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Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more? (Read 15253 times)

Offline maxkarlstedt

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Hi! First off, NO, this is NOT a question about "race", this is a question about the truth and maybe putting a myth down to rest, that, "Asians are better at everythinig artistically than most Caucasians".

I just recently came across this 13 year old Asian:


His piano skills are very very much better than mine, although I only casually played piano for 10 years and just a few months ago started to really practice seriously to get better with my left hand and both combined.

And I see lots of young Asian kids play piano superbly, and it begs the question, as many people joke about: are Asians genetically better at piano (have a talent for it) or do they just practice more?

Of course, no parent probably wouldn't want to show off an Asian kid who actually sucks at the piano (so the data might be skewed), but you see lots of Caucasian people who are ok at piano while you rarely see Asian people who are just "ok" at piano.

It would be interesting to hear from teachers who have had lots of students or students who are Asians, so this myth (or truth?) can be put to rest once and for all.

I just want to know so I know whether I should feel jealous next time I see an amazingly good Asian kid or feel admiration for the dedicated work and effort and time he or she has put into it.

Thanks in advance! / Max.

Offline adodd81802

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #1 on: February 26, 2016, 12:58:51 PM »
I dont have huge knowledge on this but two thoughts.

The most famous Asian pianist at the moment is who.. Lang Lang? And while I have no doubt of his piano ability, I think many would not put him up there with the "top" pianists. Could you provide some examples of Piano greats from Asian countries that could rival top caucassion pianists, and not just random child prodigies that we never hear of after adulthood.

Even Lang Lang told a story of when he applied for a music school and got turned down his father threatened to kill himself. I wonder if maybe other countries just don't show that level of dedication.

Second, Am I right in think that China has a bigger population than USA, Indonesia, Pakistan and Brazil combined and they're the next 5 highest populated countries (not counting India) and so regardless of genetics I would believe that if every country studied piano at the same rate it would only be logical that more pianists would come from Asia specifically China.
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Offline mjames

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #2 on: February 26, 2016, 02:14:10 PM »
@Dong Thai Son, is an incredible interpreter of Chopin's music
Seong Jin the dude who just won the Chopin' competition, is also absolutely amazing.
Yeol Eum Son, overall great pianist. Very adventurous.
Yuja Wang, although I generally dislike her interpretations I consider her to be one of the best living interpreter of Prokofiev's concertos.  

OP:

This goes along the lines of "Asians are great at everything" stereotypes and there might be some truth to it. Far east asian populations (Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese etc) do have a higher average in IQ compared to most European groups, and African, and south american...

The rate of absolute pitch/perfect pitch is higher among Asians than it is among Europeans. I forgot the exact details, but one of the primary reasons for this is that their languages highly depend on variations of tones/pitches which isn't the same for most European languages ( i believe Scandinavian languages are the exception, don't remember.)

Thirdly, it also comes down to culture. I know it seems weird enough but western classical music is a much bigger and more lucrative market in far east asia than it is anywhere else (including Europe) in the world. There are over 30 million piano students in China alone, more than Sweden's or Norways TOTAL population alone xD.

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20131022-piano-mania-grips-china

This article breaks it down for you.

But yeah, I don't believe that Asians are at a genetic advantage when it comes to classical piano. It's just that their culture encourages it a lot more than our culture does. Similarly, it's like saying people of African descent are naturally better at jazz because it was a genre pioneered and dominated by them. The cultural atmosphere of pre-civil rights America is what drew so many musicians to jazz (even classical aficionados gave up on classical because of racial discrimination...read about charles mingus if you want an example.)

Offline brogers70

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #3 on: February 26, 2016, 02:37:02 PM »
There's a whole literature on the genetic basis of musical abilities, so you don't have to guess based on individual anecdotes or stereotypes. Here's one paper which links to lots of others in the field.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4073543/

Offline quantum

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #4 on: February 26, 2016, 04:49:54 PM »
IMO work ethic and the surrounding cultural environment play a large part.  Some of my past Asian students with average ability came from a home environment that was not optimum for them to really excel at the piano.  Parents were just happy for their kids to be in lesson 1/2 hr a week and tickle the keys for few smiles, nothing more.

