Realistic Goals as adults/late starter

Posted by: etcetra

Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 02:06 AM

I think everyone has a different take on just how far one can go in the classical reperitore... and I was wondering what is your opinion?

I personally think that through hard practice and dedication most of the difficult literature out there is within reach for most people. my high school teacher started piano in highschool like me, and he auditioned with Bach Invention and other pieces of that level for college. He practiced 4-5hrs a day and he was playing pieces like Chopin Etudes and Ravel's Jeaux d'aeu. I've also met many adults and late starters who went pretty far and they were playing pieces like Chopin Ballades.

I might have a different perspective than others.. I was a jazz piano major at school and every classical piano major were able to, and expected to play Chopin etudes or something more difficult by the time they finish school.. but I don't think most of the students were exceptionally talented. My impression is that, hard work above anything else was the key to their level of achievement.

So what can one(esp adult beginners) realistically achieve through practice? I don't think everyone is capable of playing rachmaninoff piano concerto or lizst's transcendental etudes, or pices by Soribaji, or play the revolutionary etudes at blazing tempo. But I also find it hard to believe that the etudes and other demanding pieces of that level is simply out of reach for most people with average talent.
Posted by: theJourney

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 02:14 AM

If you look at the piano as a race to play some uber-difficult repertoire, if you see it the same way you would look at training to run a four minute mile and only focus on that future end goal while ignoring the here and now of the process of learning the piano, then that might represent one of the biggest missed opportunities of your entire life.
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 02:17 AM

I know some people learn slower than others. But assuming you have been practicing at least 2 hrs a day for 15yrs+and you have been practicing correctly with a teacher. I just can't see that person being stuck playing Chopin Waltz or Bach Inventions.

I started piano in high school, and I was learning Bach invention in my 1-2nd year. I think I was pretty much at where my teacher was by the time I finished high school. If I didn't change to jazz and pursued a classical piano degree, I think I would have been playing the same kinds of pieces my teacher was playing by the time I graduated college. And I don't think neither me or my teacher are exceptionally talented.
Posted by: NocturneLover

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 02:27 AM

Oh of course, with enough practice and with a teacher, a determined person can play practically anything.

But the question is not whether they can play the piece, but what will they make out of it in terms of career? I know many of the old guys smile on these forums just want to be able to play the pieces and if they want to be a concert musician at age 60, I think that would be unrealistic unless they've already made a name for themselves.

However, for someone of my age, 22, my goal is to play at weddings, churches, funerals, and enter a competition. I will also enter a competition (first locally) and then nationally and then internationally with the aid of my teacher who has studied with many concert pianisits and is a very good teacher (Master's in piano performance). Hopefully, competing will get me more known, and give me an opportunity to study with the greats and perform in a concert or two. I realize the chances of this happening, even if I do have the talent and ability, is slim, but hey you never know. And I'd rather be on my deathbed saying I gave it a shot, instead of regretting like a coward.

And there is actually a guy named Thomas Yu, google him, who is a full time dentist and a concert pianist who has won a lot of competitions and is playing actively. So IMO a lot is possible, especially with an art like piano.
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 02:28 AM

theJourney,

The reason I am posting this thread is because I recently talked to people who thought that demanding pieces like chopin etudes are reserved only for the few and the talented. And in my experience, that is just not the case.

Of course you don't want to get too caught up in what you could do in the future and focus on what you can do right now. But that's not the issue.

Thomas

I do agree that being a top-level concert pianist is nearly, if not totally impossible for a late starter. But I think most people are still capable of high level of proficiency on the instrument. Some late starters do actually are good enough to be a performing artist,even though they might not be considered "cream of the crop". So yea, good luck, and I hope you reach your goals!! I am kind of doing the same thing in jazz.

But from what I read, some people believe that adults simply are not capable of reaching a very high level of proficiency and should be content with playing less demanding pieces...so I was interested in people's opinion about what kind of proficiency adults are capable of.
Posted by: NocturneLover

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 02:49 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
theJourney,

The reason I am posting this thread is because I recently talked to people who thought that demanding pieces like chopin etudes are reserved only for the few and the talented. And in my experience, that is just not the case.

Of course you don't want to get too caught up in what you could do in the future and focus on what you can do right now. But that's not the issue.

Thomas

I do agree that being a top-level concert pianist is nearly, if not totally impossible for a late starter. But I think most people are still capable of high level of proficiency on the instrument. Some late starters do actually are good enough to be a performing artist,even though they might not be considered "cream of the crop". So yea, good luck, and I hope you reach your goals!! I am kind of doing the same thing in jazz.

But from what I read, some people believe that adults simply are not capable of reaching a very high level of proficiency and should be content with playing less demanding pieces...so I was interested in people's opinion about what kind of proficiency adults are capable of.


Thanks, good luck on your goals as well, if you have a plan and put in the hours, then we both should reach them. grin As for the Chopin etudes being played by talented pianists, where did you get that from? Everybody can at least pick up Etude op. 10 3 or the Revolutionary.

But here is an important insight: you have to at least have played at the window of age 5-11 to be very good, because it the brain and neural functions develop with piano. Just like chess, there was never and never will be a Grandmaster who started as an adult and there is a good reason for it. Most of the grandmasters started within that window of age 5-11 and stuck with it until their adulthood. The same with piano, and I started at age 7 so I would not know what it is like as an adult starting anew, but I still believe late adults can learn and master respectable pieces. Its just most of the concert artists, happen to be playing since age 5. smile
Posted by: theJourney

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 04:43 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
theJourney,

The reason I am posting this thread is because I recently talked to people who thought that demanding pieces like chopin etudes are reserved only for the few and the talented. And in my experience, that is just not the case.

Of course you don't want to get too caught up in what you could do in the future and focus on what you can do right now. But that's not the issue.



Well, I believe that adults can go very far indeed on the piano. I also believe that what we call "talent" when listening to someone play is often a reflection of the invisibility of all the hard work that came before it. My belief is based on lots of evidence of those adults that I have observed playing and based on my own progress as an adult.

I have seen adults go from only having had a year of lessons twenty years ago to passing their ABRSM Grade 8 exams in less than five years. I have seen adults go back for their college music studies in their fifties having only a Grade 7 ABRSM playing level and obtain the equivalent of a BA in Piano Performance in just over four years. This includes playing Chopin Etudes, late Beethoven Sonatas, Bach WTC, etc.

My experience is also that adults who had some musical education as children have an incredible advantage in going fast in the first years of lessons over adults who must start absolutely from scratch.

To progress well, I have a found a number of factors to be important:
- having an excellent teacher who you see regularly for lessons and who understands what you want and is willing to tailor a program to get you there;
- patience with yourself and willingness to "pay your dues" to build a sold foundation rather than wanting to only take shortcuts;
- time, energy and concentration to practice at least two hours per day. three or four hours spread out over the day/evening would be better;
- great attention to how you practice including perhaps paying for a coach to work with you on one or more of your practice sessions per week;
- learning music theory and applying it to your work at the piano;
- immersing yourself in music: listen to good recordings, go to all the concerts you can, etc.

For me 3 hours per day is the sweet spot for making good progress. I also find that working on a wide variety of repertoire and exercises simultaneously boosts the speed of learning; there are synthesizing and integrative effects going on here.
Posted by: NocturneLover

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 05:46 AM

Originally Posted By: theJourney


My experience is also that adults who had some musical education as children have an incredible advantage in going fast in the first years of lessons over adults who must start absolutely from scratch.

To progress well, I have a found a number of factors to be important:
- having an excellent teacher who you see regularly for lessons and who understands what you want and is willing to tailor a program to get you there;
- patience with yourself and willingness to "pay your dues" to build a sold foundation rather than wanting to only take shortcuts;
- time, energy and concentration to practice at least two hours per day. three or four hours spread out over the day/evening would be better;
- great attention to how you practice including perhaps paying for a coach to work with you on one or more of your practice sessions per week;
- learning music theory and applying it to your work at the piano;
- immersing yourself in music: listen to good recordings, go to all the concerts you can, etc.

For me 3 hours per day is the sweet spot for making good progress. I also find that working on a wide variety of repertoire and exercises simultaneously boosts the speed of learning; there are synthesizing and integrative effects going on here.


You hit it right on the nail with your points, Journey. And like your name, it is about the journey since everybody wants to master everything so fast. What's the rush? I learned and play Clair de Lune, Entertainer, and Chopin Op. 9 no. 2 over the summer and now I ask myself, "What the hell was I rushing for?" You've got your whole life ahead to enjoy the pieces so why rush.

So I see you practice 3 hours a day, and I used to do that but now I am just making it at least one hour a day. In 5 years time, with just 1 hour a day practice you can accomplish much and there is no need to rush, but of course 3 hours a day consistently in 5 years would be even better.

Also, I have a question for you TheJourney, if I want to enter competitions how should I prepare besides have an excellent teacher and practice habits. I mean, I'm going up against conservatory students so I find the competition atmosphere a little intimidating... I only ask because you bring up valid points and seem to know your stuff.

Thanks.
Posted by: cardguy

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 07:46 AM

Hmmm, well. I"m an adult restarter. Had some lessons as a kid close to 50 years ago, got to Fur elise level though could not play it well, and have been back at it for a little over a year.

I've made some progress; the usual I suppose. Clair de lune, OP 9 no 2, currently working on some of the simpler Chopin nocturnes, which nonethless are quite challenging to me to play well.

Despite this progress, and at least two hours of practice a day, I can't imagine being able to play Revoltionary Etude with anything close to adequate speed and power. I'll let you know in three or four years if I've changed my mind :>)

It would be a nice surprise, but I'm skeptical.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 08:00 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra


The reason I am posting this thread is because I recently talked to people who thought that demanding pieces like chopin etudes are reserved only for the few and the talented. And in my experience, that is just not the case.


Actually, assuming you are referencing some responses I made to you in another thread, that's not what I said.

You said you were playing Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu with some difficulty and asked of posters thought you were ready to play a group of pieces. I pointed out that many of them(Waldstein Sonata, Jeau deux, Chopin Etudes Op.10 #1,4, Winter Wind) were way beyond the FI and the type of pieces pianists play in major competitions. These are pieces that IMO most pianists,myself included, never have the musical and technical skill to play at a high level. Anyone can study them of course, but to do justice to them I think requires a huge amount of talent and not just work.

I also have a different concept of what a student at a conservatory is like perhaps because I live in NYC and am thinking of students at Juilliard, Manhattan and Mannes and other top schools. Students at conservatories like these generally are able to perform very demanding pieces like the ones listed above at a reasonably high level before they step in the door. They don't audition with a Bach Invention.

I think the chances are good that your teacher, who was able to play the harder Chopin Etudes, Waldstein, etc. by the time he graduated music school, was not playing them at a level anywhere near what most of these students would reach by the time they graduated.

It really depends on what one means by "playing a piece". Going back to the easier FI, I think it's very difficult to play it with the technical control, speed and poetry shown by Yundi Li in this recording:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvm2ZsRv3C8

Posted by: cardguy

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 09:03 AM

Thanks for injecting some cold, hard reality, plv. I'd sell my soul to be able to play like Yundi Li. But not in this lifetime I'm afraid.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 09:19 AM

Originally Posted By: cardguy
Thanks for injecting some cold, hard reality, plv. I'd sell my soul to be able to play like Yundi Li. But not in this lifetime I'm afraid.


Aha! You just gave me an idea for a new version of Damn Yankees especially for PW members!
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 09:31 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
theJourney,

The reason I am posting this thread is because I recently talked to people who thought that demanding pieces like chopin etudes are reserved only for the few and the talented. And in my experience, that is just not the case.

Of course you don't want to get too caught up in what you could do in the future and focus on what you can do right now. But that's not the issue.

Thomas

I do agree that being a top-level concert pianist is nearly, if not totally impossible for a late starter. But I think most people are still capable of high level of proficiency on the instrument. Some late starters do actually are good enough to be a performing artist,even though they might not be considered "cream of the crop". So yea, good luck, and I hope you reach your goals!! I am kind of doing the same thing in jazz.

But from what I read, some people believe that adults simply are not capable of reaching a very high level of proficiency and should be content with playing less demanding pieces...so I was interested in people's opinion about what kind of proficiency adults are capable of.

I got a call yesterday from a prospective student. The name of my business, since I teach piano and voice, is somewhat vague, but I have a tag line that says just as much. Anyways, this woman calls and asks what instruments I teach, and when I told her she said, "Oh, nothing like guitar or violin?" I told her that I had a degree in both voice and piano and those were my only two instruments. She then proceeded to tell me that she would like to take lessons, in something, maybe piano, maybe voice, and wanted to have a career in music and possibly teach (she was in her 30s).

After collecting my jaw off the floor, I proceeded to tell her that while anything is possible, not everyone is cut out for a professional life as a musician. It takes a certain personality to be able to be competitive and face rejection. It also takes a great deal of ability, and considering that she is starting late, she will be competing with people who have been doing this forever.

While I'm not one to be discouraging, I do see the above scenario many times by people who simply like the idea of teaching or performing, but have no idea what it takes to get there. Perhaps they think it would be easy (it never is) and fun (the fun part comes after all the hard work on a piece). For this woman, someone who had never played an instrument or sang, and really didn't have any idea what instrument she really wanted to learn, it seems unrealistic.

Can an adult make it? Of course! Late start or no, they should be able to make a career out of it to one degree or another. It may not be the glamorous lifestyle that some seem to think it would be - playing for weddings, funerals, accompanying high school contests, etc. - but it certainly is doable at any age if the commitment is there. And, I know some will disagree, but I think there has to be some talent here as well. Some genetic affinity for playing piano, for being able to make that brain-finger connection so that playing can be done at a fast tempo.
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 09:34 AM

Originally Posted By: theJourney

To progress well, I have a found a number of factors to be important:
- having an excellent teacher who you see regularly for lessons and who understands what you want and is willing to tailor a program to get you there;
- patience with yourself and willingness to "pay your dues" to build a sold foundation rather than wanting to only take shortcuts;
- time, energy and concentration to practice at least two hours per day. three or four hours spread out over the day/evening would be better;
- great attention to how you practice including perhaps paying for a coach to work with you on one or more of your practice sessions per week;
- learning music theory and applying it to your work at the piano;
- immersing yourself in music: listen to good recordings, go to all the concerts you can, etc.

thumb This is excellent advice for a student at any age. Thanks!
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 09:44 AM

The answers really do depend on what performance standard one hopes or expects to achieve and with which one is satisfied.

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
[W]ith enough practice and with a teacher, a determined person can play practically anything.

I don't think so, even if one's standard is low. Talent is part of the equation, too.

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
As for the Chopin etudes being played by talented pianists, where did you get that from? Everybody can at least pick up Etude op. 10 3 or the Revolutionary.

No, "everybody" cannot. It would be far more accurate, in my opinion, to say that many pianists should be able to learn some Chopin etudes. I'm astounded at how often I see the difficulty of 10/3 in particular minimized. Even if the outer sections are found technically easy, the "B" section is vastly more challenging.

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
But here is an important insight: you have to at least have played at the window of age 5-11 to be very good, because it the brain and neural functions develop with piano. Just like chess, there was never and never will be a Grandmaster who started as an adult and there is a good reason for it. Most of the grandmasters started within that window of age 5-11 and stuck with it until their adulthood. The same with piano, and I started at age 7 so I would not know what it is like as an adult starting anew, but I still believe late adults can learn and master respectable pieces. Its just most of the concert artists, happen to be playing since age 5. smile

That's an interesting observation, and I wonder if it's based on actual data or could be verified by research. If so, it would suggest parallels between development of musical ability and language acquisition.

I completely agree that "late [starting] adults can learn and master respectable pieces," but that's a far more modest claim than the ones made earlier.

Steven
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 10:16 AM

pianoloverus,

I just wanted to tell you that my observation is not based solely on what you said early, but from other similar remarks I read on different threads. And I wasn't asking whether i was 'ready' to play those pieces I mentioned. I was only asking just how much more difficult those pieces are compared to FI.. I do remember saying that I don't even plan on trying them for at least 2-3years.

I think my goal, and for many of the adults is not really to perform them at a concert pianist level, but well enough for personal enjoyment at a reasonable tempo.. I don't think my teacher played well enough to enter major competition, but he was able to play it fairly well

btw I do have a friend who went to Manhattan for grad school with scholarship, and she doesn't consider her self good enough to proffessional level too.
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 10:33 AM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce
The answers really do depend on what performance standard one hopes or expects to achieve and with which one is satisfied.

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
[W]ith enough practice and with a teacher, a determined person can play practically anything.

I don't think so, even if one's standard is low. Talent is part of the equation, too.

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
As for the Chopin etudes being played by talented pianists, where did you get that from? Everybody can at least pick up Etude op. 10 3 or the Revolutionary.

No, "everybody" cannot. It would be far more accurate, in my opinion, to say that many pianists should be able to learn some Chopin etudes. I'm astounded at how often I see the difficulty of 10/3 in particular minimized. Even if the outer sections are found technically easy, the "B" section is vastly more challenging.

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
But here is an important insight: you have to at least have played at the window of age 5-11 to be very good, because it the brain and neural functions develop with piano. Just like chess, there was never and never will be a Grandmaster who started as an adult and there is a good reason for it. Most of the grandmasters started within that window of age 5-11 and stuck with it until their adulthood. The same with piano, and I started at age 7 so I would not know what it is like as an adult starting anew, but I still believe late adults can learn and master respectable pieces. Its just most of the concert artists, happen to be playing since age 5. smile

That's an interesting observation, and I wonder if it's based on actual data or could be verified by research. If so, it would suggest parallels between development of musical ability and language acquisition.

I completely agree that "late [starting] adults can learn and master respectable pieces," but that's a far more modest claim than the ones made earlier.

Steven


I agree with the talent equation as well. Not everyone can play the Revolutionary. I have a few adult students that I would never expect them to get tho this level of playing, although they do have a desire to play. It's just not going to be possible. Of course, I still work with them on improving and doing the best they can, and I would never tell them something is impossible. I can always be wrong, and in this case, I would gladly be proven wrong, but for now it doens't seem like that would ever happen.

