in Ask the Readers

Are Great Musicians Born or Made?

We’ve talked about whether or not the 10,000 rule is real and shortcuts exist to becoming an expert, but what about the theory of inherited talent?

Are you born with certain “gifts” from a higher power or does everyone start out at the same level?

Neuroscientist Gary Marcus set out to determine the answer to this question in his book, Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning.

Despite age and no time spent playing an instrument, he set out to master the guitar. He wanted to ask:

“Could persistence and a lifelong love of music overcome age and a lack of talent? And, for that matter, how did anyone of any age become musical?”

Brain Pickings has an excellent, in-depth article about the findings of Gary Marcus you can check out here.

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings goes on to say that:

“He dives deep into the popular “ten thousand hours” theory of mastery, developed by cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson, “the world’s leading expert on expertise,” and examines Ericsson’s second, lesser-known prerequisite for expertise — the notion of “deliberate practice,” which describes the constant sense of self-evaluation and a consistent focus on one’s weaknesses rather than playing on one’s strengths. In fact, the practice of targeting specific weaknesses is known as the “zone of proximal development” and offers a framework for everything from education to video games.


What do you think? Do you think musical talent is inherent or built over time?


Corbett Barr

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