Would be interesting to see studies done with non-Asian piano students living and studying in Asian countries. 
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Offline visitor

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #5 on: February 26, 2016, 05:36:35 PM »
couple quick points to add.
numbers.  Countries of the pacific rim are some of the most populous on the planet/high population densities. So even w/ a common genetic marker incidence rate, ie said trait expected to appear x percent of the time, then the math swings things in their favor, so let's say some combination of genetic traits that sets someone up for piano success happens at .015 percent of the time. Then in a much larger population, you will see more total individuals with said traits. generally it's probably safe to say, given the importance those cultures place on excelling at the instrument, your pool of observable individuals is much larger. there's just more Asian pianists.



expression of the traits is high driven by environment. nature loads the gun, people pull the trigger, societal and cultural influences likely helps to increase the phenotypic expression of these traits.

highly filtered view - as a piano enthusiast,  you will likely see this much more pronounced since you are artificially selecting for excellence at the instrument in your observation by observing competitions, concerts, etc, this is known as a selection bias and it's difficult/impossible to make truly objective observations since you have not controlled for bias or randomness.

cultural drive be disciplined and bring honor to the family and country also tend to help individuals push themselves. couple this w the above, and "grade A creme rises to the top."

we see similar things in the Olympics, countries with larger pools of athletes and if they are first world to support elite level training will usually produce more medalists. especially with the importance certain countries place on certain events.  are USA, Russians and Chinese just better at gymnastics or does a combination of the above happen to come together to help more individuals from those countries be selected for and train for their entire lives to reach those podium stages...

Offline briansaddleback

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #6 on: February 26, 2016, 11:30:49 PM »
Yes I have the piano gene. Ignorant question.

I wish the answer was yes, so I can be good. I have to practice hard to be mediocre.
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Offline rubinsteinmad

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #7 on: February 28, 2016, 03:56:01 AM »
I'm part Asian, but I'm terrible.

Offline briansaddleback

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #8 on: February 28, 2016, 04:39:35 AM »
I'm part Asian, but I'm terrible.
Be quiet. You're not terrible I'm sure you play very well or else you wouldn't be so vocal on this forum.
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Offline jimroof

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #9 on: February 28, 2016, 04:56:08 AM »
I think it is work ethic. 

When I was in school there were about 3 Asian piano performance majors.  All three were very very technically proficient, the kind of thing that comes from WORK and a lot of it.  None of them were particular standouts musically, however.

I have had Asian piano students and they can be a touch lot to teach because, despite my personal penchant for taking risks musically, I could never get any of my Asian students to do anything other that aim for perfection and not RISK being imperfect in order to be a better performer.  In fact, I had one 12 year old kid who would not do anything if he could not do it.  Ie., he would not sight read for me because he knew there would be mistakes.  If I asked him what a marking or a notation meant, either he knew it and told me immediately or he was totally mute on the subject and would NEVER venture a guess, even if I hinted at it.

Also, consider the Asian businesses that work very hard to succeed.  I think the trait is cultural more than anything else.
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Offline thalbergmad

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #10 on: February 28, 2016, 03:38:08 PM »
I think it is work ethic.  .

I have little doubt this plays a large part, along with parental discipline from an early age.

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Offline ahinton

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #11 on: February 28, 2016, 04:46:44 PM »
I have little doubt this plays a large part, along with parental discipline from an early age.
I am inclined to agree but, in so doing, I cannot help but wonder what might result elsewhere if people from other backgrounds had something similar.

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Alistair
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Offline mjames

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #12 on: February 28, 2016, 05:12:26 PM »
I am inclined to agree but, in so doing, I cannot help but wonder what might result elsewhere if people from other backgrounds had something similar.

