• Jay EuDaly

Is There "Innate" Talent?

Yes...and everybody has it. So no...there is no such thing as innate talent.

What a few people have, and most others don't, is the drive or motivation to do the work that it takes to get really good. If you do the work, the result will happen - guaranteed. It's cause-and-effect. It's mechanical. It's programming.


A high level of guitar playing is the result of hard work, not "talent."


Very few are willing to do the work it takes to get to a high level. Among those who aren't willing, there are those who use "lack of talent" as an excuse or rationalization for avoiding the work.


In my opinion, the drive to do the work is usually rooted in neurosis. It's some kind of compensating mechanism - compensating for a psychological/emotional deficit or pathology of some kind. It can be thought of as an addiction. At the very least, there is a fairly extreme OCD component. I would draw your attention to the "D" of that acronym - "DISORDER!"


Think about it: what ground-breaking, revolutionary, creative, "talented" musician - the kind that causes a quantum leap in music &/or the instrument - do you know of that stayed happily married to the same woman his whole life, never got addicted to drugs, alchohol or random sex, successfully raised a large family, died at a ripe old age of natural causes surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and didn't leave a trail of human debris in his wake?


Maybe there are some but I can't think of any right now. "Talented" musicians are generally not that well-adjusted.


Keep in mind I am talking about a "high level" of playing. Anybody who's exceptional at anything is good at it because they've done it a lot. In other words; Practice. Repetition. Exercise. Grunt-work. No one springs forth from the womb fully-formed.


When you're in the audience and you say, "Wow! That guy is incredibly talented!" what you're seeing is not the result of "talent" - it's the result of repetition. You haven't seen the hours a day for years that that "incredibly talented" musician has put in to get to the point where the crowd perceives him as "incredibly talented."


Most really good musicians I know are actually somewhat offended when people ascribe something as vague as "talent" for the source of their abilities. It ignores and disrespects the incredibly hard work and practice they've had to do to get to where they are.


On the other hand, some musicians will play into the perception that they are "talented" as a marketing tool - it builds up an aura of mystique around them that can be used for promotional purposes. It's a business strategy wherein perpetuating the myth is advantageous.

  • But Jay, what about perfect pitch? Isn't that an innate ability that a few people are just born with and most don't possess?

Nope, perfect pitch is not "innate." It's the result of what the person is exposed to - musically - from conception to about 2 years old. It's not "talent." Anyone can have perfect pitch - IF - they have the right stimulus at the right time. For more info on perfect pitch, go here.

  • But Jay, it seems like the pot is calling the kettle black. Based on what you're saying, I must conclude that you are; a) psychologically &/or emotionally maladjusted or, b) not "talented".

Yes, well...it's not either/or; I'm both; there's a continuum in play:


I am not some genius, ground-breaking, revolutionary guitar player who has created a style that countless others emulate. So in that sense, I am not "talented."


However, I like to think that I'm pretty good, and that my opinion of my own playing is realistic. If music is a contest (which it is NOT!), I'm better than a lot and not as good as some.


I've made a living as a guitarist my whole life - that includes raising 5 kids so when I say "living" I don't mean some single guy with no responsibilities who can live on twelve or 15 thousand a year (or less) - or live off the "femme de jour" - so at least I'm "talented" enough.


Just as an aside, making a living in music does not depend on being "talented." See the above comment on marketing and promotion - and don't forget networking skills. The brilliant, talented musician who winds up indigent is so common it's a cliché.


And insofar as I am a good or "talented" guitarist, I got to be that way by working my ass off - I've made playing the guitar my lifestyle, not just a hobby that I do after my regular job; nor do I play guitar as a job that I go home from. It's a 24/7 lifestyle that has no work/play, job/hobby dichotomy. Furthermore I can tell you that in my case the drive, indeed the compulsion, to do the hard work was definitely rooted in neurosis.


Although I have no official diagnosis, my wife is convinced I am "on the spectrum." My daughters think I have Asperger's Syndrome, which is a form of high functioning autism. And to be honest, when I read the symptoms I was like, "Yeah, that kind of sounds like me." For example:

  • People with this condition may have an all-absorbing interest in specific topics.

Hello! GUITAR!!


Furthermore, as I have grown older and identified, confronted and resolved some "personal issues" (i.e. psychological/emotional maladjustment - see Cognitive Shift!), the compulsion to practice hours a day has lessened considerably. I was well into my 40's before I could, without experiencing separation anxiety, take a week's vacation and not schlepp a guitar along.


That illustrates that the drive I had to do the work was rooted in neurosis.


Even now, on a recent 2-week vacation to Hawaii I rented a guitar the 2nd week. I'd like to think it was because I had 3 gigs in 2 days booked immediately upon returning and didn't want to be out of shape, which was true, but I was also jonesing for a fix.


So...since I'm "better now" and not driven to work so hard at it, where does that leave me?


Believe it or not, a very lovely place.


I've worked hard. And fortunately for me and all those around me, mainly due to my long-suffering wife, I've managed to NOT leave a trail of human debris in my wake. Now I can relax and enjoy the benefits of all that hard work as I enter my autumn years without most of the regrets (there are a few) to which that compulsive work generally leads. My love for playing the guitar has not diminished. I love it as much as I ever did but the intense, compulsive drive to always be practicing and working at it as well as the panic if I don't play for 2 or 3 days is (mostly) gone.


I'm better now.


People ask me if I still practice. Yes and no. I make a living with the guitar so I'm dealing with it in some capacity - teaching and gigging is the bread-and-butter - most days. So just going to work everyday is 98% of my practice. It's all practice.


Now-days I only "practice" when something specific is required - it's usually gig-related. Learning new songs, doing homework for an upcoming gig, charting. Yes, I sit at home and play for my own pleasure. I still enjoy "practicing" but I'm typically not driven to do it unless a gig is kicking me in the ass.


Most gigs I play don't kick me in the ass; I don't have to practice at all. I can play at the level required very comfortably - which is the best of everything!


When the occasional gig comes along that's outside my comfort zone that's fun too! The challenge can cause me to grow, and that's fun! I love a challenge. I love being the weakest player onstage. Getting my ass handed to me on a platter now and then makes for a better player. Humility is a good thing. It's all fun!


But it's all possible because I've already done the hard work. I've devoted well over 40 years to it. I arranged my whole life around it. About 10 years of that was all-consuming - hours a day of disciplined practice, and then off to play a 4-hour gig. I lived it and breathed it, 24/7. The other 30-plus years have been just playing all day every day because that's my job - it's still my job.


So when I have a student who comes in and says, "Man, I need to take a break from lessons; I just can't put in the time I need to progress the way I want."


I say, "Sure, no problem, and sincere congratulations on being reasonably well-adjusted!"

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