As far as the window from 5-11, I'm not sure that it is, or just before the age of 12. As with all developmental stages, it can be slightly different for each individual. However, it is documented that any language skills learned prior to the age of 12 are more likely to be "second nature". When referring to spoken languages, for example, if it is learned prior to this age, there is less of a chance of having a foreign accent when speaking and second language. Music is conceived in the same parts of the brain where spoken language is, and so there is evidence to suggest that if music is learned prior to the cut-off, it would be easier for the student to pick up and retain musical concepts.

I personally have witnessed that if a student had any musical experience in this area as a child, they are more inclined to do well as an adult learner, even if they hadn't done it since then. Adult students that do not really move at a slower pace and are less likely to obtain higher levels of playing.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 11:15 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
pianoloverus,

I think my goal, and for many of the adults is not really to perform them at a concert pianist level, but well enough for personal enjoyment at a reasonable tempo.. I don't think my teacher played well enough to enter major competition, but he was able to play it fairly well
This is a more reasonable goal, but you may find the hardest of the pieces you mentioned are not doable at even a reasonable(slower than correct) tempo and at a less than concert pianists level. My personal preference it to study pieces that I think I can perform at a reasonably high level, but that's just me. Why try the Winter Wind if there are many other Etudes that are easier for most people? Why play the Waldstein when probably more than two-thirds of the Beethoven Sonatas are easier?

Originally Posted By: etcetra
btw I do have a friend who went to Manhattan for grad school with scholarship, and she doesn't consider her self good enough to proffessional level too.


Well that depends on what she means by professional. If she got into a top school like Manhattan at the graduate level, my opinion is that she plays at a professional level. Maybe she was thinking in terms of being able to make a living just from performing or comparing herself to a world class pianist.
Posted by: Susan K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 12:06 PM

Quote:
But assuming you have been practicing at least 2 hrs a day for 15yrs+and you have been practicing correctly with a teacher. I just can't see that person being stuck playing Chopin Waltz or Bach Inventions.


There's so many definitions of "adult" here and the perspectives seem to split at the above age 40 crowd and the below 30 crowd (I don't know where the 30's are). Speaking from the 40+ side, I don't see being "stuck playing Chopin Waltz or Bach Inventions," as a terrible fate. There are several LIFETIMES of piano literature by many, many composers to play. Chopin's FI is something for me to admire, not a benchmark for me to try to achieve or even want to achieve.

PLUS, no one has previously mentioned reincarnation. Honestly, don't you think that some of these folks are reincarnations of the original composers who just weren't done doing what they wanted to do? A lot of them died really young and I'd think Chopin would jump at the chance to be Yundi Li. And if reincarnation is too far out, how about some lifelong channeling? Something to explain the little extra "something" that makes these folks extraordinary.

There's this young lady in Southern California who at age 8 or 9 was being touted as the closest abstract artist to Picasso ever. When the Today show interviewed her, she said very matter-of-factly. "I started with crayon at two and then it took me a while to be able to hold the brush, but once I got that, watercolors and oils weren't a problem so by four, I could pretty much create what I want." She also had parents that recognized her talent and did everything to support it.

My case for artistic reincarnation.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 12:16 PM

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
Originally Posted By: cardguy
Thanks for injecting some cold, hard reality, plv. I'd sell my soul to be able to play like Yundi Li. But not in this lifetime I'm afraid.


Aha! You just gave me an idea for a new version of Damn Yankees especially for PW members!

I hope "You Gotta Have Heart" will still be included:

You gotta have heart
Miles and miles and miles of heart
It's fine to be a genius, of course,
But keep that old horse before the cart!
First you gotta have heart!


I love Damn Yankees. Isn't it a shame that the team of Adler and Ross was only able to produce two hit Broadway musicals before Jerry Ross's untimely death at the age of 29?

Steven
Posted by: RonaldSteinway

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 03:31 PM

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau

And there is actually a guy named Thomas Yu, google him, who is a full time dentist and a concert pianist who has won a lot of competitions and is playing actively. So IMO a lot is possible, especially with an art like piano.


I agree everthing is possible. But using Thomas Yu as your example may not be a good idea. Thomas Yu or Christopher Shih is a superman. These two are not only smart at their regular school, but also very good in piano. They are basically not a NORMAL human being. By the way both of them went to a very intense piano training, they did no start at old age. Thomas graduated from a big conservatory in Canada, and Chris went to Curtis.

To the original PO, if you are not young anymore, you should play piano seriously but keep in mind your limitation too. Push yourself upto what you physically and mentally can handle but don't push yourself to an unreasonable level.

Ron
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 03:37 PM

There are so many factors that goes into it that I can't really say its one way or the other. One thing I noticed about really good piano students in my school was that they started playing piano very early in their lives. So it seems like it's not so much raw talent per se.. a they've been blessed with a very fortunate musical upbringing.

But I've also met so many people who were able to surpass expectations of what they could possibly achieve. I think it's pretty amazing that my teacher was able to play those college level pieces after 6-7yrs of study, and I've met good number of people who were able to do the same. I even hear about people starting in their 30-40s who are able to play very demanding pieces too. Of course it could be that they were talented and the didn't know about it.

I also have a reason to believe that people are capable of high level achievements, because I've made tremendous amount of progress in other areas of music that I didn't think was possible before. I am a jazz pianist, and I've posted my transcriptions here. And when I talk to people, they are amazed at what I am able to transcribe, and they usually assume that I started doing music early or that I have some insane talent. But that is not the case at all, I acquired that ability over time through lots of practice.

Of course, your aural skills and technical facility are two different things, and maybe I have a natural gift for hearing, but if I did, I showed very little sign of that early on.

I guess I don't really have a desire to master Ravel's Jeau d'eau or the winter wind etude , because I am focused mainly on jazz and that takes up a lot of my time. But I do want to learn as much of it as possible for my personal growth.. but I guess it would be more about fullfilling my intellectual curiosity and applying that knowledge to what I do in jazz, rather than about delivering a concert-level performance. And it's a lifetime goal so I am not in a rush to learn them.

But then again, the level of classical training varies quite a bit between jazz pianits. Some of them are able to play the most demanding pieces competently, but some of the teachers I had are probably not able to play the chopin etudes well enough to pass a college recital.. but they are still wonderful players.
Posted by: RonaldSteinway

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 03:46 PM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce
The answers really do depend on what performance standard one hopes or expects to achieve and with which one is satisfied.

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
[W]ith enough practice and with a teacher, a determined person can play practically anything.

I don't think so, even if one's standard is low. Talent is part of the equation, too.

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
As for the Chopin etudes being played by talented pianists, where did you get that from? Everybody can at least pick up Etude op. 10 3 or the Revolutionary.

No, "everybody" cannot. It would be far more accurate, in my opinion, to say that many pianists should be able to learn some Chopin etudes. I'm astounded at how often I see the difficulty of 10/3 in particular minimized. Even if the outer sections are found technically easy, the "B" section is vastly more challenging.

Steven


I agree with Steve. Talent is one important variable in the equation.

Thomas Lau, I wish your encouragement were real. I do not see myself will be able to play 10/3 or 10/12 well enough in this life. Do you know how difficult those two are? Especially the 10/12.
Posted by: NocturneLover

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 06:13 PM

Hey sottovoce,

You are analyzing my posts as if it were an academic journal, when my thoughts are indeed spurious, but based on facts and objective perceptions.

RonaldSteinway,

Yes Thomas Yu is like a beast, and I guess he did study at a big conservatory. Sigh, wish I had to opportunity when I was younger, oh well. He's also won major competitions and methinks guys like him are one in a million, or at least had a good family, advantages early in the life that he has taken full advantage of.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 07:56 PM

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
Hey sottovoce,

You are analyzing my posts as if it were an academic journal, when my thoughts are indeed spurious, but based on facts and objective perceptions.

It's not possible for something simultaneously to be spurious and based on facts and objective perceptions.

I'm sorry if you object to commentary and discussion about what you posted, but that's the nature of a discussion forum. Statements are inevitably challenged, and those who participate should expect to stand behind their words and opinions. You haven't been singled out or held to a different standard from anyone else, and there's no reason to single me out for criticism for doing what everyone does. That's why we have a "Quote" function!

One of our own moderators observed several months ago that "posts around here tend to get parsed with a fairly sharp blade." I don't think that's a bad thing; it keeps us honest—all of us. smile

Steven
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/09/09 11:56 PM

Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
[...] when my thoughts are indeed spurious, but based on facts and objective perceptions.

[...]


Posted by: trillingadventurer

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 12:46 AM

Am I the only pianist who finds Bach Inventions and Chopin Waltzes challenging?!?!?
Posted by: ProdigalPianist

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 01:05 AM

Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: Thomas Lau
[...] when my thoughts are indeed spurious, but based on facts and objective perceptions.

[...]




"You keep using that word...I do not think it means what you think it means"
-The Princess Bride
Posted by: NocturneLover

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 02:04 AM

oh yes I used the word spurious, but I meant to use another word. Again, in an internet forum one doesn't tend to revise their words as posts are generally not graded/reviewed/parsed as it is in these forums.
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 02:07 AM

Yeah, I'm sure you did. If you can't stomach it, maybe you ought to go over to Piano Street. smile
Posted by: NocturneLover

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 02:11 AM

Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Yeah, I'm sure you did. If you can't stomach it, maybe you ought to go over to Piano Street. smile


Would you like to copyright these sentences as well? grin
Posted by: theJourney

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 03:19 AM

Originally Posted By: trillingadventurer
Am I the only pianist who finds Bach Inventions and Chopin Waltzes challenging?!?!?


No. Nor are you the only pianist who finds them beautiful and also containing multiple levels of depth to discover over a lifetime.
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 06:30 AM

Originally Posted By: theJourney
Originally Posted By: trillingadventurer
Am I the only pianist who finds Bach Inventions and Chopin Waltzes challenging?!?!?


No. Nor are you the only pianist who finds them beautiful and also containing multiple levels of depth to discover over a lifetime.


That's right.

And for that reason I think that it is pointless to have the goal, as a beginner, to play Jeux d'eau, or l'Etude révolutionnaire, or a Rachmaninov concerto, or whatever.

I agree whole-heartedly with etcetra that anyone can get to a level where they can play this difficult music. It don't believe that it is reserved for the lucky few who are born with talent.

But I do believe that those who will get to that level are those who play Inventions and waltzes, and even the Minuet in G, with all their heart, who perceive the genious of this music and don't have the idea that it is nothing more than preparatory excercises for la Campanella.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 08:55 AM

I think many pianists at a certain level have little understanding of how diffiult some pieces are technically and musically(just look at the number of posts asking if someone is ready to play such and such a piece or "which piece is more diffcult?").Without this understanding, how can one say that anyone can reach a certain level with a big enough effort?

If one doesn't know how tall Everest is, how can one know how difficult it is to climb?
Posted by: pianovirus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 10:16 AM

Originally Posted By: RonaldSteinway
I agree everthing is possible. But using Thomas Yu as your example may not be a good idea. Thomas Yu or Christopher Shih is a superman. These two are not only smart at their regular school, but also very good in piano. They are basically not a NORMAL human being.


RS, I don't think it's ever advisable to state certain people are "supermen", "not a NORMAL human being" etc - neither in piano nor any other area of human life. The reason is that this excuse is leading oneself immediately to accept mediocrity and not to strive for realizing one's full potential. Thus, this attitude is just building up a mental barrier for yourself without helping you in any way.

Of course, there's a difference between thinking that you may reach a certain goal, as opposed to thinking that you definitely will. The latter is a sure way to disappointment and frustration, whereas the former is a positive way of thinking which does not involve any self-imposed barriers.



Just my personal opinion, of course smile
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 10:34 AM

btw have any of you guys read Maclom Gladwell's "Outliers"? He talks about talent not so much about natural ability, and how most of time it's comparataive advantage that most of us are not aware of. he has a section on musicans too.

pianoloverus,

I also don't think we are qualified to say what a person can or cannot reach at a given amount of time either, because we are all different (unless the expectation is totally ridiculous). If you met someone who was playing Bach invention right now and asked whether they are able to play chopin etudes in 5 yrs, what would you say? You might say that's impossible, but I have met people who were able to do it very musically at a descent level even though it may not be competition level.

From my experience in college, it all came down to effort. I met people who in my opinion 'just didn't have it' when they started.. but they made unbelievable amount of progress through hard work . Some people didn't go very far because they just didn't practice much. I have not met anyone in college who practiced at least 4 hrs a day and just wasn't able to reach the level to play Chopin Etudes or something of that difficulty.

of course there are people with extremely unrealistic expectations, like wanting to play the Fantasie Impromptu within 1 year. But I have met good number of people who could play Chopin ballades/etudes in 6-7 yrs with hard practice, so from my experience, it does seem possible if you are dedicated.

Posted by: LindaR

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 11:05 AM

I think it may be that people today aren't on the same timetable as pianists and composers of the past or say poets either. They used to learn their crafts at an early age, compose before they were 20 and die before 30 or 40. People say that about learning a languages too but I like to think someone can learn a skill really well at any age if they have the time.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 11:18 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
From my experience in college, it all came down to effort. I met people who in my opinion 'just didn't have it' when they started.. but they made unbelievable amount of progress through hard work . Some people didn't go very far because they just didn't practice much. I have not met anyone in college who practiced at least 4 hrs a day and just wasn't able to reach the level to play Chopin Etudes or something of that difficulty.

You should keep in mind, though, that those college students aren't representative of adult learners or pianists generally. They were already, literally, a select group filtered for talent, potential and, presumably, motivation to succeed. If "it all came down to effort" at that point, it's because the playing field was more or less leveled for the other variables; the statement needs to be considered in the context of an atypical sample of people rather than treated as having broad applicability.

Steven
Posted by: sophial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 11:59 AM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce
Originally Posted By: etcetra
From my experience in college, it all came down to effort. I met people who in my opinion 'just didn't have it' when they started.. but they made unbelievable amount of progress through hard work . Some people didn't go very far because they just didn't practice much. I have not met anyone in college who practiced at least 4 hrs a day and just wasn't able to reach the level to play Chopin Etudes or something of that difficulty.

You should keep in mind, though, that those college students aren't representative of adult learners or pianists generally. They were already, literally, a select group filtered for talent, potential and, presumably, motivation to succeed. If "it all came down to effort" at that point, it's because the playing field was more or less leveled for the other variables; the statement needs to be considered in the context of an atypical sample of people rather than treated as having broad applicability.

Steven


+1
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 12:00 PM

sotto voce,

That's true to a certain extent, but my school had a very wide variety of talent.. and frankly some of them were not very good when they started. And my teacher did audition with Bach inventions from what I remember.

I do agree that you do have to have talent, but I also think talent can be very a hard thing to judge. My teacher is a very accomplished jazz pianist, and none of his friends from college ever expected him to go that far because apparently he was horrible... there are plenty of people like that out there.

But then again, I have met good number of people who couldn't believe what I accomplished as a late starter(in jazz). I thought that I was a slow learner, and everything I accomplished was a result of my effort. But then again, you have people who have hard time improvising at all.

I guess its hard to judge what's achievable or not, or define what talent is, because your perspective is going to change depending on what kind of (natural) ability you have or not.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 12:22 PM

etc.,

Re going from Bach Inventions to Chopin Etudes in 4 years:

1. There is a wide range of difficulty in the Etudes. Was your teacher able to play the ones in the top 1/3 of difficulty like the Winter Wind or Etude in thirds? Being able to play Etudes in the bottom third of difficulty shows very good talent but is not nearly as difficult.

2. Even if the answer to #1 is yes and he played them well, I think that means he was exceptionally talented(as in the top few % of those studying piano). Not something that most could do.


If one looks at some of the well known PW professionals like Brendan or Thracozaag, one will probably see that they were perfordming concerti with orchestras or giving solo recitals by their mid teens. They learned very quickly and probably worked very hard also. But in terms of natural talent they are light years beyond most. That's one of the reasons they progressed so fast.

It's the same idea as when I've discussed here some sight reading feats I've seen some professionals do. I've seen some sight read with great accuracy pieces I could really never learn in this lifetime(the example I gave was some virtuosic piece by Szymanoski). It's a completely diffeent ball game.
Posted by: jnod

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 12:40 PM

No, they're serious and excellent music.
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 12:47 PM

pianoloverus,

He learned the Black key and Revolutionary etude. I know he practiced 5 hrs a day in college. I started piano as a teenager also and I was play the same kind of repertore by the time I finished school. I was learning Bach Inventions in my first year and I was playing the first Beethoven piano sonata in my 2rd year.

I guess there was no questions as to my ability to do what my teacher was able to do before i switched to jazz.. I don't think neither me or my teacher have exceptional talent, certainly not any more or less than any of our classmates.

But then again I did meet people who were just starting Bach invention in their 4-5th yr too... So Maybe my perspective would be different if I was teaching classical piano.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 01:25 PM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
pianoloverus,

He learned the Black key and Revolutionary etude.


Those are usually ranked in the easiest third of the Etudes. Which brings me back to your original question in another post. There I discussed Op.10 #1,4 and the Winter Wind. These are usually in the hardest third of the Etudes(or at least the hardest half).
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 03:22 PM

Pianoloverus,

I agree that there is a difference in difficulty between the etudes. How does Jeux d'eau compared with respect to the easier etudes and the winter wind?

I still do wonder what is capable and what isn't. I know a lot of people who started young with years of training and was never able to play fantasie impromptu, and someone here said that some people are probably not capable of learning revolutionary etudes even with years of practice.

I have met people who didn't go very far even after years of practice.. and I feel like a lot of times its because of different psychological factors, like low self-esteem, or being too intimidated.. etc. Sometimes people don't improve because they didn't learn to practice correctly, or they weren't willing to practice with the discipline required to do things right.I see that quite often when I teach jazz piano. So I wonder how much of the limitation is physical and how much of it is one you put on yourself.
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 04:22 PM

Originally Posted By: etcetra

I have met people who didn't go very far even after years of practice.. and I feel like a lot of times its because of different psychological factors, like low self-esteem, or being too intimidated.. etc. Sometimes people don't improve because they didn't learn to practice correctly, or they weren't willing to practice with the discipline required to do things right.I see that quite often when I teach jazz piano. So I wonder how much of the limitation is physical and how much of it is one you put on yourself.


