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Pianist Lang Lang appointed UN Messenger of Peace

Ever since he founded the Lang Lang International Music Foundation in 2008, Mr. Lang has committed himself to raising the level of music education to a higher level. Capitalizing on the popularity of the pianist Lang Lang, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on October 28 designated the world-renowned Chinese as a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a special focus on global education. Read more >>

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Author Topic: Talent....  is there such a thing?  (Read 2830 times)
ThEmUsIcMaNBJ
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« on: June 14, 2003, 08:53:00 PM »

I've really been thinking about this lately and wanted to see if any of you had any opinions on the subject.  We all talk about people getting things "easier" or "faster" or it just makes sense to them more then to someone else.  Now obviously I think we can all agree that some people DO learn faster then some other people.  But is it because they were born with this special "gift"?

I think (or have been thinking) that there are many things to denote what a "gift" is.  The way you're brought up is one.  Lets talk about music here...  Say one person was brought up with the piano at the age of 3...  There parents played as well...  His whole life is focused around it he listens to classical music only since he was born.  He practices constently...  Loves music and concentrates intently...  Now wouldn't you think that person would be an amazing pianist?  Without talking about any "gift".  When he grew older many people would be saying "Wow you are just so gifted!"  But in reality it was mostly because of the way he was brought up.  

I think the "gift" people are born with is the gift of concentration, patience, determination, and a love for music.  I don't think any "talent" is just THERE I think it attributes to the previously mentioned things.  

But then you can argue "well some people can just sit down and play anything even when they're young by ear!"  Well I would venture a guess to say that probably the majority of these young "prodigies" have perfect pitch.  Which the majority of you will say is that you're born with it which that in itself is a gift.  I actually went and tried to find this article I read a while ago but couldn't find it but I'll paraphrase.  Basically what it said was that everyone is born with perfect pitch and it helps us learn to speak better (hearing tones etc.).  But as we learn how to speak we lose it beacuse we don't need it anymore.  And those people that are said to be "born" with it are usually trained in music from a very early age.  If we took a poll I would venture a guess that 99% of the people on this forum with perfect pitch started playing some type of musical instrument before they were maybe, latest 6?  

Well then to argue the matter of talent is Mozart or other REAL child prodigies, but since most of us are most familiar with Mozart I'll use him as an example.  I can't remember everything so if anyone wants to help me out that would be fine.  But he learned his first piece in 30 minutes?  And then another after that etc... etc...  When he was 3?  Anyways I don't know how to exactly explain him except for that he was a genius.  In every way shape and form.  I don't know where I heard this but I could be wrong but I heard he wasn't just a musical genius but also just a straight out genius.  That he was an amazing mathmatician etc...   And how many genius's started playing the piano at such a young age?  I would guess the great majority of composers were all genius's in their own right.  Which I guess being a genius IS a gift but talking about music who knows?  

Also there are those people who start later but learn faster!  I know people that learn incredibly fast and never had anything to do with the piano before.  I think it's probably because of their concentration, patience, and determination that make them learn faster.

I know this post is getting really long and boring but I have ONE more example.  The real reason that I've been thinking about this is because of my schools drumline.  I don't know if any of you are familiar with drumlines but basically it's a form of marching band with marching snare drums, bass drums, and tenor drums...  Opposed to popular belief marching drums are ridiculously hard and take a great deal of technique and concentration.  I am the drum captian of my highschool's drumline and I have the pleasure (used loosly) to teach and audition people for our drumline.  Now after teaching probably over 35 people this year individually...  I found that people take way longer to learn something then other people.  I might be teaching a simple excercise and one person will take 5 hours to learn it and another will take 5 minutes.  But when I payed attention to them the people who took 5 hours just would not concentrate and didn't want to be there.  And the ones that took 5 minutes concentrated intently and were having a good time.  And often both people had the same musical background.  

Anyways I'm sure a lot of my ramblings don't make much sense but I'de like to hear anyone elses opinion on the subject!
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amee
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« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2003, 11:47:44 PM »

I think there are many ways you can interpret "talent".  First there's just people with a natural knack for the instrument.  That, coupled with an early training and a musical family, can make the person into a fine pianist.

But nothing comes without practice.  For instance, you can have a natural who doesn't want to practice and his talents will soon diminish.  But what about someone who's less gifted at first, but practices very hard?  In the long run, to me, natural talents or gifts can only take you so far.  What comes next relies on your own motivation, concentration, and the amount of effort you put in.
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Johnnylightning
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« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2003, 03:14:52 AM »

I think passion contributes to determination and that the abillity to express yourself, w/out any withdrawls, contributes to what we refer to as soul.  Technique, I believe, can de developed through hard work, but self-expression as an art form, is our birthright.  I would have to think that the perfect gift would contain, at the very least, a little of both.
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rachfan
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« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2003, 05:35:03 AM »

I've always thought of the question this way: Talent is a capability, but only ability produces accomplishment in an art.  So while talent is an important propensity or tendency creating the capability or potential for great things, it is only serious study, dedication, practice, and resulting ability that translates means into a desired end.  Thus, an undeveloped talent is a totally wasted talent.  Moreover, a person with talent who is lazy and does not invest in converting capability into ability will never succeed in the art.  It is only when talent is fruitfully combined with hard work that one truly achieves and distinguishes oneself.  Does that mean that a person with a lesser talent can exceed the abilities of a very talented person who is not nearly as conscientious?  Absolutely!
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Franz_Liszt
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« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2003, 04:26:38 PM »

http://www.post-gazette.com/lifestyle/20020804bradey0804p3.asp

Read This  Grin
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« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2003, 04:17:00 AM »

I completely agree with amee.

