very soon, because I could already read music, I learned a few beginner items from my first instruction book -- again, before lessons. My teacher, at our first lesson, was very pleased.

My parents and my teacher would no doubt have told you that I had what we call talent -- plus desire and self-motivation. But to advance, I had to practice. Practicing isn't always fun. It also involves making ourselves do some things we'd rather not do at the moment. If I don't feel like practicing, I'll start anyway and keep going till I do feel like it. At the end of a session, I'm always glad I persisted.

September 26, 2020 at 01:30 PM · Practice.

Practice, practice, practice.

I can tell you from personal experience (i.e 15 wasted years), that being fed a constant diet of praise for being talented is the best way of destroying your potential.

Yes, people have natural predispositions in certain fields. Talent certainly has its place, and I have no problem recognising it. But those who last in any field are the ones who work at it day in, day out. Hands down.

I will challenge anyone on that point.

Practice, practice, practice.

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