Interesting point, etcetra. I'm sure that you are, or are going to be, an excellent teacher.
Posted by: NocturneLover

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 04:41 PM

Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
I think many pianists at a certain level have little understanding of how diffiult some pieces are technically and musically(just look at the number of posts asking if someone is ready to play such and such a piece or "which piece is more diffcult?").Without this understanding, how can one say that anyone can reach a certain level with a big enough effort?

If one doesn't know how tall Everest is, how can one know how difficult it is to climb?


I agree pianoloverus. When I first read this post, I thought to myself if the OP or anyone has to ask if they can do difficult pieces, then most likely something is holding them back to even ask this question. Most likely the OP is a jazz musician who is looking apprehensively at his classical musician counterparts and wondering if he can match them in the future. Because if you know you could master a piece, one wouldn't be asking in the first place.

I am in the school of thought that says anything is possible with enough commitment and practice, but I hear some people play and this rule probably doesn't apply to them. smile

But yes I think it has to do with low self-esteem, if the person lacks the belief that he/she could do it, they wouldn't even try in the first place or give up at the first obstacle. That's why jealousy is rampant in piano because those who are unable to create such music with their music are jealous of those who can. God, I've even seen grown men get jealous over an 8-year old boy because his playing made them feel inferior.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/10/09 05:12 PM

etcetra,

I think everyone can agree that (1) "how far one can go" (per your OP) depends on a combination of factors that include talent, learning speed, amount and consistency of focused practice, quality of instruction, the standard to which one aspires, physical factors that may impose limitations, and self-defeating psychological factors whose presence may not even be recognized, and (2) the combination of those elements in each of us—and consequently the destination each of us reaches—is necessarily unique.

There may be some other factors in the mix that I've overlooked, but I don't think that the explanation of why everyone's mileage varies—in any human endeavor—is any more complicated or mysterious than that.

Steven
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 12:29 AM

landoranno,

Thanks I certainly do hope you are right!!

Thomas Lau,

You are correct in your assessment of what I want. I really wish I started earlier and absorbed more classical music. But I can't really commit a lot of time right now because there is so much to work on in jazz.

I am really seeing those difficult pieces as a long term goal. I'd be happy if I can start them in 3-5 yrs, but it won't bother me if it takes longer. And my desire to do so is strictly personal, i don't have any intention performing them.

I also think your self-image and your expectations has a huge influence. I met a lot of people including working musicians who tell me "gee I wish I can do that on the piano".. and some of them have been playing the piano much longer than I have. It's almost as if they told themselves they will never get there without even trying.

I remember reading that Gilbert Arenas practices 100,000 jump shots during the off season... anyone who attains high level of achievement was able to do so because they had the passion to put tremendous amount effort and dedication into one thing... I think that desire and dedication alone is a talent.


Sotto voce,

I mentioned Malcom Gladwell's "Outlier" before.. reading his book gave me reasons to be more suspicious of the importance talent/natural ability in high achievements on the piano and other thing.

He talks about proffesional atheletes how most of them are born in the early part of the year.. and his conclusion is that it's not that these kids are necessary more talented than others, but they were relatively older than other kids and they had more time to practice whatever it is that they do. And because of that, they were able to join the best teams and get the best oppertunities for traning

He also talks about Bill Gates and other great people, and how 'being in the right place at the right time' was a huge factor in their success, and how they were able to become who they are because of their specific age.

I am guessing that there are tons of factors that we are not even aware of.. even your birth date, and birth year can be a factor in some strange ways.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 01:04 AM

However common or fashionable it is to dispute the importance (or even the existence) of talent, I find mystical or paranormal theories to be even less credible explanations for achievement.

Steven
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 01:41 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
landoranno,
He also talks about Bill Gates and other great people, and how 'being in the right place at the right time' was a huge factor in their success, and how they were able to become who they are because of their specific age.

Much of that was due to Apple's stumbling at a very key moment which allowed Microsoft's Windows 3.1 to gain ascendancy on the computer desktop. So Gates and his company were there 'at the right time', but not because they were offering a superior product. That has never been the case with Microsoft, and talk to any veteran computer user and they will tell you that there were far superior products to Microsoft's Word and Excel. They just squashed the competition, and now the horrendous Redmond giant simply rules the computer world.

Microsoft products are not superior, they're just ubiquitous.

I actually admire Bill Gates very much, but not for his association with Microsoft.
Posted by: NocturneLover

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 02:15 AM

etcetra,

You said most musicians come up to you and say, "Gee I wish I could do that..." Would that probably be classical musicians or just musicians in general? Yes, if I heard you play improv I would probably wish I could play like you because as a kid my teacher forbade me from playing jazz (well, only the kiddy version of Entertainer) and thus I have no idea how to improv.

Also, Gladwell's book is pretty superficial, and IMO kids born in January tend to be hockey players not because of the extra practice, but because if you are born in the first of the month you are much older than the peers in your cohort, thus you are seen as the leader. I can remember all the kids that were born in the early months in my school were much tougher and had more of a leadership personality because they were 8-9 months older. As for kids born in Novemeber/December, they make great chess players. smile Just look at the birthdays of most chess grandmasters.

Also, you and I tend to think in generalities and pop-pyschology lines which I think is not too good. We both need to dig a bit deeper than shallow mainstream ideas.
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 02:46 AM

Thomas Lau,

Well, its musicians in general, including working jazz pianists in my area, who started much earlier than I did and studied jazz in college. I am just citing this as an example, i don't think its because I have superior talent, i just worked harder than other people.

I am not really citing Gladwell as defintive case or proof, but reading it does make me think about nature of talent. I don't know how its like in classical piano, but in jazz most people would say its hard work, and not talent that got to where they are. None of my teachers or people I talked to believed that they had much talent, if they did, it's modest at best. I know Bill Evans and kenny Werner have talked about how there were people that were much more talented then they were in college, but they seem to come out ahead in the end somehow.

It certainly do make me think about advantages we are not aware of. I looked up different accomplished young jazz pianists, and I found that they are usually blessed with much better exposure at a young age. A lot of times their families are musicians, and many of them played in high school jazz bands. I mean how many US highschools have jazz bands, 1 or 10 or even less?? the fact that they did is purely out of luck/circumstance.

Sotto,

I do take Malcom Gladwell's idea with grain of salt, but I certainly don't think his ideas are mystical, or paranormal, if that is what you are implying.

I think circumstance can have a huge impact, perhaps more so than talent at times, and it's hard to differentiate the two. Do people go far because they are talented, or because they were lucky enough to be studying with the right people at the right place at the right time?

argerichfan,

I agree with your point.. I wish I can remember what Gladwell wrote in the book.. he talked about Steve Jobbs and Bill Gates, and how they were at an advantage because of their particular age group.
Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 05:16 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra

I think circumstance can have a huge impact, perhaps more so than talent at times, and it's hard to differentiate the two. Do people go far because they are talented, or because they were lucky enough to be studying with the right people at the right place at the right time?



Of course circumstances have a huge impact, but they don't create talent out of nothing. It should be obvious that we only see the results of circumstances helping talent, not the situations where favorable circumstances do nothing to instill talent where it doesn't exist.
Posted by: -Frycek

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 07:16 AM

Of course you have to put in an awful lot of hard work to know whether you have talent or not. And perhaps by the time you're sure you don't have it, it doesn't matter so much.


An observation - simple luck may or may not play much part in how good a pianist one becomes, but it certainly plays a part in how sucessful one's career as a performer may be - two entirely different things.
Posted by: Bart Kinlein

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 08:11 AM

Well, for what it's worth...

I'm 72 years old. Piano lessons as a child (don't remember but from about 8 - 13), not very motivated, did just OK. Started lessons again about a year ago. Now taking lessons and studying theory at the local community college (excellent music department).

Now highly motivated, I intend to make whatever progress possible for the rest of my functional life. I have no illusions about how far I will go, just enjoying the progress I've made so far.

I do have goals which I think are realistic if I can continue long enough. I've already achieved one of them, playing the Mozart Fantasy in d for an audience at a retirement community. I find it rewarding and expect to do more of this.

An aside - Another benefit from my effort is a much deeper appreciation of the music I lasten to. Before, just about every competent rendition of a piece sounded about the same. Now I can discern and understand many of the factors that elevate a performance from professional to world class.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 09:04 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
Sotto,

I do take Malcom Gladwell's idea with grain of salt, but I certainly don't think his ideas are mystical, or paranormal, if that is what you are implying.

I don't know anything about Gladwell's ideas. Your suggestion that one's birth date or birth year could be relevant implied that your own ideas include the mystical and paranormal.

Originally Posted By: -Frycek
Of course you have to put in an awful lot of hard work to know whether you have talent or not....

I've never found that to be true; a natural affinity and aptitude for a task yield positive results without any hard work at all, so the presence of such a "flair" is quickly recognized. I certainly would agree that maximizing and maintaining one's level of achievement that takes a lot of hard work.

Walter Gieseking said, "Talent goes in inverse ratio to the necessity for practice." Unfortunately, he didn't mention that sustained success goes in direct ratio to the need for practice.

Steven
Posted by: -Frycek

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 09:36 AM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce

Originally Posted By: -Frycek
Of course you have to put in an awful lot of hard work to know whether you have talent or not....

I've never found that to be true; a natural affinity and aptitude for a task yield positive results without any hard work at all, so the presence of such a "flair" is quickly recognized. I certainly would agree that maximizing and maintaining one's level of achievement that takes a lot of hard work.

Walter Gieseking said, "Talent goes in inverse ratio to the necessity for practice." Unfortunately, he didn't mention that sustained success goes in direct ratio to the need for practice.

Steven


Unfortunately, I was writing from bitter experience and perhaps might have better put it that it takes a lot of hard work and pigheadedness for the more determined of us to accept the fact that we have no talent at all.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 09:52 AM

Time for another quotation, this time from Thomas Paine, to express my own bitter experience: "What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly."

I think hard work toward a worthy goal is something to be proud of. (Yipes, that may invite another quotation about the perils of pride. smile )

Steven
Posted by: Morodiene

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 10:16 AM

I agree here that talent needs to be accounted for. Opportunities (right time, right place) notwithstanding. The thought that being born in the early part of the year has an effect on a student may be true, but only for those who are in the school system. What about home-schooled or those whose school years are year-round? And what does that have to do with piano at all? For most students, piano study is solitary, and there is little idea of how one measures up with another unless there are competitions involved.

At any rate, the only effect being born during a particular time of year in a school setting might possibly be self-confidence, which has dubious positives (often people with lots of self-confidence think that whatever they do is great, inflating the actual value of their efforts).

People still think in terms of "nature vs. nurture" rather than "nature AND nurture." Talent comes in the way of certain genetic characteristics that when "nurtured" bring about a better result in efficiency, ease, ability to execute, etc. than when compared with one who does the equivalent amount of "nurture" without "nature."

I've witnessed my fair share of students over the years who were hard workers and earned every piece they learned. It was a great effort for them to be able to play hands together and hope for some dynamics and articulations. I've also seen those who I know would put in zero effort, and while they did poorly, on the times when I woudl convince them to actually practice, woudl come in with the ability to play it far sooner than I expected.

I never pigeon-hole my students, by the way. I want them all to do the best they can, at whatever level they are capable of. Music can be enjoyed by all, but not everyone is designed to be a professional musician. I know sometimes things show up a bit later on as well, and so only time will tell with some students(latent talent). These are just the traits that students displayed to me. Students in both categories had supportive families and decent instruments to practice on.

So what makes up for the difference? Being born at a different time of the year? Being at the right time and right place/luck? Having someone else, a competitor, "fail" at a time when they can step in and fill the void? Those things sound great, but when applied to piano are utterly ridiculous.
Posted by: jotur

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 11:49 AM

The idea that when was born in the year, in the Outliers book, came from a study of young boys in a hockey program. There was a cut-off date that determined when you could enter the program. So there was sometimes almost a year's difference in age of those who were considered, say "six-year-olds". The ones who were older were physically bigger and almost a year more mature - a significant difference at younger ages. The older ones played better, and people assumed they had more talent - not taking into account the age difference. The idea was that, no matter *when* the cut-off date was in a year, the same effect would be there. If the cut-off date was June 1, then that would determine who was older, if the cut-off date was Dec 31, that would determine it. It wasn't the physical time of the year that made the difference.

Gladwell's sense was that the same affect would happen in other activities - like school. In piano, my impression is that people understand that "almost 4-year-olds" and "almost 5-year-olds" will probably progress differently, altho there will be some students with more affinity for piano. For adult beginners I doubt it has any affect.

Cathy
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 01:11 PM

joutur,

thanks so much for summarizing, you saved me a lot of time smile I don't have the book with me, so I wasn't able to explain what Gladewell meant in detail. I think he goes on to talk about how these older 'more talented' kids go on to play in the top team, youth camps.. etc and they have much more exposure to quality training... So the advantage becomes exponentially bigger as they grow older.

I think Gladwell also mentions a study that was done about music students. What they found out was that the top students practiced anywhere between 8,000-10,000 hrs, sometimes even more, where as the ones who weren't good enough to be performers practiced 5000 hrs or less.

speaking of quotes...

"People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, no one has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times." Mozart

“I believe in things that are developed through hard work. I always like people who have developed long and hard, especially through introspection and a lot of dedication. I think what they arrive at is usually a much deeper and more beautiful thing than the person who seems to have that ability and fluidity from the beginning." Bill Evans
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 01:28 PM

[Wades into yet another talent vs. practice quagmire of a thread, 10-foot-pole in hand.]

sotto voce, I normally agree with everything you say, but I gotta disagree on the "talent is a crucial variable" argument. There's a lot of good researchers making a persuasive argument that talent is vastly overrated; some argue that there is, in fact, no such thing as "innate talent." Here's what my students are reading for next week in my psych of music class:

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, J. C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

Howe, M. J. A., Davidson, J. W., & Sloboda, J. A. (1998). Innate talents: Reality or myth? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21, 399-442.

The second article, if you can get hold of it, is especially interesting. The first part of it is a review article by Howe et al. describing all the literature suggesting that concentrated, deliberate practice is all that is needed to gain expertise in any subject. But about 3/4 of the article consists of rebuttals by other eminent scholars trying to poke holes in that argument. It's fascinating reading.

My own take on the O.P.'s question: You can start as an adult and, with sufficient focused practice and dedication, you can become an expert pianist and successful professional musician. "Innate talent" (if it even exists) plays only a negligible role (if it plays a role at all).

That doesn't rule out the importance of those other factors mentioned by people here; 'being in the right place at the right time' matters a great deal, too. But it's also true that if you broaden your definition of "right place" beyond that of the world's leading orchestras, there are a lot of potential "right places" a pianist can find him- or herself in. thumb
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 02:00 PM

Monica, at least we can agree here that these threads are a quagmire. smile

I knew from past quagmires that your view of "talent" was different from mine. I recognize how intangible it is; all I can say in defense of its existence is that people with comparable backgrounds and experiences tend to experience differing results when learning a new task despite comparable efforts.

Maybe "talent" is no longer a good term for that difference, and I can't deny that there could be a constellation of other factors as well. Still, I think it's manifest that some people are "naturals" in the way they "take to" certain things; they progress at a faster rate and with less effort than the average person. If that were strictly anecdotal, it wouldn't carry much weight—but I'm pretty sure that it matches the real-life experiences that most of us have had.

Steven
Posted by: spatial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 02:40 PM

I think it is also important to recognize several factors that might be mistaken for lack of "talent":

* Learning disabilities
* Inappropriate teaching style
* Lack of motivation
* Lack of self-confidence
* Improper practicing
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 09:24 PM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce

Still, I think it's manifest that some people are "naturals" in the way they "take to" certain things; they progress at a faster rate and with less effort than the average person. If that were strictly anecdotal, it wouldn't carry much weight—but I'm pretty sure that it matches the real-life experiences that most of us have had.

Well, Steven, that has been very true in my experience.

Second year at university I studied the Saint-Seans 4th piano concerto. I put in my time practicing it -and managed to pull if off- but one of my mates was concurrently practicing the Beethoven 2nd, and there was plenty of evidence that he worked as hard as I did, but he simply never managed to conquer its technical challenges. (And they are intense, but not particularly more than the S-S 4th.)

The next year I switched to organ and church music, and once again I simply progressed faster than several of my mates. If that was to due to my intense -and experienced- Anglican background, I don't know, but what do you say to a friend that complains about the difficulty of the Bach 9/8 (P&C in C), but yet I got it within 10 days?

I'm no keyboard genius -and my application to Durham Cathedral is only a fantasy- but the mistaken idea that great piano or organ playing is all 'hard work' is utterly sickening to me. Yes indeed, there's plenty of hard work involved, but that measly 1% talent is what makes all that hard work pay off.

Why don't people understand that? It's not like balancing one's checkbook -anyone can do that if they apply a certain amount of effort- we're talking something so far removed, and to say hard work is all that is important makes a silly mockery of Rachmaninov, Horowitz, Argerich... or put in any name you wish.

Over and out, this issue is beyond tiresome.
Posted by: FormerFF

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 10:21 PM

No such thing as talent? Gary Graffman was accepted into the Curtis Institute at age seven. Keith Jarrett was playing in front of paying audiences at age eight - during which he played two of his own compositions.

When I was a child, my parents would tell me, "You can accomplish anything you put your mind to.". Boy, were they wrong. In my case, it resulted in a lot of frustration. I have two daughters. What I would tell them is, "You never know until you try." There will be many things that they can accomplish, and others that they can't.

On a different tack, for most nonretired adults, practice time will be the greatest limitation on what they can accomplish on the piano. Speaking of which, I'm off to practice. smile
Posted by: Damon

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 10:35 PM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce

Maybe "talent" is no longer a good term for that difference, and I can't deny that there could be a constellation of other factors as well. Still, I think it's manifest that some people are "naturals" in the way they "take to" certain things; they progress at a faster rate and with less effort than the average person. If that were strictly anecdotal, it wouldn't carry much weight—but I'm pretty sure that it matches the real-life experiences that most of us have had.
Steven


I think many people have trouble dealing with the idea of talent because it creates the fear that they won't be able to achieve their goals through the application of hard work alone. Maybe also because it implies a gift from a diety in which they don't believe.
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 10:43 PM

Originally Posted By: FormerFF
No such thing as talent? Gary Graffman was accepted into the Curtis Institute at age seven.

Thanks, I didn't know that.

I'm up too late this morning -must have been all the curry- but I was contacted by an Anglican Church earlier today to fill in for their organist who was taken sick.