Talent, or the specific ways talent shows, are numerous; the most important ones are probably a natural connection to the instrument and the music composed for it, and - of course - a natural sense of movement and technique.

Starting to play at the age of three is certainly good, but at one level there will be a moment when the talented, with the same amount of work, will leave the 'regular' ones behind.

Regards,
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RiskyP
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« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2003, 07:42:30 PM »

Hmmm. I remain sceptical to all such claims of natural born "talent".

When we learn, tissues in our brain establish a connection, and are able to communicate via electro-chemical interaction through an established neural network. If one accepts this premise of psychology, it should be evident that, what we are capable of doing with our fingers, hands and arms is merely derived from these interactions in our brain.

So why are some people much better at piano than others?! I - personally - think it is because the connections made in the brain are not the same for everyone. Some people excel at math, some at reading, some at piano and some at all of these. What is it that controls what kind of connections the brain will make? Can it be genetic?

Well, I don't think so, but hey, prove me wrong. If it is genetic, than my entire argument is false and I should be locked up. Hard to say if this is the case.

I excel mostly in math and physics - as well as almost any other science. My reading is average, but my writing is (suppposedly) very good. Why is this the case?

My mother and father tell me that when I was growing up, I was exposed to all sorts of games and activities to develop critical thinking, logic, 3D visualization. The result? Physics and math are very easy for me. Just like the pianists who are called "talented," I have absolutely no sense of prior work or practice in this area... I can just do it very well without much effort. Am I talented?

I certainly don't feel that way. As a child I was simply exposed to certain activities that resulted in certain parts of my brain developing. NOW. Here comes the kicker!

I do believe though, that since my father is a professor of engineering, I might have geneticaly inhereted a brain that is more prone to developing in the area of science. It's still not talent, but a valid point. So what is my point?!

My point is that, I believe, given enough time and the proper practice methods, any individual with a healthy brain can become as good at the piano as his/her physical limitations allow. It is simply a matter of time...          
 
It is a fact that when you are born, not many connections in your brain exist; you can hardly even hear or see. How could you be born with talent? I agree with the original post that a person raised in an environment that it wholly centered around the piano will most likely make a great pianist, or at least the potential to do so. Just my opinion.
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Johnnylightning
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« Reply #7 on: July 09, 2003, 03:08:34 AM »

It also depends on what you're really "into".  Musically, if you love piano, guitar, flute or whatever it is that you are passionate about, you will probably excell because your attention, drive and desires to learn are pushing you to do so. If TALENT is the case, then why would'nt the "great pianist" be a "great guitarrist"?.  As a child, my parents made me play the sax, and I hated it. Needless to say, I SUCKED! I understood what I was doing, but, I never wanted to play or practice.  Instead, I always wanted to play the piano.  Now when I play, I'm focused. And yeah, even though I still suck, I lonnnggg to sit at the piano. It calls me and it's what I desire to do. And with that desire, I've learned alot more, in a short amount of time, than I would've in a lifetime, with a saxaphone. Talent, I think, is a combination of grace, confidence, understanding, concentration, abillity and a bunch of other positive forces.  Just add water (1pt talent + 1pt passion = GIFT)
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ThEmUsIcMaNBJ
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« Reply #8 on: July 09, 2003, 04:04:06 AM »

Thanks RiskyP, you're the first person to really reply on my real question, whether "talent" exists or not.  Before you, everyone assumed it did and just said, "If you have the talent and the drive then they are the ones who excel".  But that wasn't the original question it was if that "talent" we all talk about exists in the first place.  So is there such thing as having talent and enthusiasm or is it just the way you were brought up?
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88keys
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« Reply #9 on: July 09, 2003, 05:40:10 AM »

I think it is pretty obvious that talent does exist. It is equally obvious that talent will not be realized unless one actively develops it, and this is exactly were the environmental factors steps in.

As for RiskyP's question of how genetics might give rise to talent: Our genes pose limits on what our body and brain can do. Two newborns may be born at the same height and weight, yet one might grow to be 6'6'' and the other to a mere 5'6''.

Where did this difference come from? Assuming both people had adequete nutrition throughout their childhood, it all came from their genes.

The same is true for the connections in your brain. It is your genes which determine the general direction in which these connections could develop. Only the degree to which this potential is realized, depends on the environment.

There is ample proof of this. The most striking example is the researches involving seperated identical twins: Each twin had exactly the same genetic markup, but they lived in totally different environment (often in different countries with completely different cultures).

Despite the environmental differences, the two twins developed many similar traits - from the way they dressed, to their chosen occupation, to even the personality of the girlfriends they chose!

So don't underestimate the power of genetics. It is a very powerful factor in shaping our skills and personality.

That being said...

I do agree that competent piano playing does not require special talent in music, any more than doing basic arithmetic requires a special talent in math... Nearly every 6-year-old child can master both with relative ease, which seems ample evidence to this claim.

However, I do believe that at the higher levels, talent is essential.

Every child can work to become a good piano player, but playing at the level of the top concert pianists requires talent.

Every child can work to become a good amateur chess player. Being a Chess Grandmaster requires talent.

Every child can work to run the 100 meter dash in 11.8 seconds. But cutting off those final 2 seconds to break the world record (around 9.Cool requires talent.

