Excelling as a musician takes practice and requires opportunity – not just lucky genes

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(THE CONVERSATION) What makes talented musicians so good at what they do?

There is plenty of evidence that people can be born this way. Research results suggest that about half of musical ability is hereditary. Even if that’s true, that doesn’t mean you have to have musical talent in your genes to excel on bass, oboe, or drums.

And even if you’re lucky enough to come from a family that includes musicians, you’ll still need to study, practice, and get expert advice to play well.

As a music teacher and conductor, I have seen the role that practice and experience play in propelling musicians to mastery and success. There are certain factors that help a musician get started – and heredity could be one of them. But musical skill is ultimately a complex interplay of lots of practice and high-quality instruction.

The role genes can play

Of course, many great musicians, some of them world famous, are linked to other music stars.

Liza Minnelli, the famous actress, singer and dancer, is one of the three children of the late artist Judy Garland. Jon Batiste – bandleader, pianist and composer of “The Late Show” who won Emmy, Oscar and Golden Globe awards – has at least 25 musicians in his family. Saxophonist Branford, trumpeter Wynton, trombonist Delfeayo and drummer Jason Marsalis are the sons of pianist Ellis Marsalis.

Singer and pianist Norah Jones is the daughter of Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, although Jones had little contact with her famous father growing up.

Absolute pitch, also known as perfect pitch, is the ability to recognize and name any note you hear anywhere. Researchers have discovered that it could be hereditary. But do you need it to be a great musician? Not really.

Most people are born with some musical ability

I define musical ability as the possession of talent or potential – the means to achieve something musical.

Then there’s skill, which I define as what you achieve by working on it.

You need at least some basic musical skills to learn musical skills. Unless you can hear and discern pitches and rhythms, you cannot reproduce them.

But people may overestimate the role of genetics because, with very few exceptions, almost everyone can perceive pitches and rhythms.

My research on children’s musicality suggests that measures of singing skill are normally distributed across the population. That is, pitch ability follows a bell curve: most people are average singers. Few people are well below average or excellent.

My team’s most recent research suggests that this distribution is true for rhythm in addition to pitch.

Unsurprisingly, some musical skills are correlated.

The more training you have on specific musical skills, the better you will test on certain others. It’s probably because the musical experience enhances other musical abilities.

In summary, a body of emerging research indicates that practice does not make perfect. But for most people, it helps a lot.

Lessons and practice are essential

What about people who say they can’t keep up? Turns out they can almost always keep up a steady beat to music. They just haven’t done enough.

In fact, the last time I had a non-believer take our lab’s rhythm perception test, she got excellent results. To do this and to sing, some people just need a little help to overcome the assumptions that they lack talent: you can’t say you’re incapable of something if you haven’t spent the time To try.

Some researchers and journalists have promoted the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice or training to master a new skill.

Innate ability places people at different starting lines toward musical mastery. But once you start studying an instrument or singing style, skill development depends on many other factors. Taking lessons, practicing often, and being part of a musical family can make them more likely.

For example, Lizzo, hip-hop superstar and classically trained flautist, was blessed to grow up in a family of music lovers. They all had their own musical tastes. Its success is a microcosm of the importance of a comprehensive music education for young people.

The singers in the choir that I direct at Penn State have varied backgrounds, ranging from a little to a lot. Yet soon after they join, they develop the ability to choose a good pitch and a good starting pitch as they get to know their own voice.

Practicing more doesn’t change your base potential, it just changes what you can currently do. Simply put, if you practice a specific song over and over again, you will eventually get better.

Jonathon Heyward, the new conductor of the Baltimore Symphony, who has no musicians in his family, has worked very hard to excel. He started taking cello lessons at the age of 10 and hasn’t stopped since, playing, practicing and studying.

Privilege may play a role

Socio-economic factors can also enter into the equation. In conducting research, I have seen high-income students from high-income families with more years of musical experience perform better than their classmates from low-income backgrounds with less education. ‘opportunities.

Genes can give someone a head start. At the same time, having a quiet space where you can practice on an acoustic instrument or digital workstation could make a bigger difference to most kids’ musical outlook. The same goes for having money for private lessons or accessing free lessons.

Despite this, many of the best musicians, including jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, grew up in the face of many hardships.

With the right conditions to practice and gain experience, who knows where the next Liza or Lizzo will come from.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/excelling-as-a-musician-takes-practice-and-requires-opportunities-not-just-lucky-genes-186693.