I don't even know what the hymns are, let alone the anthem. I'll figure out some service music later on.

Whatever, I think that must take a certain amount of talent, but of course wasn't that just hard work? Not really, I do this stuff well. It is second nature. That is talent.

But as I say, Durham Cathedral is not asking for my services. Nuts to that. grin
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 11:24 PM

Originally Posted By: Damon

I think many people have trouble dealing with the idea of talent because it creates the fear that they won't be able to achieve their goals through the application of hard work alone. Maybe also because it implies a gift from a diety in which they don't believe.

thumb

Very nice, Damon.

Religion isn't very trendy these days -not surprisingly- but I certainly attribute my ability to play an Anglican service at short notice to (a)I've done this stuff a lot and (b)I actually want to be of service to that church.

Fair enough.
Posted by: gooddog

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/11/09 11:52 PM

I've been following this thread with interest. At the risk of sounding immodest,I've been told that I have the right talent and I have the right work ethic. Time (a full time job) is the only factor that is holding me back. I honestly don't know if my talent and hard work will be enough but I do know that I deeply love making music. It makes me enormously happy and satisfied. Only recently, I discovered I like performing so I am allowing myself to have dreams. I've always believed I could do anything if I have the right tools and a willingness to work hard enough for it. Maybe I'll become just another nameless mediocre advanced pianist or maybe kismet will work in my favor. Heck, Grandma Moses became a famous artist in her 90's. I'm not being unrealistic, I'm simply opening myself to possibilities.
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/12/09 01:01 AM

gooddog

I really hope you do achieve whatever it is you want to achieve on the piano. I kind of realized the important thing is to be okay with it if you don't get there. I have certain things I want to do in music too, but I can't beat myself up for not getting there, esp if I am working hard to get there. If you really love something you'll keep on doing it regardless of outcome.. and the joy that one can receive from music is available to everyone regardless of their level of proficiency.

I guess in the end it's best to set aside any expectations we have on what we can or cannot do...and treat whatever achievement we get as fruit of labor, product of joy you receive from enojoying music.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/12/09 01:54 AM

Originally Posted By: gooddog
I do know that I deeply love making music. It makes me enormously happy and satisfied. ... Maybe I'll become just another nameless mediocre advanced pianist or maybe kismet will work in my favor. Heck, Grandma Moses became a famous artist in her 90's. I'm not being unrealistic, I'm simply opening myself to possibilities.
As you should. But "nameless" and "mediocre" are not synonymous smile. You may end up nameless (or perhaps fameless would be more what I mean) but that doesn't mean you have to be mediocre. I decided long ago what sort of pianist I wanted to be. Fame didn't really have anything much to do with it.
Posted by: gooddog

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/12/09 12:58 PM

etcetra and currawong, you've both captured what I was trying to say. I've always played and worked hard at it just for the pleasure of learning and making beautiful music. I'm very much one of those "enjoy the journey" people. It's only very recently that I've been finding out what I have. What has changed for me are my priorities. Now that my kids are raised, my top priority is still my marriage but number 2 is now the piano. (Unfortunately, I have to continue working at my job). I'm not heavily focused on a long term goal; I've just opened the door to it. I won't be crushed if nothing comes of this, but I'm no longer closed to the possibilities.

In response to the thread: Our society has made the mistake of believing that potential is the sole province of the young and that we fade away as we age. This is so wrong. As we get into our 50's, 60's, 70's and beyond, we are healthier and longer lived than generations before us. Changing and prolonging careers is becoming common. The body may be a bit more creaky, but the mind and its potential are just as vibrant as they were in our youth. We've experienced loss, hard work, profound joy and sadness. Our experience, and perspective allow us to have a deeper understanding of the music. We have more patience and more appreciation of what is precious. Put all this together with talent, time, training and luck, who knows what can happen?
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/12/09 05:30 PM

Originally Posted By: argerichfan


Second year at university I studied the Saint-Seans 4th piano concerto. I put in my time practicing it -and managed to pull if off- but one of my mates was concurrently practicing the Beethoven 2nd, and there was plenty of evidence that he worked as hard as I did, but he simply never managed to conquer its technical challenges.




Your relegation of your mate to the piano scrap heap strikes me as brutish. It is evident that he suffered a blockage, that's all. Very talented people, "naturals", can experience that as well, and do. The reasons are not evident. Life is often complex, you know.

A blockage can dure a long time.

I've seen this occur in every realm of activity that I know, even activities a greal deal more simple that playing a Saint-Seans concerto. Many people do have periods where balancing their checkbook seems an unsurmountable task.




Originally Posted By: argerichfan


I'm no keyboard genius -and my application to Durham Cathedral is only a fantasy- but the mistaken idea that great piano or organ playing is all 'hard work' is utterly sickening to me. Yes indeed, there's plenty of hard work involved, but that measly 1% talent is what makes all that hard work pay off.

... to say hard work is all that is important makes a silly mockery of Rachmaninov, Horowitz, Argerich... or put in any name you wish.



I don't know who says that it is just a question of hard work. I don't remember having read that idea in this thread, and I don't have the impression that etcetra is defending this idea.

There are many excellent musicians, capable of deeply emotive playing, who are not a Horowitz or an Argerich.

Music, like love, is a human characteristic. It is not reserved for a handful of lucky souls.
Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 06:40 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra


I think Gladwell also mentions a study that was done about music students. What they found out was that the top students practiced anywhere between 8,000-10,000 hrs, sometimes even more, where as the ones who weren't good enough to be performers practiced 5000 hrs or less.



But this gets into questions of why some students practiced more than others. Obviously, if you are talented at something, doing whatever it is that you are talented in will be gratifying in ways that it won't be if you aren't talented in that area. So, lots of practice and talent go together in ways that do not mean that practice creates talent.

Quote:


speaking of quotes...

"People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you, no one has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times." Mozart



And so...? Most people with a huge talent in an established art still have to do all the groundwork, and they often are incredibly focused at gaining as much knowledge as they can. That drive to soak up as much as they can is a manifestation of the talent.

But it should also be mentioned that Mozart himself said things that would lead one to think that composing was the easiest thing in the world for him.

And finally, working as hard as Mozart will not turn just anyone into another Mozart. If that were true, we'd have many more Mozarts.

Quote:


“I believe in things that are developed through hard work. I always like people who have developed long and hard, especially through introspection and a lot of dedication. I think what they arrive at is usually a much deeper and more beautiful thing than the person who seems to have that ability and fluidity from the beginning." Bill Evans


He's talking about a preference for artistic depth achieved the hard way, over being facile. I don't think that has much to do with the topic. And frankly, the quote reads to me like a bit of sad self-flattery, from a very badly messed-up person who was a wonderful jazz musician in spite of everything.
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 08:23 AM

Wr,

As far as practice goes who knows. If you are implying that talented people practiced more because it was easier and more enjoyable for them, that is not necessary of case. There are plenty of good (jazz) musicians who wasn't good enough to be accepted at good schools, but that didn't stop them from trying. Some of them practiced through years and years of frustration and not being accepted.

I don't know how much you know about Bill Evans. yes he had drug problems, but if you watch his interviews and read up on him. he was very articulate and intellegent and very modest person. To me you calling Bill Evan's quote a form of "self-flattery" tells me more about you than Bill Evans.

landorrano,

Yes I am not saying you can get there ALL by hard work, or that we can all play like Horowitz or Keith Jarrett. Thanks for actually understanding my point!! smile

Of course there are exceptional talents out there, and we can't expect to do what they are able to do.

As far as I know majority of (jazz) musicians believe that the had modest talent at best, and the rest was just result of hard work. I've read Pat Metheny, Bill Evans, Dave Liebman saying the same thing. So I guess I tend to value hard work more than talent... and you don't need exceptional/genius talent to do things at a high level.

To me talent just seems overrated. There are plenty of late-bloomers are there, and early promise never translates to success later on. one thing I learned from college from my teachers is that you never know what happens to people after college.

I heard one of my teachers told me my jazz teacher was actually pretty horrible when he was in college, and everyone thought he just didn't "have it". In fact, he was so horrible back then that nobody could believe he was able to do what he is doing right now.

I guess the point is that nobody is really fully capable of judging anyone's talents. In some ways growth is a mysterious thing, when we get blocked, we never know how long we are blocked.. and we never know when breakthrough would occur, it might occur tommorow, or it might never occur at all

this is from Dave Liebman's article

GENIUS OR WORK?
In my opinion the only pure genius in music was Mozart. He was different from day one, he had it hooked up. EVERYBODY ELSE WORKED THEIR ASS OFF!! EVERYBODY!! Bird worked, Trane worked, Bill Evans worked, even Miles in his way worked-I can tell you that. Of course each person has their own way of practicing and their own goals but it is not about genius or incredible talent only (of course you have to have some degree of that). It’s about commitment—I can do this, I can get better, I can be at least as good as that guy over there. Everybody in this room can get better. If you really wish to get better, whether you are a professional, an aspiring student or play for a hobby. Whichever way, it is the same. Whatever level you are on, it doesn’t matter; you can be better than you think if you put time in and are serious about it. It’s how you organize your time that is crucial.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 08:37 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
To me talent just seems overrated. There are plenty of late-bloomers are there...


This may be true in jazz, but not in classical music. Tere have been numerous threads at PW about this, and to the best of my recollection no one has been able to name a single world class pianist who didn't start out very early and was not a terrific pianists at a young age.
Posted by: Andromaque

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 09:43 AM

Denying the existence of talent or "innate gift" is denying human physiology. We are determined to some extent by our genes. Why do people accept this concept when it comes to some physical features, such as eye and hair color but not to more complex phenotypes such as aspects of brain function. Does anyone really believe that we are born with tabula rasa brains ready to be loaded with anything and without the hint of an operating sytem or a bit of pre-programming that allows the brain to receive and process information? Wouldn't we be a lot less diverse if that were the case.
The fact that all acoomplished people "work hard" cannot be considered, not even remotely, as an argument against the existence of talent. Now the environment (exposure, early practice,listening to music at home etc) plays an enormous role, and perhaps for practical purposes, it can obviate the need for that extra advantage called talent, but it all really depends on your standards of outcome evaluation. If you place a good orchestra violinist in the same bin as David Oistrakh or Vadim Repin or Jasha Heifetz, then yes you can consider talent overrated. But one needs to examine high achievement at a higher resolution. Nowadays many factors greatly facilitate our ability to develop skills and go very far in achieving proficiency: widespread access to good instruments and instruction, easy exposure to music, improved standards of living and increased leisure time, are but a few factors. But that does not "debunk" the idea of "talent". Neither does the existence of a genetic predisposition towards a complex activity deny the rest of the popualtion the ability to learn a skill.
I will add, with some trepidation, that this resistance to the idea of talent especially in the music arena is almost peculiarly American. I don't know where we get it. Something about our national psyche. We are quite responsive to the idea of "yes we can" (uhummm) and I think that is a "good thing", but it is not a free-out-of-genetics jail card.
Take another instance of very high performance: do you really think that anyone is cut out to be an excellent surgeon? Hundreds of doctors and surgeons are graduated every year and most are very competent But not all are capable of performing the most complex procedures with equal success. Yes, experience matters, but if you do not have that extra something (a facility with 3-dimensional visualisation, good judgment.. notice we are not just saying plain old dexterity), you are not even likely to go as far as being able to obtain the 'experience". If you needed a complicated procedure, would you go to any doctor with a degree?? Would you not want to go to the one who is most talented and whi has the best results? Sure, the hospital he or she practices at, the type of training etc all go into the assessment, but there is no question that some are more talented than others. You just need to compare them under more "extraordinary circumstnaces" and not "routine procedure".
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 09:53 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
[...]Yes I am not saying you can get there ALL by hard work, or that we can all play like Horowitz or Keith Jarrett....

So I guess I tend to value hard work more than talent... and you don't need exceptional/genius talent to do things at a high level.

You might need it to do things at the highest level—like, for example, Horowitz and Jarrett. smile

Originally Posted By: etcetra
To me talent just seems overrated.

Another member, in another of these interminable discussions about this selfsame topic, once opined, "People who write such things about talent generally do not have any." That statement may contain bluntness and hyperbole, but I think it distills a certain truth about the subject.

The desire to minimize the importance and impact of talent can certainly seem like a mechanism (1) to protect and bolster the self-esteem of those who may lack it, and (2) to sustain the motivation to achieve notwithstanding one's assets or imperfections. There's nothing wrong with promoting a serious work ethic, but people who have natural gifts don't seem to share such a preoccupation with the theories of natural ability versus hard work that downplay talent.

Originally Posted By: etcetra
There are plenty of late-bloomers are there, and early promise never translates to success later on....

this is from Dave Liebman's article

GENIUS OR WORK?
In my opinion the only pure genius in music was Mozart.

It's simply untrue that "early promise never translates to success later on," and highly doubtful that "the only pure genius in music was Mozart." (I added italics to emphasize the kind of absolute terms that raise the red flag of skepticism.) Liebman made clear that his statement about Mozart was just his opinion, but I can't imagine any basis for an assertion that Mozart was unique in his capacities as a musician.

Steven
Posted by: -Frycek

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 10:03 AM

At the risk of blowing my secular cover, "faith without works is dead." To me it's the same with talent. I have no doubt whatsoever it exists, it's just that by itself, it's not all that much. You have to do something with it. Even Liszt practiced eight to ten hours a day for years. A strong willed, but modestly talented (read relatively untalented) individual might do the same, and develop into a very respectable amateur pianist but he'd never be Liszt and Liszt if he'd practiced a good deal less would still have been a great virtuoso, but he wouldn't have been THE Great Virtuoso.
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 10:56 AM

pianoloverus,

Yes, that is true, but I have met good number of people who started late and was able to achieve "professional level" by your definition, meaning graduating college/grad school with a performance degree.

sotto voce,

My experience was that everybody in music school seem to have some kind of talent, but there were very few people that I would say was truly exceptional. So my feeling, and (probably every else's feeling)was that whatever talent we had was modest at best. I can say the same thing about most of my teachers too.

So in that sense I don't believe you have to have 'exceptional' talent like Jarrett or Horowitz to play at a high/respectable (maybe even professional) level. being a world-class performer is completely different issue.

"but people who have natural gifts don't seem to share such a preoccupation with the theories of natural ability versus hard work that downplay talent."

but then again, Dave Liebman, Bill Evans, and Pat Metheny all downplay talent. They've all said, one way or the other that they have modest talent at best, and it's hard work that got there.

as far as "People who write such things about talent generally do not have any." goes.. Thomas Edison once said “Genius was 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”.. So I guess I'll take both statements with grain of salt smile

I am not saying talent is irrelevant or you don't need talent to succeed.. but it's important to realize talent is 'perceived', its something that someone either "seem" to have or not, and often times we can be wrong about our assessment. Sometimes people's real talent don't really emerge until later in their development.

Maybe part of the reason I feel this way about talent is because I grew up in Asia, and people tend to place you according to whatever talent you seem to posses at a young age. But as far as I know, that kind of filtering has not been very effective in many cases, and in some ways it was harmful to children's development.

Andromaque,

No I don't believe that everyone is capable of becoming a excellent/exceptional surgeon. But I don't think it's impossible for people with average talent to become a doctor or even a 'descent' surgeon.. and becoming a doctor is a pretty high level of achievement in itself, even though it may not be as spectacular as being a world class surgeon.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 11:29 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
but then again, Dave Liebman, Bill Evans, and Pat Metheny all downplay talent. They've all said, one way or the other that they have modest talent at best, and it's hard work that got there.

I am sure that talented people who downplay their own talent do so out of a sense of humility, modesty and good taste. It would be unseemly to exhibit any semblance of vanity or boastfulness about something that comes from genetic happenstance and amounts to luck of the draw.

Hard work has bragging rights; natural endowments do not.

Steven
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 12:24 PM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce
Originally Posted By: etcetra
but then again, Dave Liebman, Bill Evans, and Pat Metheny all downplay talent. They've all said, one way or the other that they have modest talent at best, and it's hard work that got there.

I am sure that talented people who downplay their own talent do so out of a sense of humility, modesty and good taste. It would be unseemly to exhibit any semblance of vanity or boastfulness about something that comes from genetic happenstance and amounts to luck of the draw.

Hard work has bragging rights; natural endowments do not.

Steven


That may be true, but we haven't talk to them in person so we can't really assume. As far as I've read, Bill Evans genuinely believed that he did not possess any exceptional talent.

Also I remember Bill Evan's talking about how talented people may get 'stuck' at one point of their development. If a lot of things comes easy/natural to you, you might not have the ability to deal with something that is difficult later on.

Also when I read Kenny Werner's "effortless mastery", my impression is that a lot of one's success largely depended on how you practice and your attitude about learning. He talks about how things came more natural to him, not necessary because he had exceptional talent, but because he learned how to practice at an early age. I don't think he dismiss talent completely, but I wouldn't be surprised if he said that the reason people don't achieve their desired level has less to do with talent than we think.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 12:32 PM

I wasn't referring to super-talented performers or to anyone specific at all; I meant people in general who have a degree of talent of which they are aware.

This thread is becoming awesome. etcetra, I'm wondering just how many times you're going to resummarize and restate the exact same points. smile

Steven
Posted by: sophial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 02:37 PM

I hesitate to enter the fray but I did look up and check out the articles Monica (very graciously) pointed us towards. I must say I did not find them as convincing as she did on the "training" side of the "training versus talent" controversy. I think the rejoinders to the Howe article were very interesting and a great intellectual free for all ensued. Fascinating stuff!

As I've said in past threads, part of the difficulty with discussions like this is they tend to polarize into "either-or" thinking: nature vs nurture when of course it's BOTH working synergistically. I accept the evidence that focused practice makes a huge difference in skill level over time and in maximizing one’s natural aptitudes and abilities. However, there are some reasons I don’t buy the full argument that 10,000 hours is sufficient to turn anyone selected at random into a professional-level or elite pianist.

I think the problem with much of the expertise literature is that it is not dealing with randomly selected populations but compares different levels of attainment within groups of musicians, or chess players, or other skilled groups. When the sample is selected from one end of the distribution and the range is restricted on that variable, the correlation of that variable with outcomes will be reduced (a statistical effect of range restriction). So within that group, yes, practice will show larger effects because they are already self-selected to probably have a higher than average degree of aptitude (“talent” if you will) compared to the population as a whole.