And of-course, a child with talent would progress much faster from the beginning. There are ample examples of this in the biographies of pianists, scientists and inventors - I think this is evidence enough that "talent" really exists.
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RiskyP
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« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2003, 08:12:13 AM »

I understand your position. I still hold my beliefs, but let me be a bit more specific about why I said what I did. I was mainly referring to the fact that "talent" is not something one is born with. It is merely a word we use to describe high achievers.

If I was born to be a pianist why would I have to work at all to gain any skills? How could I, as a baby who has just emerged from the womb, already 'know' how to learn piano effectively if I can hardly even move my hands?

Genetics is a great influence, I agree. So is the environment one grows up in. But does even genetics provide means for actual knowledge to be transmitted from parents to children?! Piano is knowledge. Knowledge of where to move and how etc. This knowledge can't be ingraved in the child's memory, can it?!

Ultimately, the only reason I don't believe in natural born talent, is because it is a mystical quality that humans associate with high achievers.

As far as piano is concerned, there is hardly any difference between learning to walk and learning to play (of course playing is much more complex in terms of muscular control) as far as connections in the brain are concerned. You are using the same part of your brain to control finger movements when playing as when writing or typing. To say that one person has a better potential to develop this part of the brain implies that we are all deficient with respect to these "talented" people. This may be the case, I won't refute it. Despite this, it still doesn't mean that these people are born with talent. They still have to work through every single step as we do, only they might do it faster.

The conclusion: we can do whatever they can do, it just may take longer, unless we are so mentally deficient in this respect that it is impossible altogether. Quite a depressing thought.

But if they are so superior in acquiring motor skills, then heck, why aren't pianists professional soccer players as well. They should progress very rapidly if they are so "superior". You can attribute as many mystical qualities to music making as you want, in the end, the naked truth is that the sound coming from the instrument is wholly dependent on your motor skills --- a.k.a. technique.

To the best of my knowledge,  there is not one isolated part of the brain which deals merely with piano motor skills, so it is absurb to say that only a few can be at the top. Those who are at the top simply discovered "methods" by which they made their practice so efficient, that they progressed through the "steps" (not literal here) quicker than others.

Those who do become concert pianists usually learn these methods from excellent piano professors who were most likely in the same shoes years before.

I can understand why people call it talent when a 13 year old girl gives a splendid performance of Rachmaninoff's first piano concerto. Whether that talent is natural or acquired is a fuzzy question... I still believe that it is impossible for it to be natural.

--- great question, hope that many people disagree with me, because I would like to hear more from the opposition.    
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88keys
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« Reply #11 on: July 09, 2003, 10:40:27 PM »

RiskyP, there is nothing mystical in the claim that people get much of their talents from their genes.

To be sure, Arthur Rubinstein's genes knew nothing about  piano playing... They simply have a blueprint for a certain kind of brain - and this brain just happens to be an ideal piece of "hardware" for playing the piano.

This is what I call "natural talent".

And again, don't underestimate the power of our genes. Don't forget that only nine months before birth, a person is nothing more than a spherical cell packed with genes. As incredible as it might seem at first, our genes contains all the information needed to produce every single organ in the human body, including the brain.
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ThEmUsIcMaNBJ
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« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2003, 02:41:58 AM »

I'm glad I'm not the only person with the thought about natural born talent not existing.  I agree completely with you RiskyP, I just wish I could write well so I could make a good argument as you have.  Roll Eyes  Personally I think that of course one person learns faster than another person, and as I said on the first post, I think it is because of the methods they went to get there, or perhaps just their enthusiasm towards the instrument.  I would venture a guess that a great majority of the highly respected concert pianists all had a somewhat similar start.  Beginning very early with a very good teacher and practicing often and well.

There are so many different things each person experiences in the course of their life you can't claim that it didn't affect this "talent" that some people seem to have and some don't.

Recently there was a study on video games (go figure)
"Video games are not a complete waste of time, U.S. researchers say.

They have found that young adults adept at Spider-Man, Grand Theft Auto 3 and other computer games had stronger visual and motor skills than those who don't indulge in such pastimes."
I personally have been said to be very "talented" I began playing very late so my lack of music in early childhood and still being "talented" would be a great argument for "natural born talent".  However I was a very hardcore video game player since I was old enough to walk.  Who knows maybe that helped me in my piano asperations?  I'm not saying it did, but you can't just dismiss the fact that everyone had different childhoods that could give them their degree of "talent".  I also played baseball all my life that I'm sure helps out hand eye cordination quite a bit, which very possibly could have given me more "talent" as well.  Who knows?  Thats the point no one has studied a persons life in such detail to knowing every single possible outcome to an activity.  

Piano, or music in general, is said to possibly help people understand and be better in math.  Who knows if other things couldn't help a person be a better piano player?  

This is what I originally meant the topic to be about I'm glad it got back to the original subject  Wink
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88keys
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« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2003, 10:28:11 PM »

Wait just a minute here.

RiskyP also said this:

"Genetics is a great influence, I agree. So is the environment one grows up in. But does even genetics provide means for actual knowledge to be transmitted from parents to children?!"

(I included the last sentence in the quote, just so nobody will accuse me of misquoting RiskyP out of context).

I think we all agree with the first two statements made by RiskyP: Both genetics and the environment are important factors.

But if genetics is an important factor, what can it be besides "natural talent"? Aren't these genetic factors (which we all seem to agree exist) the very definition of "natural talent"?
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RiskyP
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« Reply #14 on: July 11, 2003, 04:36:58 AM »

Hehe... it's not thorough enough to just conclude that it MUST be talent, based on that sentence. Back it up with an expanation. Drawing conclusions from statements (like mine) that are not precise enough to pinpoint a definite cause for something, is the easiest thing to do, but that is why you have to back it up in a logical format. That is the only way to convinvce someone who is sceptical!  