Best,

Alistair


The world would be a lot less chaotic, and stupid. Just imagine if US southerners employed a similar attitude towards education; there'd be a lot less deniers of climate change and evolution. A more positive attitude towards classical piano would be a plus! ;)

Offline amytsuda

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #13 on: February 28, 2016, 05:33:49 PM »
It's due to our languages, but not tones, but visual parts. (e.g. Japanese is not a tone language) In growing up in Asia, we literally have to learn 1,000s of Chinese characters and develop an ability to recognize patterns, skim read and replicate them in writing. From very early age at age 5 and 6, we start getting those workbooks where we have to repeat writing each character 100 times to memorize them. That's 100 times 1,000s characters. And since it's not phonetic, we have to memorize how to pronounce each on top of the shape. Work ethic is needed, and repetition and memorization of details are part of early education, in order to keep population literate. I have nieces and nephews who are American growing up in the US, Japanese growing up in the US, Japanese growing up in Japan. I observe the patience of kids to learn how to read the musical scores is significantly higher among Japanese in Japan. Often Asian parents who immigrate into other countries still keep this educational work ethic in the household. But as the generations evolve into 3rd, 4th, 5th, they seem to lose it and probably kids won't have patience for piano as much. Of course, this is an analysis of small samples.

Offline mjames

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #14 on: February 28, 2016, 05:58:18 PM »
I'm so sorry for my mistake. I usually lump in Chinese and Japanese together. Excuse my ignorance  :-X

But I was referring to this:

Quote
Absolute pitch is more common among speakers of tonal languages such as most dialects of Chinese or Vietnamese, which often depend on pitch variation as the means of distinguishing words that otherwise sound the same; e.g. Mandarin with four possible pitch variations, Cantonese with six, Southern Min with seven or eight (depending on dialect), and Vietnamese with six

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_pitch#Linguistics

Which also seems to go in line with your comment (language affecting work ethic). Pretty cool. :D

Offline amytsuda

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #15 on: February 28, 2016, 07:24:17 PM »
Indeed, the pitch may explain the difference of successes between Chinese piano students and Japanese ones  ::) Pitch recognition + educational ethic on repeat and memorization make Chinese kids perfect for piano  ;D  In addition, northern Chinese (e.g. Beijing) are a lot taller, which allow them to have bigger hands (compared with other Asians). And a huge population of students. It sounds like a matter of time for them to take over the classical piano world.

Offline maxkarlstedt

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #16 on: March 03, 2016, 06:11:59 PM »
Thank you very much for all replies!

So, based on what I have read, we can mostly conclude that like most things here in life, you have to work hard, smart and consistently to get results from it?

It also seems to me that there is a difference between playing technically(mechanically?) and playing with musicality?

Thanks once again for all replies! =)

Offline thalbergmad

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #17 on: March 03, 2016, 06:28:31 PM »

It also seems to me that there is a difference between playing technically(mechanically?) and playing with musicality?


A monumental difference and true greatness belongs to those that can do both. However, many pianists can only acheive one or the other, albeit the norm nowadays seems to be heading towards ever greater accuracy and ever decreasing musicality and the ability to take tasteful liberties.

Hamelin for instance has an incredible mechanical facility but is as exciting as painting the Forth Bridge.

Thal
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Offline visitor

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #18 on: March 03, 2016, 06:33:42 PM »
A monumental difference and true greatness belongs to those that can do both. However, many pianists can only acheive one or the other, albeit the norm nowadays seems to be heading towards ever greater accuracy and ever decreasing musicality and the ability to take tasteful liberties.

Hamelin for instance has an incredible mechanical facility but is as exciting as painting the Forth Bridge.

Thal
+1.

goes to take a nap while awaiting for a reincarnation of Earl Wild....

Offline thalbergmad

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #19 on: March 03, 2016, 09:17:21 PM »
Now there was a man who could do both.

Thal
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Offline ahinton

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #20 on: March 04, 2016, 07:13:03 AM »
A monumental difference and true greatness belongs to those that can do both. However, many pianists can only acheive one or the other, albeit the norm nowadays seems to be heading towards ever greater accuracy and ever decreasing musicality and the ability to take tasteful liberties.

Hamelin for instance has an incredible mechanical facility but is as exciting as painting the Forth Bridge.
Although a Scot, I have never painted the Forth Bridge or indeed any part of it, so I will have to defer to you on the excitement value of doing so; that said, we will have to agree to disagree about Hamelin at his best.

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Alistair
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Offline ahinton

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #21 on: March 04, 2016, 07:13:50 AM »
Now there was a man who could do both.
There indeed was a man who could - and did - perform miracles!