If we think of this literature in terms of how to best nurture and develop aptitudes in people (which probably are some combination of cognitive, physical, and temperament endowments) - it makes sense. People who start out with some aptitude and interest, who are highly motivated to improve, and who stick with it (remember there is a strong attrition process as those not doing well drop out) will improve, and often greatly improve, to some level of expertise after many hours of focused concentrated practice (not just repetition, but focused on skill building). I have no argument with that and think the evidence is quite good for it.

It gets interpreted though by many people as meaning that if you select people randomly you can create Martha Argerich, Vladimir Horowitz or Mozart by subjecting them to 10k hours of focused training. I just don't think there is any good evidence to that effect (and I read the studies Monica cites – there is far from consensus among scientists that talent is nonexistent or irrelevant. Just read the rejoinders to the Howe article. Some excellent points by eminent scientists for the other side.) In the real world, people don't spend 10,000 hours doing something they have no aptitude for-- the process weeds out those who are not making progress. Perhaps having the cognitive and physical ability to intensely concentrate, focus and discipline oneself to not only put in the time but benefit from and progress as a result of hours and hours of efficient practice is in fact part of the underlying set of aptitudes that we call talent!

I've made this point in other threads, but I find it interesting that most people have little trouble accepting that you need to be born with a great vocal apparatus to become a world class singer but that somehow the same principle doesn't apply to the piano. Yes, much hard work, many hours of practice and a will to succeed are also necessary to have a professional career, but without the basic physical apparatus, all the work in the world will not produce a Renee Fleming or Joan Sutherland, nor will it produce a Horowitz, Argerich or Richter. That's not to say hard work is not needed but it's not going anywhere without the basic underlying physical and mental aptitudes. Training is no doubt necessary but I do not think it is sufficient to achieve elite status. And other set of factors come into play to have commercial success in a professional career as a musician-- much hinges on temperament, luck, timing, good connections, drive and even, these days, how good looking one is!

So I agree that it takes stuggle, sacrifice and intense practice even for the innately talented. The only thing we can control is how much and how well we work. We can't go back and trade in our genetics or our very early learning experiences. So let's focus on high quality hard work and see how far it gets us. But it's also important to have some realistic expectations too. On a population basis, only a few people will make it to the top. However, it's difficult to predict for any individual where she/he will end up given the right kind of focused work-- which is why this should not be interpreted as discouraging people from working as hard and well as they can and seeing how far they can progress.

Sophia
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 05:52 PM

Originally Posted By: sophial


In the real world, people don't spend 10,000 hours doing something they have no aptitude for-- the process weeds out those who are not making progress.



If this is one of the excellent points by an eminent scientist, he ought to stick to his specialty.

Everyone has an aptitude for playing music. Just as everyone has an aptitude for language. It is a human characteristic. If great talent or genious exist, they exist on the basis of this general human quality.

And yes, of course people spend 10000 hours doing things for which "they have no aptitude". Jogging, for example. And just look at how many people run marathons today, and the years of preparation that that implies. If people had that kind of preoccupation with their artistic being instead of their physical fitness, that would be interesting. There'd be a much richer basis for discussing the importance of in-born talent in music or in art.

That is obviously a social phenomenon and has nothing to do with individual talent or aptitude.

To take up your example of singers, I think that there as well things are not so evident. You have a very specific idea in mind of what a great singer is. Yet I have heard Pavarotti say that everyone has a great voice inside of him, it is just a question to find it. I am firmly of this opinion as well.

And Louis Armstrong, does he not fit the bill as a great singer? Did he have the right apparatus?

This idea of the "basic physical apparatus" of a Joan Sutherland or a Martha Agerich strikes me as tredding very close to the idea of Stalinist genetics that a selective reproduction can be effectuated resulting in a population of bel canto.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/13/09 09:31 PM

Originally Posted By: landorrano
Originally Posted By: sophial

In the real world, people don't spend 10,000 hours doing something they have no aptitude for-- the process weeds out those who are not making progress.

If this is one of the excellent points by an eminent scientist, he ought to stick to his specialty.

Everyone has an aptitude for playing music. Just as everyone has an aptitude for language. It is a human characteristic.

(I can't believe I'm getting into this...)
Everyone may have an aptitude for making music - but we're talking a bit more specifically here, aren't we? We're talking about playing a specific instrument, a piano. Surely you don't think that everyone has an equal aptitude for playing the violin, or the flute, or the double bass?
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 12:55 AM

A lot of people are arguing as if I am saying there is no such thing as talent or that we are all capable of playing like the best of the best just from hard work..and that is not what I am talking about.

Originally Posted By: landorrano

I don't know who says that it is just a question of hard work. I don't remember having read that idea in this thread, and I don't have the impression that etcetra is defending this idea.


If I can get this much across, then I wouldn't need to repeat myself so often smile

landorrano,

If you look at Bulgarain and African ethnic music, there are a lot of complex rhythm and odd-meter stuff that most people would find 'intimidating'... I think most of us would conclude that the music is way beyond our ability and these people are born with innate talent for rhythm. But for them, those things are natural part of their lives. And if you visit them, they might be surprised to see you struggling with things that even kids are able to do there. Of course there are different levels of excellence among them, but overall their aptitude for rhythm is better than most of us.
Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 01:54 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
Wr,

As far as practice goes who knows. If you are implying that talented people practiced more because it was easier and more enjoyable for them, that is not necessary of case. There are plenty of good (jazz) musicians who wasn't good enough to be accepted at good schools, but that didn't stop them from trying. Some of them practiced through years and years of frustration and not being accepted.



I don't understand what point you are trying to make. On one hand, you are saying these are good musicians who practiced a lot, but it sounds like you are also saying they aren't good musicians (i.e., haven't got talent).

Quote:


I don't know how much you know about Bill Evans. yes he had drug problems, but if you watch his interviews and read up on him. he was very articulate and intellegent and very modest person. To me you calling Bill Evan's quote a form of "self-flattery" tells me more about you than Bill Evans.



In the quote you cited, he could just as well have come right out and said that he thought it was his own artistry that was a "deeper and more beautiful thing" than the artistry of people who, in his eyes, didn't work so hard as he did. And that sounds like self-flattery to me. He wasn't talking about Vladimir Horowitz, you know, he was talking about musicians who just happened to be exactly like him (I wonder who those players were who he thought had "that ability and fluidity" from the start, that he didn't think so highly of).

If he really thought he had little or no talent, he must have been defining the word to suit his self-image. It was obvious to other people that he did have a massive talent, or he never would have become famous and we would never have heard of him. Oftentimes, it is others who recognize that a person has talent, not they themselves. To the talented person, they just are what they are, and it only gets to be seen as unusual when compared to other people. That can mean they are not in a position to accurately assess whether they have talent.

In jazz musicians, talent can be a very different thing than in classical players, and it can be as much or more a compositional/arranging/improvisational talent as a performing one in the classical music sense. And to the extent that a person is coming up with a unique style, it can take a while to get worked out, and while that working out is in process, the person may not seem to be doing a whole lot that is especially notable, and may not be getting much positive reinforcement along the way.
Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 03:05 AM

Originally Posted By: etcetra
A lot of people are arguing as if I am saying there is no such thing as talent or that we are all capable of playing like the best of the best just from hard work..and that is not what I am talking about.

Originally Posted By: landorrano

I don't know who says that it is just a question of hard work. I don't remember having read that idea in this thread, and I don't have the impression that etcetra is defending this idea.


If I can get this much across, then I wouldn't need to repeat myself so often smile



Well, then, what is your point? That everyone is capable of being mediocre at whatever they want to be mediocre at?

Quote:


landorrano,

If you look at Bulgarain and African ethnic music, there are a lot of complex rhythm and odd-meter stuff that most people would find 'intimidating'... I think most of us would conclude that the music is way beyond our ability and these people are born with innate talent for rhythm. But for them, those things are natural part of their lives. And if you visit them, they might be surprised to see you struggling with things that even kids are able to do there. Of course there are different levels of excellence among them, but overall their aptitude for rhythm is better than most of us.



!!!!!!!!!
Posted by: etcetra

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 01:20 PM

wr,

I get the impression that you are saying you either have to be mediocre or spectacular in music... I hate to repeat myself again, but all I am saying is that with modest talent, people seem to be able to attain high level of achievement in music (even professional level), even though it may not be spectacular keith jarrett level. Some of my teachers genuinely showed no talent in college.. at least it seemed that way back then.

As far as my comment about rhythm and culture. I am just making a point that we taking ALOT of things for granted, and sometimes we don't realize the advantages we have can be seen as innate talent. Are those people genetically superior in terms of rhythmic understanding? who knows, but I am guessing it has to do more with the fact that they are used to these complex rhythms at a very early age.

BTW.. I agree that talent in jazz is quite different than talent in classical. My point is that, very few people seem to have it easily/naturally even among the pros. I used to think I was really slow because it took me weeks sometimes months to learn new scales, chords or new licks, and I was surprised to find out that it was like that for everyone else including Bill Evans or Dave Liebman.

As far as I know very few people had the kind of talent to learn a new voicing in every key and use it the next week. The only person who seem to have that kind of talent is Keith Jarrett.
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 02:03 PM

Originally Posted By: sophial
I hesitate to enter the fray but I did look up and check out the articles Monica (very graciously) pointed us towards. I must say I did not find them as convincing as she did on the "training" side of the "training versus talent" controversy. I think the rejoinders to the Howe article were very interesting and a great intellectual free for all ensued. Fascinating stuff!

As I've said in past threads, part of the difficulty with discussions like this is they tend to polarize into "either-or" thinking: nature vs nurture when of course it's BOTH working synergistically. I accept the evidence that focused practice makes a huge difference in skill level over time and in maximizing one’s natural aptitudes and abilities. However, there are some reasons I don’t buy the full argument that 10,000 hours is sufficient to turn anyone selected at random into a professional-level or elite pianist.

I think the problem with much of the expertise literature is that it is not dealing with randomly selected populations but compares different levels of attainment within groups of musicians, or chess players, or other skilled groups. When the sample is selected from one end of the distribution and the range is restricted on that variable, the correlation of that variable with outcomes will be reduced (a statistical effect of range restriction). So within that group, yes, practice will show larger effects because they are already self-selected to probably have a higher than average degree of aptitude (“talent” if you will) compared to the population as a whole.



Hi Sophia! I'm glad you took the time to look those articles up and found them interesting. You make a lot of wonderful points, and I certainly wouldn't disagree with your major conclusion: performance is going to be a function of both genetic and environmental influences. Where we will disagree is the relative percentages allotted to those two sources of influence.

Here's why I find it hard to accept the position that performance is 100% a function of deliberate practice: I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that 'g' (the innate general intelligence factor) exists and predicts all sorts of important outcomes. So if I'm willing to believe in some sort of dimension of innate ability as it pertains to educational outcomes, why should I not believe in a similar dimension of innate 'musical talent'?

The answer lies in the lack of empirical evidence for such an underlying 'musical talent' ability. Nobody has to date been able to (a) devise a musical IQ test that taps into aptitude (independent of learned performance) and (b) show that these aptitude scores predict musical expertise (controlling for practice), the way that IQ tests have been developed and shown to predict intellectual outcomes.

If 'musical talent' independent of practice exists, we ought to be able to measure it. The Ericsson article talked about efforts to come up with motor coordination and hand independence measures that ought to predict piano ability, but those measures didn't work.

I will confess to feeling sympathetic to the logical argument that there should be some normally distributed underlying individual difference aptitude for music analogous to the 'g' of general intelligence. But we don't have the data at the current time to support it... as opposed to the data in favor of the importance of deliberate practice, of which there is a huge amount.

On a somewhat different note, the jogging/running example mentioned by several posters is illustrative. Ericsson threw out the fascinating example that the winning time of the 1896 Olympic marathon was something like a full minute slower than the qualifying time of the Boston marathon today... a criterion literally tens if not hundreds of thousands of people meet easily today. The difference, of course, can be attributed to better nutrition, health, and training... all environmental factors. In other words, given basic biomechanical health (that is, you need two legs wink ), an argument could be made that training and diet matter much more than one's genetic makeup in determining something as body-focused as running speed.
Posted by: spatial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 03:15 PM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.

The answer lies in the lack of empirical evidence for such an underlying 'musical talent' ability. Nobody has to date been able to (a) devise a musical IQ test that taps into aptitude (independent of learned performance) and (b) show that these aptitude scores predict musical expertise (controlling for practice), the way that IQ tests have been developed and shown to predict intellectual outcomes.


How certain are you that lack of a 'musical IQ' test implies lack of musical talent? Are there are other qualities besides intelligence that can be measured in this way (that might be similar to music)?
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 03:22 PM

Not tremendously certain... I'm a social psychologist, dabbling in the psychology of music for a class I'm teaching. But I've read more of the scientific literature than a casual student. If valid tests of musical talent exist, I'm not aware of them... but would love to be made so.

As to other qualities besides general intelligence that can be reliably measured and have predictive validity, there are certain personality traits that come to mind, e.g., the Big Five (extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, openness to experience, agreeableness). These have well-validated measures and have been shown to predict useful life outcomes. Impulsivity and delay of gratification (which in themselves are related to intelligence) also appear to predict useful outcomes.
Posted by: spatial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 03:33 PM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.
Not tremendously certain... I'm a social psychologist, dabbling in the psychology of music for a class I'm teaching. But I've read more of the scientific literature than a casual student. If valid tests of musical talent exist, I'm not aware of them... but would love to be made so.


But just as a general principle, if no test for measuring a quantity has been discovered, do we assume the attribute is not quantifiable?

Quote:

As to other qualities besides general intelligence that can be reliably measured and have predictive validity, there are certain personality traits that come to mind, e.g., the Big Five (extraversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness, openness to experience, agreeableness). These have well-validated measures and have been shown to predict useful life outcomes. Impulsivity and delay of gratification (which in themselves are related to intelligence) also appear to predict useful outcomes.


How about other qualities that, like musical ability, are only really evident after a significant amount of practice and exposure has been undertaken?

Or, are you saying that musical ability would be the predicted outcome of some hypothetical innate quality? If so, what's an example of a measurable innate quality along with its concrete outcome?
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 03:42 PM

Originally Posted By: spatial

But just as a general principle, if no test for measuring a quantity has been discovered, do we assume the attribute is not quantifiable?



Not necessarily...just that we haven't quantified it yet, and that trait lies in the great big bag of "to be empirically demonstrated" stuff.

Originally Posted By: spatial

How about other qualities that, like musical ability, are only really evident after a significant amount of practice and exposure has been undertaken?

Or, are you saying that musical ability would be the predicted outcome of some hypothetical innate quality? If so, what's an example of a measurable innate quality along with its concrete outcome?


These are great questions, ones I'm not sure I have the answer to. What I would like to see is some way of tapping into musical talent that does not involve actual musical mastery. If we devised a test, for example, that measured how quickly and smoothly a violinist could move his or her bow across a predetermined sequence of strings, it would probably predict skill as a violinist, but it wouldn't help us untangle the innate talent vs. practice question because performance on that measure would be confounded with past experience with violin.

But for the domain of IQ, we *have* developed measures (Raven's progressive matrices come to mind, as well as other nonverbal measures of intelligence) where the tasks involved on the test are largely unrelated to what people have learned in school or everyday life, yet scores on such measures predict outcomes like grades in college, success in careers, etc.

So what would be most useful is if researchers could devise a test that would tap into the skills that are necessary for being a good musician but that don't mimic the actual training musicians receive. And that's tough.
Posted by: spatial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 03:48 PM

Just out of curiosity, are we sure that IQ itself is not a good predictor of musical ability?
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 03:52 PM

I'm glad you're not in my class, because you keep asking good questions that I really ought to know the answers to! laugh

My memory is that I've read of studies that correlated IQ with musical ability and there was no strong/significant effect. [scampers off to look it up, so I'll be prepared when somebody asks me that on Wednesday.]
Posted by: ProdigalPianist

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 05:59 PM

Like many other terms, "talent" seems to come with a lot of baggage. My guess is that what is really going on is more like an affinity for music...a tendency from a very early age to notice and connect with music, long before you start playing an instrument. You have to be able to really listen and hear, connect with music and be able to imagine subtle or not-so-subtle changes or inflections and how that would change the music you're hearing. From then on it's a short step to wanting to try out those variations yourself.

I don't think "talent" is quite the right word for what I'm talking about though. It has been used too much to speak about the ability to actively make the sounds...not actively listen to them and think about them.

There is probably a sliding scale of humanity from "ignore music altogether" on up through world-class musical individuals. There have been times when I could have sat for hours and just played chords on a particularly lovely piano...and my husband didn't hear the difference at all between it and the one next to it.
Posted by: sophial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/14/09 10:09 PM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.
Originally Posted By: sophial
I hesitate to enter the fray but I did look up and check out the articles Monica (very graciously) pointed us towards. I must say I did not find them as convincing as she did on the "training" side of the "training versus talent" controversy. I think the rejoinders to the Howe article were very interesting and a great intellectual free for all ensued. Fascinating stuff!

As I've said in past threads, part of the difficulty with discussions like this is they tend to polarize into "either-or" thinking: nature vs nurture when of course it's BOTH working synergistically. I accept the evidence that focused practice makes a huge difference in skill level over time and in maximizing one’s natural aptitudes and abilities. However, there are some reasons I don’t buy the full argument that 10,000 hours is sufficient to turn anyone selected at random into a professional-level or elite pianist.

I think the problem with much of the expertise literature is that it is not dealing with randomly selected populations but compares different levels of attainment within groups of musicians, or chess players, or other skilled groups. When the sample is selected from one end of the distribution and the range is restricted on that variable, the correlation of that variable with outcomes will be reduced (a statistical effect of range restriction). So within that group, yes, practice will show larger effects because they are already self-selected to probably have a higher than average degree of aptitude (“talent” if you will) compared to the population as a whole.



Hi Sophia! I'm glad you took the time to look those articles up and found them interesting. You make a lot of wonderful points, and I certainly wouldn't disagree with your major conclusion: performance is going to be a function of both genetic and environmental influences. Where we will disagree is the relative percentages allotted to those two sources of influence.