Genetics influences the way we grow, but NOT the knowledge we gain and NOT the coordination we acquire. That is up to us. Genetics has some influence, but instead of thinking that those people were lucky enough to be blessed with a unique genetic makeup that enables them to gain motor skills far superior than ours, why is it so hard to believe that there is nothing extraordinary in their gentic makeup, and they simply found methods of acquiring motor skills efficiently?!
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88keys
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« Reply #15 on: July 11, 2003, 11:22:05 PM »

RiskyP said:

"Genetics influences the way we grow, but NOT the knowledge we gain and NOT the coordination we acquire. That is up to us."

I totally agree.

But can genetics influence OUR ABILITY to gain knowledge of a certain kind?

If you think it can't, why? After all, if genetics can determine that you'll get your mother's nose, why would the brain be any different?

And how would you explain those researches done with identical twins seperated at birth? Why are the personalities and skills of such two twins usually very similar, when their environments were completely different?

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RiskyP
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« Reply #16 on: July 12, 2003, 02:01:05 AM »

The fishy thing is... the parents of most of the greatest pianists I know of weren't great pianists... a lot of them weren't even pianists!!!

Unless someone proves to me that concert pianists are a special breed of human beings destined to be good at the piano from birth... I will remain sceptical about natural talent.  
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88keys
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« Reply #17 on: July 12, 2003, 11:51:35 PM »

I certainly won't try to convince you of this, because I myself don't believe it to be true!

Talent or no talent, one has to work hard and from a young age in order to reach his full potential in something. This is especially true for piano playing - that's why concert pianists usually practice over 10 hours every day...

Anothing point to consider is, that "piano playing" is made up of many different skills: from motor skills to a musical ear, there are many things which are important for the piano and each of these skills has its own "natural talents" associated with it. If one's father is clumsy but very musical, and his mother is good with her hands, he might be the only person in the family having a talent for piano.

Actually this is more or less what happened in our family... Not only me, but my sister is also very apt to playing the piano. We got our musical sense from our father, and our finger agility from our mother.

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RiskyP
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« Reply #18 on: July 15, 2003, 09:53:25 PM »

Just to add a little variety, this guy I am about to quote has an opinion somewhere inbetween ours:

"How concert pianists could play the way they did was an absolute mystery to me. Was it just a matter of sufficient effort, time, and talent, as most people seem to think? If the answer were "Yes", it would have been devastating for me because it meant that my talent level was so low that I was a hopeless case because I had put in sufficient effort and time, at least in my youth, practicing up to 8 hours a day on weekends.

The answers came to me gradually in the 1970's when I noticed that our daughters' piano teacher was teaching some surprisingly efficient methods of practice that were quite different from methods taught by the majority of piano teachers. Over a period of more than 10 years, I kept track of these efficient methods and came to the realization that the most important factor for learning to play the piano was the practice methods. Effort, time, and talent were merely secondary factors! In fact, "talent" is difficult to define and impossible to measure; talent might play some role in determining the winner of a Van Cliburn competition; however, for the majority of aspiring musicians "talent" is a nebulous word we use frequently but it has no real, definable meaning. In fact, proper practice methods can make practically anybody into a "talented" musician! I saw this happen all the time at the hundreds of student recitals and piano competitions that I have witnessed. Every student who found the right teacher became a "talented" musician."

--- quoted from Chuan C. Chang's Fundamentals of Piano Practice, 2nd Edition

http://members.aol.com/chang8825/entirebook.htm

--------------------------

This book, most likely because Chang, like me,  is also an advocate of the scientific method, (even when applied to the piano) seems logical. It just makes sense to me for some reason.

I know that a lot of people on this board are actual(!) pianists, whereas I am not even close. That is why I would like to hear what you pianists think about not only this topic, but the rest of Chang's book?!



 
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dj
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« Reply #19 on: July 18, 2003, 05:43:05 PM »

ok guys, im 100% a believer in natural talent and this is y....there are these 2 guys at my church who both play the piano, same age, they've both been playing since they were little kids, both at the same achievement level, and yet when the one plays, people clap modestly and say he plays really well, and when the other plays, people sit dumbstruck at what an incredible sound he can get out of the piano.

it is likely that anyone who practices diligently will probably b able to reach high achievement levels; however, there are those who will be able to hit all the right notes and play all the right dynamics, and so bring in a paycheck every week for the skills they've developed; and there are those whom audiences will fall in love with for the way their hands fly magically over the keys. there is no way to describe this other than natural talent.
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rach on!
RiskyP
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« Reply #20 on: July 18, 2003, 06:14:56 PM »

Maybe he has just realized that variation in playing, be it tempo, dynamics or duration gets the crowd going. Why do you think Horowitz was such a crowd pleaser? He was certainly a master of the above mentioned factors. These are all mechanical factors, manifested by intelligent interpretation.
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ThEmUsIcMaNBJ
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« Reply #21 on: July 18, 2003, 06:30:43 PM »

You assume too much dj.  Just because two different pianists are the same age with the same experience and "acheivement level" doesn't necassarily mean they're the same pianist.  So do you know that both of them practiced EXACTLY the same amount of time whatever it may be 4 hours a day or whatever.  Everyday they both met up at some place with two pianos in two different rooms, they went in at the same time and came out at the same time right?  And then after that neither of them could be seperated they did exactly the same things.  If one played baseball the other did as well.  If one in school studied algebra the other did as well.  Did they have the same teacher?  Did they have the same piano teacher?  Even if somehow they did do all these things which I can't see how that would be just freaky  Shocked  You still can't say that one has more talent than the other.  What do they do in the practice room?  Does one practice playing musically for the 4 hours he practices, and the other only technical things?  It influences how you play, everything influences how you play no matter how small.  
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« Reply #22 on: July 28, 2003, 04:52:51 PM »

One can have an affinity for some composers and therefore be talented.  

