Thursday, November 7, 2013

Persistence--The Most Important Aspect of Talent

Several years ago, I had a violin student I'll call Robin. She seemed like a hopeless case. Although she'd been studying for a year, her technique, sound, and note-reading were some of the worst I'd ever seen. From my point of view she was in a far worse position than a typical beginner, since it's far easier to teach a student correctly the first time than to fix bad habits they've been practicing for a year. I saw no other option than to insist that Robin re-learn everything, even going so far as to start from the beginning of her book again. And teaching her felt slow and painful for both of us--it took her a long time to fix her technique and develop basic skills like reading music. Inwardly, I thought she'd probably quit music before she managed to develop a beautiful tone or play through even easy pieces.

But when I felt myself giving up on her, I felt completely ashamed. She tried her best at every lesson, and it was unacceptable for me to give her anything less than my best. So together we worked. And worked. And worked. I went over technique, note-reading, and every piece she played as many times as she needed to really absorb the lessons. Robin practiced regularly. After a year of struggle, it finally felt as though we hit on a good way for her to learn music (listen to the CD, sing the notes, pizzicato first, then try it with the bow--every time she practices a new piece). Last week, when she came to her lesson, she played through a brand new piece as beautifully as I could have hoped. She had good intonation, a beautiful tone, played everything by memory. Not only has she overcome her early difficulties, she's developing into a fine young violinist.

My experience teaching Robin reminded me that the single most important part of talent is persistence. Had either of us given up, Robin might have become convinced that she had no musical talent, that violin wasn't for her. But we didn't give up, and that persistence pays off. Sometimes people get off to a slow start. Violin is a difficult instrument, and there's an enormous amount to learn about music. Yet even students who struggle at first can eventually learn to play beautifully, if they practice regularly and effectively.

Even skills that we once thought were inborn, like "perfect" (or absolute) pitch, new research shows can be learned, especially if the musical training begins early. In short, it's time that we stop over-emphasizing inborn talent, and start encouraging hard work. I have know many "talented" people who burned out at an early age, or gave up, or never amounted to anything. But every successful person I know, whether in music or any other field, works hard to develop their abilities and never gives up.

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