Here's why I find it hard to accept the position that performance is 100% a function of deliberate practice: I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that 'g' (the innate general intelligence factor) exists and predicts all sorts of important outcomes. So if I'm willing to believe in some sort of dimension of innate ability as it pertains to educational outcomes, why should I not believe in a similar dimension of innate 'musical talent'?

The answer lies in the lack of empirical evidence for such an underlying 'musical talent' ability. Nobody has to date been able to (a) devise a musical IQ test that taps into aptitude (independent of learned performance) and (b) show that these aptitude scores predict musical expertise (controlling for practice), the way that IQ tests have been developed and shown to predict intellectual outcomes.

If 'musical talent' independent of practice exists, we ought to be able to measure it. The Ericsson article talked about efforts to come up with motor coordination and hand independence measures that ought to predict piano ability, but those measures didn't work.

I will confess to feeling sympathetic to the logical argument that there should be some normally distributed underlying individual difference aptitude for music analogous to the 'g' of general intelligence. But we don't have the data at the current time to support it... as opposed to the data in favor of the importance of deliberate practice, of which there is a huge amount.

On a somewhat different note, the jogging/running example mentioned by several posters is illustrative. Ericsson threw out the fascinating example that the winning time of the 1896 Olympic marathon was something like a full minute slower than the qualifying time of the Boston marathon today... a criterion literally tens if not hundreds of thousands of people meet easily today. The difference, of course, can be attributed to better nutrition, health, and training... all environmental factors. In other words, given basic biomechanical health (that is, you need two legs wink ), an argument could be made that training and diet matter much more than one's genetic makeup in determining something as body-focused as running speed.


Hi Monica,

I think at least part of the reason it is so difficult to come up with a "musical IQ" test that would be independent of all (or at least most) training and practice effects is that the abilities are so diverse and multifaceted, even more so than intelligence. Piano performance, for example, involves many different skills that are both physical and cognitive, and involve speed of processing, coordination, ability to have or to acquire extremely good control of gross and fine motor activities, visual-motor, visual-spatial, kinesthetic and ballistic skills, as well as listening and musical skills that are interpretive, imaginative, emotive and beyond. To reach very high (i.e. professional performance) levels, I would imagine you need to have at least very good physical, musical and cognitive aptitudes (however they are defined) underlying all these abilities, and have most or all of them simultaneously. Plus then they interact with each other and with experience in ways that become a nightmare to measure.

If each of these aptitudes is distributed normally in the population, the odds of winning the genetic lottery and getting all of them at once are extremely low. For that group practice will likely pay off big time and progress could be extremely rapid. More of us might get some of them at a high enough level to compensate for others that might be weaker. Training might make up the difference, and early training might rewire brain areas in ways that compensate areas not as strong, or strengthen already strong aptitudes. All of these complexities will make it hard to develop a pure measure of musical aptitude or talent.

Re: the correlation with intelligence-- one of the rebuttals by Detterman et al in the Howe article talks about this and cites two articles that found significant relationships between general intelligence and musical ability (not clear how it was measured) in the range of .49 to .69.


Re: the running example, yes, good training, equipment and diet have no doubt made a big difference, but the whole distribution has gotten pulled up, not just the bottom part of it. There is still a wide gap between the Olympic champion and your average community marathoner. In the end, nothing is purely genetic, biological or environmental-- how much of one's potential gets expressed is always some synergistic combination of all these factors.

Sophia
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/17/09 01:12 PM

Originally Posted By: sophial

Re: the running example, yes, good training, equipment and diet have no doubt made a big difference, but the whole distribution has gotten pulled up, not just the bottom part of it. There is still a wide gap between the Olympic champion and your average community marathoner.

Sophia


This is a good point... so good, in fact, that it took me two days to think of a rebuttal to it. laugh Yes, there will still be a wide gap between the Olympic champion and the average marathoner, but that gap could still be caused by environmental factors. We have physiological data to show that certain muscle characteristics associated with running ability follow long-term practice rather than precede it, but little evidence of genetic markers that predict outstanding athletic performance (excepting the case of height and basketball).

My class had a spirited debate about this issue yesterday. The conclusion we reached is the same as yours, and is, indeed, the only one that makes any sense:

Originally Posted By: sophial
In the end, nothing is purely genetic, biological or environmental-- how much of one's potential gets expressed is always some synergistic combination of all these factors.


However, where we differ is that I believe that the environmental component of musical ability is larger than you apparently do, and substantially larger than the corresponding environmental component of, say, cognitive ability... but I would not try to argue that there is no genetic contribution at all.

I am convinced enough of the importance of deliberate practice that I am distressed when I hear people say "I have no talent" or "I could never play a musical instrument" or "It is impossible for people who begin piano as adults to reach an expert performance level." I think all of those statements are incorrect and unnecessarily self-limiting.

I like the following analogy: Playing a musical instrument is rather like reading. There is a minimum aptitude level that must be possessed in order to learn how to read, but pretty much everybody except those at the -1.5 or -2 standard deviation level passes that threshold, and the more focused practice they put into reading, the better at reading they become. There are individual differences: some people learn to read quite easily; others struggle to lesser or greater extents. Some people become reading 'geniuses' who are capable of speed-reading and understanding large and esoteric vocabularies. These individual differences are undoubtedly a function of both innate and environmental factors. But pretty much *everybody* who works at it long and hard enough can become an expert enough reader to be able to read and understand difficult texts. Substitute 'music' for 'reading,' and that sums up my viewpoint on the issue.
Posted by: ProdigalPianist

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/17/09 07:28 PM

The more I read the articles, the more I think that "talent" is being equated with technical expertise, which it should not be.

Too many people, I think even the authors of the papers, are talking about technical skill rather than musicality when they refer to "talent". Note perfect performances of extremely difficult pieces, performed with beautiful technique, are very impressive and deserve every bit of accolade they receive...but I don't think that's necessarily what "musical talent" really is...if there is such a mystical quality given to a few.

I think great strides have been made in piano pedagogy in the last few decades. Sure, there were always world-class teachers, but the astounding, jaw-dropping performances of younger and younger children from more and more places point, to me, that we have learned a LOT about how to be very, very successful in teaching piano. The evidence points to the fact that we simply must have teachers capable of getting people to higher levels than before, in more parts of the world. I overheard someone who has an MA from a well known school say that now high school and even jr high kids are regularly playing stuff that was reserved for grad students when this person was a student.

If you think awesome technique is "talent"...then of course deliberate practice (enough hours in the day, enough days in the year, enough years; combined with a very good teacher) will get you to an impressive level of "talent".

But, as I said, if "talent" exists for some more than others...and IF (huge if) it is NOT something that depends on a particular experience or nurturing of something-or-other in infancy (which we are never gonna know because we can't do controlled experiments on large numbers of people from birth to death to find out)...I argue that it is _enhanced by_ but not _dependent upon_ technical skill.

A grade 2 piece can be played with heartbreaking beauty by someone with "talent"/musicality/sensitivity. Technical difficulties are impressive but not absolutely necessary to music.

The real danger, if you want to call it that, is that far too many people think that if a child has "talent" that they can be given any piece of junk piano and whatever "calls themselves a piano teacher" teacher that's around and cheap...and in a year or two kiddo will be soloing with a symphony or on the Tonight Show...and if that DOESN"T happen the kid clearly didn't have "talent".
Posted by: Philip Lu

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/17/09 10:49 PM

I doubt there is any inborn musical talent, or at most down to some rhythms (which probably don't help much). How long has it been since we have been using instruments in creating music or writing down music for instruments? Even if there is talent in seeing I do not believe that chance could create a trait in the past 2000-5000 years or so since more complex musical instruments have been around. Other than, of course things such as intelligence (It's hard to teach something that has no brain).
But aside from my idle thoughts above, I believe that it is very hard for genes to create musical talent. In this nature vs. nurture, I favor the nurture part of it. Of course, IMO the environment plays the great role in determining whether a child will be successful or not. I still think that the mindset of the person determines everything.
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 12:06 AM

Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 12:54 AM

Originally Posted By: Philip Lu
I doubt there is any inborn musical talent, or at most down to some rhythms...

So basically the accomplishments of a Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Wagner could conceivably be duplicated in any classroom, or the accomplishments of a Rachmaninov, Horowitz or Argerich could be duplicated in any practice room. After all, it's probably just a matter of an inspiring teacher.

Oh yes, throw in some hard work too, forgot about that.

Wow. I guess I had it all wrong.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 01:11 AM

Nah, you had it right. Even though the writer fancies himself more mature than adults several times his age, such "idle thoughts" are those of someone not yet old enough to get a license to drive.

Steven
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 02:17 AM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce
Nah, you had it right. Even though the writer fancies himself more mature than adults several times his age, such "idle thoughts" are those of someone not yet old enough to get a license to drive.

Steven


That's great! We search our Mozarts, and for the others wallop 'em with ideas like that.
Posted by: Andromaque

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 04:52 AM

Don't worry landorrano. A real Mozart can take a sotto voce nudge. smile
Posted by: cardguy

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 08:51 AM

Just to jump in here a bit, for those arguing that many top tier performers insist that it was mostly hard work that got them there, and since they ought to know it must be true, I'd like to say this: that one can't really take credit for talent. It's hard work that's to be admired. If I were a highly skilled pianist, I'd be tempted to say the same thing.

When Thomas Edison say's it's 99 percent perspiration, in my view he's being somewhat disingenuous..
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 10:26 AM

Originally Posted By: cardguy

When Thomas Edison says it's 99 percent perspiration, in my view he's being somewhat disingenuous..

Yes, because it's that '1%' talent (or inspiration) which makes the '99%' perspiration payoff. You can't have one without the other -no matter how hard or long you perspire- which is why breaking this down to percentages is so laughable.
Posted by: sophial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 10:55 AM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.
Originally Posted By: sophial

Re: the running example, yes, good training, equipment and diet have no doubt made a big difference, but the whole distribution has gotten pulled up, not just the bottom part of it. There is still a wide gap between the Olympic champion and your average community marathoner.

Sophia


This is a good point... so good, in fact, that it took me two days to think of a rebuttal to it. laugh Yes, there will still be a wide gap between the Olympic champion and the average marathoner, but that gap could still be caused by environmental factors. We have physiological data to show that certain muscle characteristics associated with running ability follow long-term practice rather than precede it, but little evidence of genetic markers that predict outstanding athletic performance (excepting the case of height and basketball).

My class had a spirited debate about this issue yesterday. The conclusion we reached is the same as yours, and is, indeed, the only one that makes any sense:

Originally Posted By: sophial
In the end, nothing is purely genetic, biological or environmental-- how much of one's potential gets expressed is always some synergistic combination of all these factors.


However, where we differ is that I believe that the environmental component of musical ability is larger than you apparently do, and substantially larger than the corresponding environmental component of, say, cognitive ability... but I would not try to argue that there is no genetic contribution at all.

I am convinced enough of the importance of deliberate practice that I am distressed when I hear people say "I have no talent" or "I could never play a musical instrument" or "It is impossible for people who begin piano as adults to reach an expert performance level." I think all of those statements are incorrect and unnecessarily self-limiting.

I like the following analogy: Playing a musical instrument is rather like reading. There is a minimum aptitude level that must be possessed in order to learn how to read, but pretty much everybody except those at the -1.5 or -2 standard deviation level passes that threshold, and the more focused practice they put into reading, the better at reading they become. There are individual differences: some people learn to read quite easily; others struggle to lesser or greater extents. Some people become reading 'geniuses' who are capable of speed-reading and understanding large and esoteric vocabularies. These individual differences are undoubtedly a function of both innate and environmental factors. But pretty much *everybody* who works at it long and hard enough can become an expert enough reader to be able to read and understand difficult texts. Substitute 'music' for 'reading,' and that sums up my viewpoint on the issue.


Hi Monica
As always, you make great points and I wish I could have been in your class discussion. And I agree that we agree ( smile ) on lots of issues here but probably disagree on the extent to which “talent” or aptitude is in the mix. You mentioned studies showing that certain muscle characteristics associated with running ability follow long-term practice, and of course that’s correct. Training changes the body and brain. However, the extent to which people can make those changes or benefit from training probably depends upon a number of factors, some of which are likely to be related to aptitude. To get to a basic level of competence on a simple task is probably within the capability of most people given training; to get to very high levels of competence on very complex tasks however is where individual differences are more likely to show up even with good training. My contention is that the more multifaceted the abilities required, and the more complex and demanding the task (like playing piano at a professional level), the more individual differences are likely to emerge and persist despite training. In fact, it may be that the ability to benefit from intense training may be part of individual differences that we call “talent”.

A thought experiment:
To take your reading example to an even more basic task, let’s use a really simple task of picking up a small sponge ball from a table and putting it in a paper cup next to it. Most people, even small children, could learn to perform this task quickly after seeing it performed or getting instruction and do it correctly virtually100% of the time. They have all achieved “expert” status at performing this task. Even though there are individual differences among these people, the task is simple enough and easy enough that those differences will not necessarily come into play in meeting the criterion of getting the ball into the cup.

Now let’s start to make the task harder. Take the ball and make it larger, and make the cup a hoop and suspend it 10 feet off the ground. Let’s make everyone an adult who’s never done shot a basketball free throw to keep it simple. Initially, there’s a high failure rate but with practice and training our group of people improves, but some improve more quickly and reach proficiency (let’s say 90%) while others don’t. But given the task is fairly straightforward, let’s give them 10,000 hours of focused practice and probably very many will reach that criterion. However, there will still be some range of proficiency. Now, let’s make it even harder. Add the requirement to dribble, move with and without the ball, and have a very tall and extremely skilled defender attempting to block, steal and otherwise disrupt your shot, requiring you to go around him/her at high speed or jump and elevate to make your shot—think NBA basketball. Even without the height issue, the set of skills required and the complexity of the task starts to result in a widening range of achievement despite intense training—partly (and I stress partly) probably due to individual differences in component abilities that show up as the task gets more complex and the range of skills and abilities gets more diverse and taps into a larger set of underlying competencies that differ among individuals.

I think the same argument can be made with music—depending on where the bar is set, yes, probably most people with practice and training can accomplish basic musical competency (just like reading competency). However, as the bar gets set higher (professional or elite levels of performance), individual differences are likely to emerge as important in terms of who gets there even with training and practice. And the skills involved are so multidimensional that it is not surprising we haven’t identified a musical aptitude test—it is no doubt a variety of aptitudes all working together with training.

Sorry for the long response. Keep us posted about the course, please!

Sophia

Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 12:00 PM

Originally Posted By: Andromaque
Don't worry landorrano. A real Mozart can take a sotto voce nudge. smile


grin
Posted by: Toman

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 12:01 PM

If there were adult beginners playing highly advanced works, this discussion wouldn't be necessary.
Posted by: Andromaque

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 03:41 PM

So many ways of stating the obvious: All living creatures exhibit a compound "readout" that is the result of the interactions of their genes with the environment. There have been vast amounts of data in many fields that confirm this hypothesis. The fact that we cannot measure a complex parameter, such as "musical talent", does not diminish its value or eliminate its contribution. After all it took us a while to learn how to measure Earth's orbit around the sun but our world was still not geocentric pre-Galileo. The same can be said about the existence of radioactivity before and after Madame Curie discovered how to measure it..
Speaking of runners by the way, there is readily accessible data (see PUbMed)that demonstrate differences in oxidative capacity and other parameters that provide a definite genetic advantage among elite runners.
Ascribing percent values to the contribution of the 2 factors, genes and environment, is pseudo-science at best in my opinion. It is also not likely to be very applicable since there is significant and dynamic interaction between the two, which means they are not likely to obey a constant and predictable mathematical formula.
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 04:11 PM

Sophia, that was a wonderful post and an excellent and thoughtful conclusion on the issue. With your permission I'd love to copy and paste it and send it on to the students in my class (giving you credit, of course!).

Andromaque, are you talking about the Park et al. (1988) study on 'energy metabolism of the untrained muscle of elite runners'? Their data are certainly suggestive, but as they acknowledge themselves, not conclusive. They are comparing differences in muscles between athletes who have already achieved elite status and a sedentary control group. And as they state on p. 8784, "The possibility that athletic training could affect untrained muscle cannot be rigorously excluded." In a way, it's a bit of a moot point, because their interpretation is consistent with a model of performance that allows for at least a partial determination by innate factors--and that's a model I wouldn't disagree with. But I bring the issue up simply to illustrate, again, how difficult it is to study this question in a manner that allows for firm causal inferences.

I also think that ProdigalPianist and others have identified an important reason why I'm beginning to suspect there is actually greater agreement on this issue than appears: We may all be entertaining widely different operational definitions of the terms "expertise" and "expert performance." I'm not saying that everyone, or even many people, can become the next Horowitz or Argerich or Mozart--I'm with argerichfan and most of the rest of you on that. When I say that I think most people can achieve an expert level in piano, I'm talking about the technical skill and ability to play well enough, say, to work as a cocktail bar pianist. You folks here in the Pianist Corner might think that sets the bar awfully low. To the nonmusician or the crowd over in AB forum, it appears awfully high... and the assertion that they, too, could reach that level given sufficient practice is inspiring. thumb



Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 04:49 PM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.
When I say that I think most people can achieve an expert level in piano, I'm talking about the technical skill and ability to play well enough, say, to work as a cocktail bar pianist. You folks here in the Pianist Corner might think that sets the bar awfully low...

Not as far as I'm concerned. Playing good quality (technically and musically) cocktail piano is, IMO, a lot harder than it sounds. I've done it on occasion, and some of the best cocktail pianists (not me, of course) sound as if they could play a fair amount of Chopin and Liszt in between 'Smoke gets in your eyes' and 'Don't cry for me Argentina'.

But I would certainly agree with Monica that most people with good teaching and appropriate hard work could be more than adequate cocktail pianists. (Besides, you can make good money if you know what tipsy people want to hear... smokin )
Posted by: Opus_Maximus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 05:04 PM

I think that it is TECHNICALLY possible that anyone, at whatever age they start ("any" meaning an age when the brain and body are still able to absorb new information at a comfortable pace...possibly age 50 or below) has the chance to reach an extremely high level of performance, nearly a professional level.

The problem, however, is that what adult is ever going to have the TIME, NERVE, or MONEY to actually dedicate themselves to the level of training and dedication that a kid/teenager usually does?