I remember playing Beethoven better than I played Chopin at one stage of my life, and then moving on to Mozart.  The ability to play is always there, I have discovered, as I stop and pick up again after a number of years.  

Some pianists play Russian composers particularly well, and I can never come close to them in their depth of feeling and power.  While others display such an agility with Mozart that it cannot be imitated.  There is no question, there is such a thing as talent, but it seems to be pretty specific, though, within piano playing itself.
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ThEmUsIcMaNBJ
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« Reply #23 on: July 28, 2003, 05:13:10 PM »

I don't think I'm going to restate my point again...  Because I think I'm kind of killing it  Grin obviously if anyone had any idea what I was talking about then the posts would be a little different.  Because the composers thing just gets back to my point.  Composers compose differently, different styles obviously, even if they're in the same era.  Some people maybe have practiced one more than the other, or perhaps something is going on in ones life to be able to feel out Rachmaninoff better than Bach...?  

Even with all this babbling about who knows what I'm talking about...  I really do believe in talent to some degree, I just believe it is a possible thing to think talent is just something developed early.  But then again two kids brought up in the same household the same way, with the same friends at relatively the same time can have two completely different personalities.  

The best example would be me and my brother, we're a year a part, we've had the same group of friends since elementary school, he is the very outgoing weird type and I am a lot more reserved learning type(geek  Grin).  

Anyways if two people can have completely different personality's why can't they have different talents?  Anyways now I totally contridicted myself with this post so I think I'm going to stop hehe...  
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« Reply #24 on: July 02, 2012, 06:34:28 PM »

Talent exists. I've played in competitions with kids as young as seven, when I was thirteen and in the grade 8 competitions. Even if you say he's been raised with music, he's still seven. Even if he started at 3, that's only four years, which is much shorter than many kids who work hard and love music.
I didn't start piano until I was seven, and was surrounded by some music before that, but never played and wasn't that interested until then. Now, ten years later, I'm working on my ARCT. For my Grade 10 I practiced only 55 hours over the year it took me to prepare. I'm in my ARCT, and I've had about eight years of lessons, (Had years without lessons) with summers off. It's just talent. It's not from my diligence, it's not in any way something I can be proud of, I didn't have to work for it. I didn't properly practice until Grade 8 piano. Before then I'd just play through books occasionally for practice. I sat down today to learn my ARCT Bach Fugue, and learned half of it fluently hands together in 20 min. My friend, who is four years older than me, was surrounded by music his whole life and started piano and violin lessons very early in his life, and is an incredibly good pianist, he got his ARCT two years ago. But he received a lower mark on his Grade 10 than I did, despite more years of practice, much more practice (almost 10 times the practice for that grade), and and being surrounded by music. There is such a thing as talent. If I didn't have natural talent, I'd be nowhere with piano, because I have absolutely no diligence.
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« Reply #25 on: July 02, 2012, 08:02:12 PM »

First, to define talent: by which I will mean a particular genetic combination, which produces, or would produce, given adequate nutrition and a reasonably non-deprived upbringing, a particular muscular, skeletal, and neural structure.

If we accept that as a usable definition of talent, then there certainly is such a thing.  I can speak much more authoritatively about the world of ballet in this regard.  If an individual does not have a rather narrow range of skeletal, muscular, and neural characteristics, then there is no way -- no way at all -- that even the most dedicated and assiduous training is going to make that individual into a professional dancer.  Which is not to say that everyone with that set of characteristics will become a professional dancer.  It still takes an incredible amount of work and practice and single minded dedication to become a top level dancer -- but if the underlying talent isn't there, it simply isn't going to happen.  Not a chance.

Some of it is purely mental -- but even in the most cerebral of arts -- say, for example, poetry -- there are some folks who have the "wiring", if you will, and some who simply don't.  The latter being in the overwhelming majority.

It is, perhaps, less obvious in the more cerebral pursuits than it is in the more athletic ones -- but it is still there.

In an ideal world, everyone would have an equal chance to develope his or her talents (or intelligence, if you prefer).  But, bluntly, only a knave or a fool would hold that everyone is equal in what talent or intelligence (if you prefer that word) they have -- and that therefore anyone could be a Baryshnikov or Villela or Rubinstein or Donne if only they had the training.
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« Reply #26 on: July 10, 2012, 09:17:54 PM »

Great summary, iansinclair, I agree. My definition is, loosely, talent is that what allows someone to do something without as much work or practice as, say, 95-99% of people (to pick an arbitrary number). Furthermore, with work and practice, to achieve heights that very few can.

One way (not the only way I bet) to tell if someone has talent is if they can't explain how they can do something - it just happens. When I was young, my talent was mathematics - I couldn't explain how quickly I absorbed everything and I certainly couldn't teach mathematics because I could not understand how somebody couldn't grasp what came so easily to me.

Now, with piano I am not talented. If somebody asked me how I could play this or that tricky part, I could only tell them: years of practice of doing similar but easier passages until I could tackle it. Someone with talent could conceivably say of the same passage, "Oh, that, well, I just sat down and worked it out...and viola!"
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« Reply #27 on: July 11, 2012, 01:32:08 PM »

Talent is not born, it is Created.

