Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today the subject is about talent versus musical intelligence. As a teacher, I get to see the vast range of both capabilities and weaknesses in students. Piano playing in particular encompasses so many different aspects of physiology and mental acuity. Because of that, you see drastically different levels of abilities in the various aspects of playing music. There’s rhythm, pitch, hand coordination, how well somebody can translate what they’re seeing on the page to the keyboard, long-term memory, short-term memory, etc. There are so many things involved. Now, some of them I would say represent sheer talent for the instrument. But a lot of it comes down to musical intelligence.
What is musical talent?
When I think of talent, I think of somebody who has a natural ability to evoke emotions in their music to create a unique musical statement on the highest level. That’s what talent is. There are so many gifted performers! So why should you listen to performer X when there are performers A through Z? What separates one accomplished performer from another one? To me, it comes down to talent. Somebody who really has a gift for expressing something unique and has something to say with their music that you haven’t heard before. But somebody might have that gift and not have a whole lot of musical intelligence. How does that manifest itself? I’ve seen pianists who are really gifted. They have fire in their playing, but they get lost in the performance. They can’t hold it together mentally. It’s very sad because while they have the raw talent for music, they might not have the intelligence to be able to really pull it off in performance consistently.
Now on the flip side, sometimes there are people who are unbelievably intelligent with music. They can learn music and play on a high level, but It’s really bland and ordinary. They play like everyone else. Interestingly, those people can be spoon fed interpretive ideas. You can actually work with a person who has musical intelligence. By working with them, you can impart the nuances of phrasing and structure. It’s unbelievable! These people can perform on such a high level that it’s hard to even make the distinction. Are they talented or not? You can’t tell. There are contest-winning performers who are nurtured with absolutely world-class pianists. They can reach a level of musicality and originality in their playing that maybe they don’t possess naturally.
There’s a certain amount that can be developed, but there’s a certain amount that’s just inborn.
You can always improve and raise the level of inventiveness and originality by working with students to get them to experiment and find their own true voice. But somebody who has that natural ability can reach heights that other people will never reach no matter how much training and practice they have. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there are people who enjoy listening to performances that are very straightforward and faithful to the score. Sometimes I hear a performance that’s so refined I could take a dictation and end up with the exact score that the composer wrote! There’s nothing wrong with that. There are all types of performances that are valid, from the super talented original thinkers who emote so much in their playing, to the ones who are articulate and accurate to a great extent. There’s room for all of this! We all have elements of both in our playing. There’s no absolutes in this world. So feel good about what you bring to the table with your capabilities, talent as well as musical intelligence.
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