For instance, the typical piano student will begin lessons at 5 or so. They learn the basics for a few years, and, if they really fall in love with the piano, by age 12/13 they have a great teacher and are practicing 3-5 hours a day. As they get later into their teens, they usually attend music festivals, take lessons with many teachers, get accustomed to playing on stage, enter competitions, and boost practice time to 6 hours a day. All the while, letting piano slowly integrate into their daily life, so they have a foundation for the ethic of daily practice as being something as natural and necessary as breathing. At 17 or 18, they enter a conservatory or college, where all they do day and night is work at their music. The next 10 years, through their twenties, are spent with incessant practice, accompanying, teaching, networking and competing. Around age 30, unless you are playing concerts full time - most tend to phase out from this intensity and resort into teaching or other jobs.

This is about a 20 year process, and let's say the person is a true, complete, professional artist by age 25. They could not have reached that level without going through all the above steps. Where is any adult, even with the financial means, going to have the psychological drive to put themselves through all of that?

Hypothetically, if someone starts lessons at age 35, a large part of their necessary development would be playing with and for 16 year olds! Even if the mental and physical ability is there, the social constraints and societal expectations regarding age make it nearly impossible.

That being said, I know of several professional pianists in their late 20's, 30's - and if you head them you would have guessed that they began as children like most, but they got serious in their late teens, but have finally caught up. I guess anything is possible.
Posted by: Larry Larson

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 05:52 PM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce
However common or fashionable it is to dispute the importance (or even the existence) of talent, I find mystical or paranormal theories to be even less credible explanations for achievement.

Steven

Steven, have you heard about this orthopedic surgeon who began playing and composing piano music after being hit by lightning?
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/07/23/070723fa_fact_sacks
Posted by: ProdigalPianist

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 06:25 PM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.

I also think that ProdigalPianist and others have identified an important reason why I'm beginning to suspect there is actually greater agreement on this issue than appears: We may all be entertaining widely different operational definitions of the terms "expertise" and "expert performance."


The other thing that I think might be going on, is not everyone (perhaps not psychologists who write articles about talent wink ) may be able to *hear* the difference between "expert performers," "pro-grade musicians" and "exceptional world-class artists."

It's a matter of perspective. When you're on the ground it's hard to judge the distance between things that are 900 feet above, a thousand feet above, and 1200 feet above...all you can tell is they're far above you smile

My darling husband thinks I play just as well as my friends that are graduate performance majors wink (he really does). He really has no clue. I don't think it's true of *everyone*, but I think if you don't know what to focus on, it might be hard to judge.

What really brought this home to me is a quote from one of those articles (in the rebuttal section) where a principle violinist from a major symphony, upon attending a concert by Midori, is supposed to have said, "If I practiced for three thousand years I couldn't play like that. None of us could."

I might recognize wonderful playing but I don't know if I could judge the enormity of difference that violinist (obviously pro-grade) saw between himself and Midori. Likewise I'm not confident I could pick out the difference between a very good graduate student and a pro-grade performer.

I'm not saying we couldn't recognize an exceptional world-class artist when we hear one...I'm saying maybe many of us wouldn't truly understand HOW exceptional unless we were pretty far advanced ourselves...

There are people, I'm sure many on this board, who are quite knowledgeable listeners and have learned enough to tell the difference...but I think it's just not something that would be immediately obvious to the lay person, or early-level student...

(this may start a whole other vehement debate wink )
Posted by: pianovirus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 06:30 PM

Wow, let me briefly say that I just read through the entire conversation with lots of interest. Great contributions, especially thanks to Monika K. and Sophial! IMO we should never dismiss a topic just because it's regularly recurring; there are always new aspects to discuss.

Originally Posted By: sophial
"To get to a basic level of competence on a simple task is probably within the capability of most people given training; to get to very high levels of competence on very complex tasks however is where individual differences are more likely to show up even with good training."


I think we all agree (?) that individual differences in proficiency are more pronounced in some tasks than in others among people who can be considered "well-trained". So these are called the "complex" tasks here. However, I'm just wondering (actually, I doubt) if it's possible to find another definition for "complex task" than the pragmatic one: "tasks where individual differences show up even with good training". If the latter is the only definition, than the quote above is a bit circular and we are back at simply describing what we observe.

P.S. ProdigalPianist, good point, I agree. For tasks in which proficiency, especially from a given level on, is not easily quantifiable (this includes piano playing of course), people who are not very familiar with this task may tend to underestimate the actual differences in proficiency levels between people.
Posted by: Andromaque

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 08:23 PM

Monica
I was not referring to that particular study, but as I am sure you now there are many studies that address the genetics of athletic physiology. I will preface this by saying that this is not my field of expertise but I have read a fair amount of the literature on it. I can recommend a recent review by Ostrander EA et al.("Genetics of Athletic Performance") that summarizes the current genetic data.

There is fairly solid data that suggests the existence of predisposing genes towards musical ability as well, and I am not referring just to absolute pitch recognition. A lot of it comes from Scandinavian studies of multigenerational families (The Scandinavians have good tissue banking and family records, especially in Finland and Iceland). Now obviously one can find a lot to criticize. For instance, the definition of musical aptitude and our ability to test it, somewhat akin to PV's question above re: task complexity. The latest Finnish study (Pulli K, from last year) uses the Karma Music Test and a pitch and time discrimination test to determine "musicality" (and not just family history ie the existence of musicians)and finds a genetic link using state of the art genomic analyses with a good sample size and solid parameters.
The discussion of higher cognition such as musical ability is fraught with pitfalls, angst-provoking hypotheses and misinterpretation, let alone when it is coupled with genetics. There is a tremendous antipathy towards genetics among lay people and even some scientists, which is by no means limited to music.
On a more interesting note, there was a recent report in Science daily about some findings that correlate music perception and creativity to intrinsic attachment behavior and social bonding (perhaps not surprisingly). This is part of a larger project looking at music and genetics. Link about the study below. The study itself is on a public access site.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090526093925.htm
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/18/09 10:56 PM

Originally Posted By: Andromaque
There is a tremendous antipathy towards genetics among lay people and even some scientists, which is by no means limited to music.


You're not kidding. Teaching in the Bible Belt, I often encounter considerable resistance when I try to teach evolutionary psychology principles. eek

Thanks for the website about the link between music and social bonds. It will come in handy as I'm prepping NEXT week's topic in my class, which is the evolutionary basis of music. thumb
Posted by: sophial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 02:13 AM

Hi Monica,
Yes, please feel free to quote what I wrote for your class if you'd like-- I'd be honored! blush

pianovirus,
I think task complexity can be defined in ways other than as just tasks on which individual differences are seen. Tasks that require a variety of different types of skills or combining different skills to achieve a result, for example, might be considered as more complex than those that involve fewer or less diverse skill sets. Piano I think can be classified as quite complex, requiring many different skills that are both physical and cognitive, and involve speed of processing, coordination, ability to have extremely good control of gross and fine motor activities, visual-motor and kinesthetic abilities, listening skills, and skills involved in musical interpretation, higher level conceptualization, and emotional communication , just to name a few.

Also, like Jason, I'd like to put in a word for the cocktail lounge pianists of the world-- It's harder than it looks and there are some real pros out there! cool


Sophia


Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 02:16 AM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.
Teaching in the Bible Belt, I often encounter considerable resistance when I try to teach evolutionary psychology principles. eek

Don't envy you. Evolutionary principles in such an ignorant part of the world must be a hard sell indeed.

I'm surprised on one else has commented re your reference to 'cocktail pianists'. I thought you made a good point, and I for one, have realized that we agree on much more than I thought previously. This is cool...
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 02:48 AM

Originally Posted By: argerichfan
[...] Evolutionary principles in such an ignorant part of the world must be a hard sell indeed.

[...]


Now Jason, I admire your posts in general, but that's unnecessarily insulting. I expect better of an intelligent chap like you. wink
Posted by: Toman

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 02:51 AM

If you don't like how Bible Belters don't take kindly to EvoPsych, you'd be dismayed by the typical doctrinaire liberals' reaction.

Or amused.
Posted by: pianovirus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 04:11 AM

Originally Posted By: sophial
pianovirus,
I think task complexity can be defined in ways other than as just tasks on which individual differences are seen. Tasks that require a variety of different types of skills or combining different skills to achieve a result, for example, might be considered as more complex than those that involve fewer or less diverse skill sets. Piano I think can be classified as quite complex, requiring many different skills that are both physical and cognitive, and involve speed of processing, coordination, ability to have extremely good control of gross and fine motor activities, visual-motor and kinesthetic abilities, listening skills, and skills involved in musical interpretation, higher level conceptualization, and emotional communication , just to name a few.


Thanks, Sophia. But then how about running as fast as possible for 100 meters, or proving mathematical theorems? Neither of these are (I think) complex tasks in the sense you described piano playing (i.e. involving many different types of skills), but there is clearly a difference in proficiency even among highly trained people.
Posted by: Mary-Rose

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 07:00 AM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.

My own take on the O.P.'s question: You can start as an adult and, with sufficient focused practice and dedication, you can become an expert pianist and successful professional musician. "Innate talent" (if it even exists) plays only a negligible role (if it plays a role at all).

I disagree with both points. There aren’t enough professional musical jobs to go round even for really good players. And ‘sufficient focused practice’ is just one ingredient necessary to become an ‘expert pianist’. As for talent playing a negligible role – have you never met people who have no sense of rhythm, or who are so tone deaf they can’t tell which note of a pair is higher and which lower? I have. These people would be unlikely to be able to play acceptably at even an amateur level, however carefully and frequently they practised. They would however be good at other things and should concentrate on those instead. Farming or cartwheeling or cooking maybe.
Originally Posted By: Monica K.


What I would like to see is some way of tapping into musical talent that does not involve actual musical mastery. If we devised a test, for example, that measured how quickly and smoothly a violinist could move his or her bow across a predetermined sequence of strings, it would probably predict skill as a violinist…

This seems to suggest you see musical performance as physical ability/control. Most of the skill of a violinist is not speed/smoothness but their artistic interpretation of the notes they are playing – the tone they manage to elicit from their instrument, the phrasing and colouration. Likewise, maybe a piano player could practise enough to play a lot of notes accurately and quickly, but would they be able to produce a truly musical effect?
When I was seven the local music academy (which, this being England, was paid for by the government) sent round an examiner to our school who put the class through various little musical tests. At that point I think I am right in saying that none of us played an instrument and I had certainly never had a music lesson in my life. I can remember to this day, some 48 years later, what some of the tests consisted of. ‘I will play a little tune and you must clap it out afterwards.’ ‘How many notes am I playing together at the one time?’ ‘sing this phrase after I’ve played it on the piano’. I was puzzled because it all seemed so simple I thought there must be a catch. However some kids were unable to do any of the tasks asked of them. I got a scholarship based on these tests, to get free piano lessons up to Grade 8. This experience leads me to believe that there is such a thing as innate talent. Innate lack of talent, too - which I have in many areas!
Am I now a great musician? Far from it. But I did enjoy those lessons, and subsequent music studies.
My cousin, Roy, had far more innate talent than I had. He was able to listen to a piece that I played just once or twice and copy it almost note-perfect purely by ear. I’m not talking about high-level pieces – just about grade 4 or 5. He couldn’t even read music until he was an adult. But he had a marvellous ear and a tremendous musical memory (and I am sure still does). He is another reason that I cannot doubt that innate talent exists.
Posted by: Andromaque

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 08:46 AM

Toman
i am sorry but I could not ignore your use of the term EvoPsych. I will share my opinion thus.
Evolution is a real science, which means it is a body of facts and proven hypotheses as well as some speculative interpretation based on the current state of the science. The science itself should not be colored by politics or religion. The history of humanity is replete with disatrous turns due to this incompatible mix. What you and I are entitled to is our view of the meaning of all this, our faith, how we put all these facts together and how we interpret their relation to our view of the world. Attacking the science itself, diminishing it, ignoring it, not teaching its proven findings or belittling the scientists are not likely to change scientific conclusions. The events in Galileo's life remain an excellent example (The Church acknowledged his scientific findings, eventually, and presented an apology a few hundred years later!). Of course, the opposite is also true: upholding simple scientific facts as arguments against faith is equally ignorant.
A better approach is to stick to interpretation. Many hard core scientists believe in God's existence for example and many theologians have written extensively about the compatibility of faith and science, without having to resort to belittling evolutionary science. (including Catholics, Presbyterians, Jewish and others .. Don't know where Anglicans stand on this).
This is just to say that the term EvoPsych which tries to further belittle evolution by coupling it with what is perceived to be another "unscience", ie psychiatry, is insulting, utterly uninformed and does not illuminate the subject. It rather dumps it squarely in the bin of vacuous political debate.
Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 09:46 AM

I have mixed feelings about this notion of innate talent. When I doubt that there is such a thing, I only have to look at my two children, who couldn't be more different musically, to wonder. There are only a couple of years apart in age. Both play a string instrument. Both practice about the same amount and with the same diligence. Both have good teachers. And yet, one is just miles ahead, in all aspects of music, than the other.

What I don't know, and what I suspect nobody knows, is whether this innate talent is a developmental thing, which will eventually equalize, or weether one child will always be miles ahead. The reason I suspect that nobody knows is that, in practice, a child who appears to show early aptitute will get encouragement, and will find practice more rewarding. A child who does not will most likely drop music and move onto something else.

Whether any two adults, having absolutely no prior exposure to music training, will show different levels of aptitude is also difficult to determine. It's difficult because, in reality, very few adults (at least in the UK) have absolutely no musical training as children. Most UK schools teach some music, even if it's only desultory recorder playing and a bit of singing.

So the difference in perceived talent for music in adults _could_ (I'm not saying `must') be the result of different childhood experiences, perhaps not even well remembered.

I'm not suggesting that there isn't such a thing as innate music talent in adults, but I don't think it's easy to quantify.

As others have remarked, I can't help thinking that the overwhelming factor that will determine what is achievable by an adult learner is the amount of time available to practice, which depends on how one juggles one's other commitmments.
Posted by: cardguy

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 10:03 AM

Originally Posted By: kevinb
I have mixed feelings about this notion of innate talent. When I doubt that there is such a thing, I only have to look at my two children, who couldn't be more different musically, to wonder. There are only a couple of years apart in age. Both play a string instrument. Both practice about the same amount and with the same diligence. Both have good teachers. And yet, one is just miles ahead, in all aspects of music, than the other.






As others have remarked, I can't help thinking that the overwhelming factor that will determine what is achievable by an adult learner is the amount of time available to practice, which depends on how one juggles one's other commitmments.






I simply can't understand this reluctance to accept what should be as plain as the nose on your face, or in this case, your children's faces. Is there some sort of fear of genetic predetermination at work here, some overly nice liberal tendency to want not to hurt anyone's feelings?

If you can't see that human beings are each born with a unique, genetically based set of talents and traits, then look to the animal world, which is just another way of looking at ourselves. I've 3 dogs at the moment, all the same breed, all with essentially the same training and background, and yet they couldn't be more different.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 10:13 AM

Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: argerichfan
[...] Evolutionary principles in such an ignorant part of the world must be a hard sell indeed.

[...]

Now Jason, I admire your posts in general, but that's unnecessarily insulting. I expect better of an intelligent chap like you. wink

H., you and I agree most of the time, too, yet in this case, if there was any insult there I think it was toward ignorance and ignorant people rather than toward the U.S. generally. There are always beacons of knowledge as well as bastions of backwardness in most any community, but it's inescapable the prevalence of either one does not have equal geographic distribution.

I heard on the news just yesterday that 25% of high school students in a certain state that I won't name did not know who the first American president was. For years I've heard the canard about the number of kids who thought that Chernobyl is Cher's full name, and I'm coming to suspect that it has more than anectodal basis. smile

Steven
Posted by: sophial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 10:28 AM

pianovirus,

In my earlier post I wrote, "My contention is that the more multifaceted the abilities required, and the more complex and demanding the task (like playing piano at a professional level), the more individual differences are likely to emerge and persist despite training. " Tasks can be more challenging by being more complex and/or by demanding a higher level of performance even if the task perhaps does not require as many different abilities. So if we set the bar high enough for performance, that may also help individual differences to emerge even on a fairly unidimensional task (although even "simple" tasks are more complex than they might appear). Your example of running 100 meters is a good one. Probably most able- bodied people can run 100 meters. Running 100 meters in the time that Usain Bolt does is a whole other level of difficulty and performance-- and individual differences may indeed show up when the criterion of performance is to match that or get as close to it as possible.


Sophia
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 11:01 AM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce
Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: argerichfan
[...] Evolutionary principles in such an ignorant part of the world must be a hard sell indeed.

[...]

Now Jason, I admire your posts in general, but that's unnecessarily insulting. I expect better of an intelligent chap like you. wink

H., you and I agree most of the time, too, yet in this case, if there was any insult there I think it was toward ignorance and ignorant people rather than toward the U.S. generally. There are always beacons of knowledge as well as bastions of backwardness in most any community, but it's inescapable the prevalence of either one does not have equal geographic distribution.

I heard on the news just yesterday that 25% of high school students in a certain state that I won't name did not know who the first American president was. For years I've heard the canard about the number of kids who thought that Chernobyl is Cher's full name, and I'm coming to suspect that it has more than anectodal basis. smile

Steven


Steven,

I certainly hope that you are correct and that Jason meant it that way, but I really wasn't sure at the time. And I must agree that those are sobering statistics. I saw it too. frown As to Chernobyl, you gotta be kidding. shocked I'm guessing you aren't. smile
Posted by: cardguy

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 11:10 AM

I'd say it's well nigh impossible to underestimate the ignorance in our culture. It's really quite depressing.
Posted by: Toman

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 11:30 AM

Andromaque,

EvoPsych is not a derogatory term, refers to evolutionary psychOLOGY, not psychIATRY, and is a real - albeit social - science. Furthermore, I assure you that I am a fan, not a detractor.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolutionary_psychology
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 11:44 AM

Originally Posted By: cardguy


If you can't see that human beings are each born with a unique, genetically based set of talents and traits, then look to the animal world, which is just another way of looking at ourselves. I've 3 dogs at the moment, all the same breed, all with essentially the same training and background, and yet they couldn't be more different.



Originally Posted By: cardguy


I'd say it's well nigh impossible to underestimate the ignorance in our culture. It's really quite depressing.