We are Myelin Beings. Whatever your skill is, you become better the more repetition you do. Your brain fires more electrical signals through your nervous system, making the myelin to wrap around your circuits more thicker evverytime. This allows the electrical signals to travel at a much faster rate. Its like having broadband and 56k modem.

You should read the book "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle.

Talent is just another word for "Persistent Practice in the Right Way, Fuelled with Passion".

Ichky
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« Reply #28 on: July 11, 2012, 02:01:00 PM »

of cause, it is:

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/health/2012/0619/1224318188919.html

I had the pleasure hearing Steven Frucht on musical talent in Dublin recently.

(keep on practice, anyway...)
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« Reply #29 on: July 11, 2012, 06:36:07 PM »

Talent is not born, it is Created.

We are Myelin Beings. Whatever your skill is, you become better the more repetition you do. Your brain fires more electrical signals through your nervous system, making the myelin to wrap around your circuits more thicker evverytime. This allows the electrical signals to travel at a much faster rate. Its like having broadband and 56k modem.

I wish it was that simple... Unfortunately certain aspects of your brain function you cannot make perfect by simple repetion. For example research has shown that many cognitive limitations (like a narrow working memory capasity) can indeed be exercised, but often NOT by drill exercises and only to certain level.

No amount of exercise will completely remove the cap between an individual that was born with a much higher than average cognitive skill and one that was born with a much lower than average cognitive skill. But of course environmental issues will have an impact on the brain functions as well.

There are different cognitive skills and lacking in one does not mean that there's not another skill that can compensate. Also with persistent work one can improve a lot, and by that getting on a higher level if not to the highest.

Since piano playing requires so many conginitive skills at the same time, I'd say talent means being born with a high level on all of them. And added to that a suitable body structure and good hearing. It makes learning faster and easier and so make it possible to get to a level that most of the people never could no matter how much they practiced. The rest of us work with what we have and with hard work get to a decent/good level of playing.
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« Reply #30 on: July 12, 2012, 04:34:34 PM »

Talent is not born, it is Created.

We are Myelin Beings. Whatever your skill is, you become better the more repetition you do. Your brain fires more electrical signals through your nervous system, making the myelin to wrap around your circuits more thicker evverytime. This allows the electrical signals to travel at a much faster rate. Its like having broadband and 56k modem.

You should read the book "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle.

Talent is just another word for "Persistent Practice in the Right Way, Fuelled with Passion".

Ichky

I, too, wish it were that simple.  And there are a large number of folks out there, particularly in the educatonial fraternity, who believe that. 

It just plain isn't so.  I could cite examples of the necessity of talent -- in addition to the persistent practive, fueled by passion to which you refer -- in almost any field of art or craft -- indeed virtually any human activity -- you care to mention.

The worst of it is that to imply -- or flat out state -- to someone who does not have the necessary talent for a particular field (I'll take one exampe, from ballet: to tell a young man with legs by Steinway and the torso of an Olympic weight lifter that he could be a Ballanchine leading dancer) that he or she could excel in that field is just   plain   cruel   to the individual.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Cruel.  The passion and dedication may be there, but when the inevitable happens and reality comes crashing in, the psychological damage is profound.

At the risk of sounding harsh: the initial perpetrator of this fraud and cruelty on individuals may go on and on in their rosy glow of anyone can do anything, but the wake of wreckage they leave behind them is tragic.

Indeed, one of the marks of a truly great teacher is the ability to discern when the talent is -- or is not -- there, and guide the student appropriately.
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« Reply #31 on: July 13, 2012, 03:53:21 AM »

It just plain isn't so.

I don't think anyone proposes (who knows though) that any "no-talent" person can reach the pinnacle of their chosen field.

Natural ability obviously exists, but I don't believe that students who don't show it are incapable of becoming at least reasonably proficient given the right guidance.
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« Reply #32 on: July 13, 2012, 04:14:36 AM »

Natural ability obviously exists, but I don't believe that students who don't show it are incapable of becoming at least reasonably proficient given the right guidance.

I generally find the harder I work at and practice something (anything, not just piano) the more "natural talent" it turns out I've got.

Innate ability may be the difference between a Salieri and a Mozart, but until you're a Salieri you won't know which you are.
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« Reply #33 on: July 13, 2012, 04:19:09 AM »

I generally find the harder I work at and practice something (anything, not just piano) the more "natural talent" it turns out I've got.

Agree.

People still give me this "your so talented" rubbish because I can play multiple instruments. I've long given up saying "no, I just don't watch as much TV as you, and never have done."
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« Reply #34 on: July 13, 2012, 04:26:13 AM »

Agree.

People still give me this "your so talented" rubbish because I can play multiple instruments. I've long given up saying "no, I just don't watch as much TV as you, and never have done."

Or the even worse "you're so lucky to be able to do that, I'd do anything to be able to play that". They mean "apart from actually practice anything".
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« Reply #35 on: July 13, 2012, 04:38:52 AM »

Or the even worse "you're so lucky to be able to do that, I'd do anything to be able to play that". They mean "apart from actually practice anything".

I've always had a soft spot for "I'd give anything" - yeh? I'll take 10 years of your life in return for half of my skill base.
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« Reply #36 on: July 13, 2012, 04:43:44 AM »

I've always had a soft spot for "I'd give anything" - yeh? I'll take 10 years of your life in return for half of my skill base.