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Alistair
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Offline indianajo

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #22 on: March 04, 2016, 08:09:12 AM »
Did anybody else read the ncbi paper?
There appears to be evidence that apart from the tone based language, untrained asians have a higher incidence of perfect pitch and relative pitch.  That is untrained asians from non- tone based language areas are still better at those skills .
I'd say in piano, the emphasis of western education pedagogy post 1960 on making the student feel accepted, has ruined the patience of western students for intense work in learning any skill.  
However-
As a young student i was given art lessons and was miserable at it, no flair at all.
As a young student I was given swimming lessons and was horrible. I had too little fat to float with my head above water.  
As a young student I was given piano lessons and was pretty good at it.  Due to the boredom of the 3 channels of television available in those days, I practiced an hour a day for eight years.  BUT-
my passion for music to listen to comes from the Native American side of the family - and that is Asian- Siberian in fact. My native looking grandfather was the one to buy the radio in the twenties, and a horrid piano in the thirties.  It is weird, that side of the family was church of Christ, which was against musical instruments in church,  they practiced unaccompanied singing only.  Yet he bought a radio.  My short brown Mother had a passion for listening to the radio, discovered Beethoven symphonies through NBC short programs in WWII,  bought a good piano in 1947 and took 2 years of lessons, and taught me piano the first 18 months.  
The tall ruddy German looking grandfather would rather listen to talk shows on the radio than music.
So maybe the researchers have a point about Asian abilities.   There weren't any memory of native flute or string players in the native Appalachian side of the family, but they had been dirt poor as long as anybody could remember before my grandfather made a decent living as a coal miner.  The natives living in temporary bark huts in the rain of Appalachia, before the coal companies built roofed houses,  instruments would have rotted. (Historians document the bark huts, no family tradition was passed down of what happened before 1900 except the native language spoken)  But who know what the natives sang? All that culture was forgotten once the natives were indoors in company houses and could buy things at the company store.  Very likely musical skill was genetically determined in my background, with the natives passionate about music and the Europeans not particularly. My strawberry blonde grandfather did play the banjo a little, but he wasn't passionate about it and didn't practice much.  He owned a half dozen records for his record player, and spent his money more on fashionable furniture.      


Offline rubinsteinmad

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #23 on: March 06, 2016, 02:18:38 AM »
+1.

goes to take a nap while awaiting for a reincarnation of Earl Wild....

I wonder if he got reincarnated as a butterfly

Offline nanabush

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #24 on: March 15, 2016, 08:56:12 AM »
I had a few Chinese friends in high school who were around the same level in piano as me; I was fortunate that my parents paid for lessons and drove me to them each week, but a few of these kids' parents (we were like 15-16) sat in on all of the lessons of their kids, took their own notes, and would sit and read the paper next to their child while they practiced at home.  Out of the 4-5 of us, I think only one didn't really 'like' playing piano, but the others who did ALSO had maaad commitment from their parents, so the parents could help them practice too.  My parents kind of let me 'roam free' when I practiced at home... so when I got to University I had a few bad technique habits I had to overcome.

All of the Asian pianists at my University had INSANE technique.  Very disciplined practice, no sense of jealousy towards people playing 'harder' music, or anything like that.  Very focused, humble, and could play the HELL out of their repertoire.

I really don't think it has to do what race you are born as... but I really think there is more commitment to success of children in Asian parents.  I'm not going to lie, there were three Canadian born caucasian first year pianists at my University, and we were CLEARLY at a lower level than the 4th student in our year, who was Chinese.  We all got along super well, all played rep of the same level, but she always just seemed way more prepared in studio classes, no matter what the rest of us did in the hours and hours we practiced.
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Offline pianoplunker

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #25 on: March 15, 2016, 11:40:54 AM »
Hi! First off, NO, this is NOT a question about "race", this is a question about the truth and maybe putting a myth down to rest, that, "Asians are better at everythinig artistically than most Caucasians".

First off, YES, your post is about race and your profiled assumption about race where ever you may have learned it. That is the truth.  But since you dont seem to be filled with the notion of hating someone because of race I will add that Asians, Africans, and Texans are not better than the music they are trying to learn - which more often than not includes "Caucasian" influences.

