If you’re thinking of starting music study, you may wonder if you need talent to learn a musical instrument. Let’s dive right in and explore this question.
What is musical talent?
“Musical Talent” usually means something like “aptitude”. It shows up various ways:
- good sense of pitch and the ability to sing on key
- good memory for music
- keeping good beat or easily copying rhythms
- ability to imitate music you hear
- noticing off key or out of tune music
- interest in a variety of music
- sensitivity to environmental sounds
Aptitude is a less or more trait, rather like your height or weight. Everyone is somewhere on the scale. It’s not a yes/no situation where you are either talented or not. There will always be folks who are more talented than you, and also folks who are less talented than you.
And most people can develop the qualities just listed with practice.
Is talent genetic?
Studies on musical ability and musical inability show strong genetic components to each. A 2008 study discovered that musical talent is roughly 50 percent genetic. Others estimate as high as 95% of the population have genes for musical talent. A 2001 study revealed that about 80 percent of tone deafness appears to be genetic.
But even if you have good ‘music genes’, you will need other things to be a successful music learner.
Here’s what you need to learn a musical instrument
models (music in your environment): we humans love to imitate one another. If you have never heard a certain kind of music, you will not be able to learn it. You will not even want to learn it since you don’t know it exists.
desire to learn to play: Learning a musical instrument is doable at any age, but you have to be motivated. It requires steady work over years to become skilled at playing music. Some instruments are easier to learn than others. Read our post about which instrument to learn first here.
willingness to work hard: Learning any complex skill takes careful training and hard work. Even with the best training, you must be willing to put in the time needed. A great book about working smart is The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle.
access to an instrument and good quality teachers: Unless you are a singer, you will need to rent or buy an instrument. You will also need a motivating teacher that you can connect with. A good teacher will help you learn to use your practice time efficiently. She will also help you learn skills in the right order so that you are progressing steadily. Most teachers (and students!) start off with music that is too hard and jump around in no particular order.
So, do you need talent to learn a musical instrument?
Talent can help in the beginning. You’ll have early success and stay motivated for a while. But in my experience, persistence and hard work trump talent every time. Successfully learning a musical instrument is more about practicing skillfully. It’s also crucial to and find the teacher(s) that are right for you and your goals.
You want to strive to become the best you can. And you can become really skilled as long as you have a good training, learn from others and persist!
Think about your goals
It’s important to think about WHY you want to learn music. As with happiness, playing music is more about the journey than the destination. We each can learn a lot from studying music. I’m still learning things about playing the piano even though I started when I was five.
So if you can focus on enjoying where you are right now, the question of how far you’ll get is less important. And the question of whether you have ‘what it takes’ to ‘succeed’ (whatever that means) is a lot less important.
Benefits of playing a musical instrument
There are many benefits to learning to play a musical instrument. And you can reap these benefits no matter how skilled or unskilled you are. Here are a few.
Personal fulfillment. 80% of Americans think their music education added to their level of personal fulfillment (July 2014 Harris Poll).
Improve your brain. Students who played music in school scored higher on the SAT’s than those who did not play music. How much higher? 107 points on an 800 point scale. than students who didn’t play music. (Profiles of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, The College Board, compiled by the Music Educators National Conference, 2002).
Composer Murry Hidary says “playing an instrument regularly as an adult is one of the best ways to ‘use’ the brain. And it has emotional and psychological benefits.” Such as? Improved memory and cognition, because of the intense fine-motor-skill focus required. Playing music can also reduce anxiety and depression. That’s because listening to music spikes your cortisol.
You can get these all these benefits without becoming a rock star or American Idol winner. And people worldwide learn music without first knowing if they are ‘talented’. Why not learn a musical instrument without worrying about your talent level?
No, you don’t need talent to learn an instrument
So, our answer is no, you don’t need talent to learn a musical instrument. Instead, you need kindness towards yourself, dedication, determination and a good teacher.