Be careful, you might get the troubled teens.  Grin
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« Reply #37 on: July 13, 2012, 10:36:05 AM »

I remember a Russian psychologist who believed talent was created, he was able to make his daughters grandmasters in chess. Likewise a socalled innate talent like perfect pitch can be taught to children if started young enough.
One wonders how much of our capacities are wasted coz children are kept stupid....so much potential destroyed coz they're not only taught far below their capacity but generally also taught by low paid teachers who in most cases have an IQ that's only slightly above that of a child, or as I remember it, oftentimes BELOW the IQ of a child.
Also I think the consumerist society plays a large part in the dumbing down of children, it's no longer about developing skills but all about buying stuff. Watch tv, eat yourself grossly overweight and have the attention span of a fly seems to be the credo
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« Reply #38 on: July 13, 2012, 11:05:43 AM »

I could give a lecture about validity of many IQ tests. Instead I will just point out, that there is still no way to accurately measure "genetic" intelligence. An individual is affected by environment before and after birth and before they reach an age when they can take an IQ test, the environment has had an enourmous impact on their abilities. IQ tests are also often critized for their cultural elements and their inability to remove the effect of disabilities that do not actually affect intelligence, only the ability to succeed in the test. IQ tests can measure certain cognitive skills though.

But anyway, I would simplify the whole issue:
Talent+practice+suitable environment can produce an exceptionally high skill level in an individual
Talent alone is not enough in complex skills, less talent+a lot of practice can produce a higher skill level than talent+very little practice.

What we see when an individual performs is not talent, we see the skills he/she has acquired. But without special talent it's usually not possible to get to the highest skill level.
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« Reply #39 on: July 13, 2012, 11:59:25 AM »

Like I would have tested my IQ and theirs to come to that conclusion. The point being of course that teachers aren't valued very highly, aren't paid very much and generally don't attract the best and the brightest(meaning intelligent, not referring to the amount of light they radiate btw)
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« Reply #40 on: July 13, 2012, 12:09:27 PM »

Sorry, it was not my meaning to pick on what you wrote, just to point out how difficult in general it would be to even differentiate what one is born with and what is developed (as in your example of the Russian guy).
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« Reply #41 on: July 13, 2012, 07:13:13 PM »

I generally find the harder I work at and practice something (anything, not just piano) the more "natural talent" it turns out I've got.

Innate ability may be the difference between a Salieri and a Mozart, but until you're a Salieri you won't know which you are.

Quite so.  I agree -- no surprise -- with this and with aj's comment just above this one.

I guess the reason I hauled out my soapbox is a kind of knee-jerk reaction I have to the "anyone can be taught to do anything" school of education (usually followed with "if ony the student works hard, and you throw enough money at the project"). 

Oddly, I have much more experience with the pedagogy of ballet students than musicians, where it is perhaps more obvious (to give you the odds: I was associated for about 20 years with one of the top ballet schools in the United States; it "graduated" about 20 students per year, after a 12 year curriculum -- that is, about (about 20 students per year survived anywhere from 10 to 12 years of six days per week/three to six hours per day class and instruction, out of a starting perhaps 100 students per year).  That's 400 dancers.  Generally really good ones.  Of that 400, four -- exactly four -- managed to make a professional career of it, and one, only one, managed to get to the soloist level in a company of national standing.  One of the hardest jobs of our ballet master and mistress was to counsel those other 1,996 dancers through the years on what their chances were, and where to go from here.  And how to manage that starry dream and drive which they all had (they wouldn't have been there, else) and turn it to an equally starry dream and drive in something for which ...

they had more talent.

Can you tell if you are Mozart or Salieri until you get to Salieri, as j_menz said?  Probably not, realistically.  Can you tell if you are Joe the piano man or Salieri at a less dismaying stage?  Perhaps one can't, one's self -- but I still say a self-repecting teacher ought to be able to.
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« Reply #42 on: July 13, 2012, 09:08:27 PM »

Talent is not born, it is Created.

We are Myelin Beings. Whatever your skill is, you become better the more repetition you do. Your brain fires more electrical signals through your nervous system, making the myelin to wrap around your circuits more thicker evverytime. This allows the electrical signals to travel at a much faster rate. Its like having broadband and 56k modem.

You should read the book "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle.

Talent is just another word for "Persistent Practice in the Right Way, Fuelled with Passion".

Ichky


It is ridiculous.
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« Reply #43 on: July 16, 2012, 01:30:57 AM »

Can you tell if you are Mozart or Salieri until you get to Salieri, as j_menz said?  Probably not, realistically.  Can you tell if you are Joe the piano man or Salieri at a less dismaying stage?  Perhaps one can't, one's self -- but I still say a self-repecting teacher ought to be able to.

True, but one needs to be a little careful about even expert opinions. Two examples:

First review of Katherine Hepburn acting (by Dorothy Parker, incidentally):

"Miss Hepburn ran the gamut of emotions from A to B."

And the first audition review of Fred Astaire:

"Balding, can't sing, can dance a little"

Sometimes people, even experts, do miss potential.
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« Reply #44 on: July 18, 2012, 08:14:23 PM »

I'm sorry I don't have anything to really provide in the discussion, but I do have a suggestion in terms of direction of the discussion:  there are way too many problems in this thread, as follows...

1) Way too much anecdotal 'evidence.'  Having an n=1 is about as absolute as saying, 'Because I saw a ghost, it must be true that they exist.'  BTW, we are the WORST judges of our very own selves.  Type in 'cognitive biases' in Google if you don't believe me.
 
2) Way too many assumptions like efficacy of practice is measured by time alone (are you serious?) and piano ability/musicality is equated by a 'piano level' (really?).