Offline trollbuster

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #26 on: March 15, 2016, 11:58:14 AM »
Asians are superior in every way we are born playing grade 8 pieces.  so just stop playing the piano you will never be better than Asians    dumbass

Offline ahinton

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #27 on: March 15, 2016, 01:37:53 PM »
Asians are superior in every way we are born playing grade 8 pieces.  so just stop playing the piano you will never be better than Asians    dumbass
It would seem that they're not all superior in reading text at the default point size here (should have gone to Specsavers, anyone?)...

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Offline indianajo

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #28 on: March 15, 2016, 03:56:21 PM »
Asians are superior in every way we are born playing grade 8 pieces.  so just stop playing the piano you will never be better than Asians    *******
There aren't any Asians playing piano for free to the homeless in my county.  There are plenty of opportunities for us half-competent half native Americans.  
I replace an imported computer and sound equipment in warm weather at a church out in the country. They use the imports when they can't get anything better.    

Offline andrewcorrea

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #29 on: March 15, 2016, 08:31:24 PM »
I'm really enjoying to read all those good comments from our fellow pianists in this post.
I'm no asian, but I can speak from a country that is in a economic emergent situation as China and Korea, which is not applicable for Japan (Just to be clear): In those places, things have been changing for the past few years. Generations from the 80's and 90's are having much more oportunities than in the 50's to 70's. And this means that in our passage from childhood to adouthood, the increase of chances were right in front of our parents eyes and chances that they cound't live or fullfill by their own. This was what happend to Lang Lang as na example, which I respect very much as a person and a great pianista, dispite his faceexpressions! His father wanted to be a musician too! Watch Lang Lang's documentary in Youtube! It's great!

 Anyhow, I think that it isn't a matter of race or genetics, but yes a Strong motivation from the person and his parentes, and in a LOT of times the need of subsisntance and working with something that will bring you joy, eventually. After that all said, I still believe that just the most tallented and even the most Lucky individuals can become world well known pianists, but if all those kids are going to be famous or not, it's not Worth of discussion. Thousands of gifted and hard workers students don't become famous, in all countries. 

My very best regards,
 Andrew

Offline keniisaka

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #30 on: April 15, 2016, 11:04:11 PM »
Just a number thing. 50 million Chinese kids taking piano lessons today vs how many Americans and Europeans?

Doesn't mean Chinese are better at piano. Most of them suck, just as most American and European kids such at playing the piano. But there are more Chinese kids practicing Chopin than the rest of the world combined.

Offline swagmaster420x

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Re: Are asians genetically better at piano or do they just practice more?
«Reply #31 on: April 16, 2016, 05:43:33 AM »
It's due to our languages, but not tones, but visual parts. (e.g. Japanese is not a tone language) In growing up in Asia, we literally have to learn 1,000s of Chinese characters and develop an ability to recognize patterns, skim read and replicate them in writing. From very early age at age 5 and 6, we start getting those workbooks where we have to repeat writing each character 100 times to memorize them. That's 100 times 1,000s characters. And since it's not phonetic, we have to memorize how to pronounce each on top of the shape. Work ethic is needed, and repetition and memorization of details are part of early education, in order to keep population literate. I have nieces and nephews who are American growing up in the US, Japanese growing up in the US, Japanese growing up in Japan. I observe the patience of kids to learn how to read the musical scores is significantly higher among Japanese in Japan. Often Asian parents who immigrate into other countries still keep this educational work ethic in the household. But as the generations evolve into 3rd, 4th, 5th, they seem to lose it and probably kids won't have patience for piano as much. Of course, this is an analysis of small samples.

very very interesting perspective!

Also I think peopel should pay attention to indianajo's comment; i think the science article did mention some kind of genetic predisposition for absolute pitch in ASians.

So that sort of supports talent, or maybe the forms it takes (not necessarily absolute pitch) being related to one's ethnicity (genetically)

Although this kind of discussion will never fly because it makes people feel bad and really there's no point to facing certain realities :)  ;D ;D  :-X :-X :-X :-\ :-\