3) Way too much ambiguity on definitions.  The word 'talent' is not being defined by everyone who is using the term, and so everyone who is not defining the term is using their own personal definition-- it's not exactly the same concept everyone else is using.

I give props to the OP for writing well and making clear definitions (and also to several of the users who replied), but the vast majority of replies are subject to the above fallacies.

My suggestion:  don't bother replying unless you address all 3 items.  
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« Reply #45 on: July 19, 2012, 01:56:17 AM »

Excellent points, akthe47.  And your overall comment is also very well taken.

Unfortunately, talent -- which is really in some ways part of the nature/nurture debate -- is likely to raise temperatures...

As a working definition, I still like mine: a particular combination of genetic characteristics (nature) which produce a particular combination of physical, mental, and neural characteristics in the individual which can be identified as being appropriate (or, in some cases, necessary) for a particular discipline; in this case, piano.

As to n = 1, you are surely correct also -- and I cannot speak to the issue with regard to piano playing.  I can, however, speak more generally: in at least one field, classical ballet, I have had the opportunity to observe over a thousand aspiring dancers over the years, and I have formed the opinion, from that observation, that without talent for ballet, as defined above, there is absolutely no hope.  With talent, as defined above, there is hope -- but only if the dancer is willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears over the years to develope that talent (nurture).

And this relates to your secod point: time alone is certainly not the only factor in achieving a certain "level"; effective teaching and learning are also required.  This is much harder to quantify -- but I can point to some teachers who have been uncommonly effective in combination with some dancers, although I cannot tell you why.
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« Reply #46 on: August 06, 2012, 08:17:56 PM »

I haven't read all of the posts, so forgive me for not being completely up on all of the info here. 

Throughout my years of teaching I would definitely say that people, for sure have an inate aptitude for music to varying degrees.  I think it boils down to these things:

1.  Interest
2.  Parental Support
3.  Work Ethic (<-- practicing is an artform as well)
4.  Raw ability
5.  The teacher

...not necessarily in that order.


I've seen kids who aren't interested at all and usually, they are generally pretty lousy.  I've seen kids with moderate interest who are amazing.. And I've seen kids who practice for hours a day that are just ok.

So, what is talent?  I think it's a combination of things.. but I definitely believe that certain people have more ability to excel than others, regardless of anything else.  A student who has limited technical ability is always going to be eclipsed by kids who just seem to hit the right notes all the time.  Some people just can't seem to get it, no matter how much practice they put into a piece.  And a student who is purely musical, but hits the wrong notes all the time will fail as well.. because they are not able to express their ideas clearly to their audience. (Haha, that's probably going to tick somebody off for sure)  It's a vicious circle!

Anyway, that's what I think.  If you want to put a name to these things and label them as "talent".. then yes, I believe in talent.
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« Reply #47 on: August 08, 2012, 04:19:27 AM »

Some people just can't seem to get it, no matter how much practice they put into a piece.  And a student who is purely musical, but hits the wrong notes all the time will fail as well..

This was interesting, since this is how I feel most of the time. If I just mess around with the keys I can make beautiful sound and sound musical, but as soon as I have to play something previously notated my playing becomes dull, mechanical and ugly. Because I can only concentrate on the notes. No matter how long I have practiced a piece or even a small section, as soon as I try to relax and just play I start hitting the wrong notes or use the wrong finger. My fingers just do it before I have time to stop them, it's like the wrong notes are lurking in my brain and as soon as they get a chance they come out Smiley

I have noticed that some of it comes from bad fingerings and changing them helps. But I still think there's is something in my brain, like it does not have a good enough image of what my hands are doing and certain fingers get mixed up very easily. I was a clumsy child and still am sometimes especially when I am tired or not concentrating. But of course I haven't played long enough to be sure if more practice will make a difference in the long run...

Have you found as a teacher any ways to help these students?
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« Reply #48 on: August 08, 2012, 05:20:06 AM »

But of course I haven't played long enough to be sure if more practice will make a difference in the long run...

Have you found as a teacher any ways to help these students?

Definitely give yourself time.  If you haven't been playing that long, then it will take time.. years perhaps.. playing piano is one of the most challenging activities on the planet.

As far as techniques to help.. of course! There are many ways to help with accuracy and consistency.  As a teacher, you have to try different approaches with different types of students. Everyone is different, and no two students respond the same way to a given paradigm.

I will tell you.. practicing correctly is an art! And it can make or break you! There is a ton of great literature on how to break down a practice session.  I would recommend searching the web and probably this forum as I'm sure there are many great suggestions.  It's not always a question of more practice... it's how you practice.  So, if you find that you are constantly running into problems with wrong notes, re-evaluate how you are approaching your practicing rather than simply just adding another 30 minutes to your session (for example).

Best of luck to you and I hope this helps answer your questions.  Smiley

P.S. and don't stop messing around with the keys! That's where the best music always comes from.
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« Reply #49 on: August 08, 2012, 06:29:40 AM »

... playing piano is one of the most challenging activities on the planet.
Yes, I have figured that out Smiley

I will tell you.. practicing correctly is an art! And it can make or break you!

So true! I tend to have good practice session where I really make progress and then those that are useless, depending on my mood. If I could just make myself practice well every time, but unfortunately I don’t always have enough control on my mind. After a year I have learned a lot about how my mind works and what is efficient and what is not. That’s a benefit of being old(er), you (should) know enough about yourself to create plans that work.


P.S. and don't stop messing around with the keys! That's where the best music always comes from.
I won’t, but I have this silly idea of some day being able to play some of the pieces that I feel are the greatest perfection of composition Smiley
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