Surely highly scientific comments.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 11:58 AM

I wonder if there's any science behind snarkiness.

Steven
Posted by: cardguy

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 12:42 PM

Thanks Steven, better riposte than I had in mind. I wonder if the next time lando gives an off the cuff, conversational generalization along the lines of "it's impossible to underestimate the ignorance in our culture,"-he'll stop short and think "Oh no, not scientific enough. I'd better not."
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 12:51 PM

Snarky, indeed!

Originally Posted By: cardguy


... look to the animal world, which is just another way of looking at ourselves.



Just have a look at sotto voce's photo.
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 01:11 PM

Originally Posted By: Andromaque
Many hard core scientists believe in God's existence for example and many theologians have written extensively about the compatibility of faith and science, without having to resort to belittling evolutionary science. (including Catholics, Presbyterians, Jewish and others .. Don't know where Anglicans stand on this).

The Anglicans (essentially equivalent to US Episcopals with some important exceptions) accept compatibility of faith and science, and fully respect evolutionary science. Aside from internal squabbles over ordaining women and gay bishops (which few outside of the Church could care less about), most of the differences within the Anglican Church relate to (and I'm oversimplifying) how close or far from Rome any given church is. Canterbury has no set guide lines, and some Anglican churches are very 'low', i.e grape juice, whilst others -in Brighton or Cornwall for example- are almost indistinguishable from an RC church.
Posted by: Damon

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 01:21 PM

Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: argerichfan
[...] Evolutionary principles in such an ignorant part of the world must be a hard sell indeed.

[...]


Now Jason, I admire your posts in general, but that's unnecessarily insulting. I expect better of an intelligent chap like you. wink

You did?
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 01:23 PM

Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: sotto voce
Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: argerichfan
[...] Evolutionary principles in such an ignorant part of the world must be a hard sell indeed.

[...]

Now Jason, I admire your posts in general, but that's unnecessarily insulting. I expect better of an intelligent chap like you. wink

H., you and I agree most of the time, too, yet in this case, if there was any insult there I think it was toward ignorance and ignorant people rather than toward the U.S. generally. There are always beacons of knowledge as well as bastions of backwardness in most any community, but it's inescapable the prevalence of either one does not have equal geographic distribution.

I heard on the news just yesterday that 25% of high school students in a certain state that I won't name did not know who the first American president was. For years I've heard the canard about the number of kids who thought that Chernobyl is Cher's full name, and I'm coming to suspect that it has more than anectodal basis. smile

Steven


Steven,

I certainly hope that you are correct and that Jason meant it that way, but I really wasn't sure at the time. And I must agree that those are sobering statistics. I saw it too. frown As to Chernobyl, you gotta be kidding. shocked I'm guessing you aren't. smile


H, like Steven said, I wasn't insulting the US, just questioning the ignorance of a certain set of people, generally found in the Bible Belt. Faith and Science should coexist, not be mutually exclusive. I totally fail to understand those who, against overwhelming scientific evidence, still think the Earth was created only 10,000 years ago, etc, etc. It's all rather beyond me, and OT anyway!
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 01:24 PM

Originally Posted By: Damon
Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: argerichfan
[...] Evolutionary principles in such an ignorant part of the world must be a hard sell indeed.

[...]


Now Jason, I admire your posts in general, but that's unnecessarily insulting. I expect better of an intelligent chap like you. wink

You did?

Thanks, Damon.
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 03:41 PM

Originally Posted By: argerichfan
Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: sotto voce
Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: argerichfan
[...] Evolutionary principles in such an ignorant part of the world must be a hard sell indeed.

[...]

Now Jason, I admire your posts in general, but that's unnecessarily insulting. I expect better of an intelligent chap like you. wink

H., you and I agree most of the time, too, yet in this case, if there was any insult there I think it was toward ignorance and ignorant people rather than toward the U.S. generally. There are always beacons of knowledge as well as bastions of backwardness in most any community, but it's inescapable the prevalence of either one does not have equal geographic distribution.

I heard on the news just yesterday that 25% of high school students in a certain state that I won't name did not know who the first American president was. For years I've heard the canard about the number of kids who thought that Chernobyl is Cher's full name, and I'm coming to suspect that it has more than anectodal basis. smile

Steven


Steven,

I certainly hope that you are correct and that Jason meant it that way, but I really wasn't sure at the time. And I must agree that those are sobering statistics. I saw it too. frown As to Chernobyl, you gotta be kidding. shocked I'm guessing you aren't. smile


H, like Steven said, I wasn't insulting the US, just questioning the ignorance of a certain set of people, generally found in the Bible Belt. Faith and Science should coexist, not be mutually exclusive. I totally fail to understand those who, against overwhelming scientific evidence, still think the Earth was created only 10,000 years ago, etc, etc. It's all rather beyond me, and OT anyway!


It's all good then. smile
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 08:10 PM

Originally Posted By: Horowitzian


It's all good then. smile

Many thanks my good mate, Horowitzian, though Damon seems to have a problem with me. I suspect it is more political -ultra liberal I am grin - than musical.

I always enjoy Damon's posts. Whatever his experience and age, I don't feel that my musical knowledge is in any way inferior.
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 08:28 PM

smile

grin
Posted by: Damon

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 09:07 PM

Originally Posted By: argerichfan
Originally Posted By: Horowitzian


It's all good then. smile

Many thanks my good mate, Horowitzian, though Damon seems to have a problem with me. I suspect it is more political -ultra liberal I am grin - than musical.

I always enjoy Damon's posts. Whatever his experience and age, I don't feel that my musical knowledge is in any way inferior.


Thanks, I enjoy yours too, when they are musical. I live in the bible belt and don't know anyone who thinks the world is only 10,000 years old, or flat. Darwin is another matter. As you guessed, my politics are 135 degrees from yours.
Posted by: argerichfan

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 09:18 PM

Originally Posted By: Damon


Thanks, I enjoy yours too, when they are musical. I live in the bible belt and don't know anyone who thinks the world is only 10,000 years old, or flat. Darwin is another matter. As you guessed, my politics are 135 degrees from yours.

Okay Damon, no problem. Thanks for your post, and cheers...

So musically we will still interact... and you might PM me sometime. Would be interested to know more about your background.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/19/09 11:06 PM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.
Nobody has to date been able to (a) devise a musical IQ test that taps into aptitude (independent of learned performance) and (b) show that these aptitude scores predict musical expertise (controlling for practice), the way that IQ tests have been developed and shown to predict intellectual outcomes.

I will confess to feeling sympathetic to the logical argument that there should be some normally distributed underlying individual difference aptitude for music analogous to the 'g' of general intelligence. But we don't have the data at the current time to support it... as opposed to the data in favor of the importance of deliberate practice, of which there is a huge amount.

A few thoughts here (mainly for Monica, I think):
[1]You appear to be assuming that performance ability is where it's all at. There is much more to being a musician than technical facility. It's not just an athletic skill but an artistic one. The fact that deliberate and sustained practice leads to technical facility shouldn't surprise anyone. What I'm wondering is about that extra which goes to make an outstanding musician (who may in fact not even be able to play an instrument well but still may have considerable ability in areas such as composition).
[2]Are there really no tests of musical aptitude which don't rely on learned performance? Are there no such tests of pitch discrimination, rhythmic perception, musical memory etc? Or are you just saying that there are no tests like these which prove a correlation between such abilities and achievement as a musician?
[3]I wonder how the "hard work only" camp would explain the musical savant? And if in this case it can be explained in terms of some inbuilt gift, then why not in anyone else?

These are rather random questions, but I thought we were going too far down the technical ability=musical ability path.
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 04:32 AM

Originally Posted By: currawong


[3]I wonder how the "hard work only" camp would explain the musical savant? And if in this case it can be explained in terms of some inbuilt gift, then why not in anyone else?



I still don't see where the "hard work only camp" is. I haven't seen anyone defending this idea.

Music is like love, it is not a private club for a select few, it is for everybody. Every human being has this capacity.

There are countless reasons, countless factors that can keep a person from developing their potential, in love as in music, starting from the first days of their life. The famous 10000 hours of practice are not what will unbind a frustrated potential. It is a much more profound human experience, that might dure 5 minutes.

A case of adultery: the mistress says, he's an Adonis, a wild animal, his Apollo-like body is insatiable. And the wife's jaw drops with disbelief, it isn't her poor slob of a TV watching, lawn cutting husband, with whom she's been bored for years. 10000 hours in the matrimonial bed together would never have brought to life this big, this enormous, this gigantic ... how can we say ... potential.

Anyone remember Babbit?

The genious gene, or the virtuoso gene, will never be found, or the gene of aptitude for the violin instead of the piano, because, like the lover gene, they simply don't exist. Genetics is a new field; the study of the brain as well. All of the studies that orient towards a precise identification of behavior in the genetic pool will be laughable in a few years.

Trying to understand human behavior as individual behavior, viewing a human being as an individual alone in the universe, with a certain dose of potential, is absurd. Human beings are social animals. Playing music is a social activity, a kind of communication, a confirmation of the essentially social existence of the human individual.

A music teacher only wants to work with kids who are ready. OK. An advanced teacher only wants to work with students who are ready to advance rapidly. Ok as well. It is not their problem to unlock the potential of "every Tom, Dick and Harry".

But that doesn't mean that this potential doesn't exist.
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 04:41 AM

Originally Posted By: currawong


What I'm wondering is about that extra which goes to make an outstanding musician



That works in the opposite sense as well.

Outstanding musicians can become mediocre. It is a frequent occurence.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 05:40 AM

Originally Posted By: landorrano
I still don't see where the "hard work only camp" is. I haven't seen anyone defending this idea.
Philip Lu did, back a page or two. And this quote from Monica seemed to suggest her leaning that way:
Originally Posted By: Monica
If 'musical talent' independent of practice exists, we ought to be able to measure it. The Ericsson article talked about efforts to come up with motor coordination and hand independence measures that ought to predict piano ability, but those measures didn't work.

I will confess to feeling sympathetic to the logical argument that there should be some normally distributed underlying individual difference aptitude for music analogous to the 'g' of general intelligence. But we don't have the data at the current time to support it... as opposed to the data in favor of the importance of deliberate practice, of which there is a huge amount.
Posted by: Mary-Rose

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 06:30 AM

And Monica also wrote:
"Innate talent" (if it even exists) plays only a negligible role (if it plays a role at all).
Posted by: Wombat66

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 08:38 AM

A very good thread that I've chimed in late to, just to say that Monica K writes fantastic posts, sensibly thought out, logically argued and backed up with data and references. Puts most of the rest of us to shame, and I thoroughly agree with her.
Anyone can learn to read Chinese (just ask one of the 1 billion or so literate chinese), speak French, drive a car, fly a plane, play golf and play the piano.
Differences will be found (I guess in a gaussian distrubution pattern) in the rate of progress in piano playing ,and the amount of effort that an individual has to expend to overcome difficulties.
I assume - but have no data to support this- that the final proficiency beyond which any individual is capable of reaching given all other equal factors (ie that put down to innate talent) is also in a gaussian distribution pattern.
The original poster asks "how far can a late starter get?". I take this to be where is the peak of the Gaussian curve descibed above and I suspect a realistic goal for any pianist is beyond grade 8 ABRSM provided they have suitable environmental circumstances such as lack of physical disability, motivation, time to practice, good teacher and of course a reasonable piano to practice on.
Not sure where God, Darwinism, Protestantism and the innate stupidity of Americans fits into this - but any other calls apart form "Beyond grade 8 ABRSM"?
Posted by: Mary-Rose

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 08:55 AM

Originally Posted By: Wombat66
A very good thread that I've chimed in late to, just to say that Monica K writes fantastic posts, sensibly thought out, logically argued and backed up with data and references. Puts most of the rest of us to shame, and I thoroughly agree with her.


So, Wombat, you genuinely believe
"Innate talent" (if it even exists) plays only a negligible role (if it plays a role at all).

???
Posted by: RonaldSteinway

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 09:02 AM

Originally Posted By: pianovirus
Originally Posted By: RonaldSteinway
I agree everthing is possible. But using Thomas Yu as your example may not be a good idea. Thomas Yu or Christopher Shih is a superman. These two are not only smart at their regular school, but also very good in piano. They are basically not a NORMAL human being.


RS, I don't think it's ever advisable to state certain people are "supermen", "not a NORMAL human being" etc - neither in piano nor any other area of human life. The reason is that this excuse is leading oneself immediately to accept mediocrity and not to strive for realizing one's full potential. Thus, this attitude is just building up a mental barrier for yourself without helping you in any way.

Of course, there's a difference between thinking that you may reach a certain goal, as opposed to thinking that you definitely will. The latter is a sure way to disappointment and frustration, whereas the former is a positive way of thinking which does not involve any self-imposed barriers.



Just my personal opinion, of course smile


What are you smoking today that made you feel so good? Just curious...
Posted by: -Frycek

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 09:33 AM

Originally Posted By: Wombat66
Anyone can learn to read Chinese (just ask one of the 1 billion or so literate chinese), speak French, drive a car, fly a plane, play golf and play the piano.


So, of course, every one of us is a potential Confucious, Voltaire, Dale Earnhart, Claire Chennault, Tiger Woods or Lang Lang?

Somehow I doubt it.

Proclaiming talent doesn't exist is like saying bears don't exist. If you haven't seen one it just means you haven't been in the woods long enough.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 09:44 AM

Originally Posted By: Wombat66
A very good thread that I've chimed in late to, just to say that Monica K writes fantastic posts, sensibly thought out, logically argued and backed up with data and references. Puts most of the rest of us to shame, and I thoroughly agree with her.

Perhaps Monica has an innate talent for cogent verbal self-expression.

Originally Posted By: Wombat66
Anyone can learn to read Chinese (just ask one of the 1 billion or so literate chinese), speak French, drive a car, fly a plane, play golf and play the piano.

I reckon that precious few of those one billion or so people had a different native language and learned Chinese in adulthood. The fact remains that even if every adult could learn any of those tasks, they can't learn to do them equally well even with comparable background, motivation and amount of practice.

Originally Posted By: Wombat66
Not sure where God, Darwinism, Protestantism and the innate stupidity of Americans fits into this ....

No one has postulated anything about "the innate stupidity of Americans" until now, so perhaps you can elucidate us.

Steven
Posted by: cardguy

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 10:07 AM

"Anyone can learn to read Chinese (just ask one of the 1 billion or so literate chinese), speak French..."

This is kinda, how you say, not smart. It's one thing to learn Chinese as a toddler, which is what all those teeming masses you allude to did, another thing entirely as an adult. I know plenty of adults, including my not very bright brother, who would have one very difficult time learning any foreign language, never mind Chinese.

Language is not a good analog anyway. It takes brains, and determination to learn one as an adult, but linguistic "talent" is not an essential element. Of course if you have it, it's all to the good.

I find this thread tiresome. It's like trying to argue with fundamentalists, or George Bush admirers. A losing proposition.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 10:51 AM

If you've posted more than 10 times in this thread, your "realistc goals" have been reduced due to lack of time. laugh
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 11:50 AM

Originally Posted By: cardguy
[...] It's like trying to argue with fundamentalists, or George Bush admirers. A losing proposition.


Could we leave the politics out please? This thread is bad enough already.
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:02 PM

Originally Posted By: currawong


Philip Lu did, back a page or two. And this quote from Monica seemed to suggest her leaning that way



Philip Lu does not raise the flag of the "hard work only camp". He simply says, "Even if there is talent in seeing I do not believe that chance could create a trait in the past 2000-5000 years or so since more complex musical instruments have been around." Then "IMO the environment plays the great role in determining whether a child will be successful or not".

I think that he is not foolish. In fact he shows a better grasp of genetics and evolutionary theory than anyone else who has touched on these subjects in this thread, despite the cynical responses to his post, for there is a very mechanical view that permeates all of this discussion of innate talent, and that leaves you with two choices, the religious and the Stalinist:

God has given a gift to some human beings, they are inhabited by an angel.

Or

Some have a genetic trait, a "basic physical apparatus", the same as eye colour or height or skin colour, necessarily reproductable.

These two interpretations are just two sides of the same coin, and are equally absurd.

Monica in no way supports by what she says the non-existant "hard-work oly camp". She doesn't say anything more than that "we don't have the data at the current time" to prove the existence or demonstrate the origin of "aptitude for music".
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:07 PM

Meh.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:16 PM

Originally Posted By: Horowitzian
Originally Posted By: cardguy
[...] It's like trying to argue with fundamentalists, or George Bush admirers. A losing proposition.

Could we leave the politics out please? This thread is bad enough already.

But can we talk about religion? smile

While I knew cardguy's statement would be unwelcome to some, it gave me pause to realize how much talent is like spiritual faith: intangible, hard to corroborate with objective evidence, and yet our credence in it—or not—is a fixture of our individual belief systems.

And that does explain why such a debate can be both futile and exasperating. If you believe in the existence and importance of something (or its nonexistence or unimportance) with all the certainty that faith permits, you are highly unlikely to be dissuaded by anyone else's faith. A personal epiphany—or incontrovertible scientific proof!—would be required.

Steven
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:20 PM

Excellent point! thumb
Posted by: Damon

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:30 PM

WHAT AN AWESOME THREAD! laugh
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:30 PM

Originally Posted By: landorrano
I think that [Philip Lu] is not foolish. In fact he shows a better grasp of genetics and evolutionary theory than anyone else who has touched on these subjects in this thread, despite the cynical responses to his post, for there is a very mechanical view that permeates all of this discussion of innate talent, and that leaves you with two choices, the religious and the Stalinist:

God has given a gift to some human beings, they are inhabited by an angel.

Or

Some have a genetic trait, a "basic physical apparatus", the same as eye colour or height or skin colour, necessarily reproductable.

These two interpretations are just two sides of the same coin, and are equally absurd....

I don't find either one absurd.

Your comment about cynical responses to Philip Lu's post calls into question your own contributions here, notably the aggro directed at argerichfan, cardguy and me.

Steven
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:33 PM

What we don't know isn't the problem. It's what we're sure of that just ain't so.
Posted by: Victor25

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:41 PM

Haha wow, Voltaire and Lang Lang in the same list.
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:42 PM

Originally Posted By: landorrano
What we don't know isn't the problem. It's what we're sure of that just ain't so.


FAIL
Posted by: Mary-Rose

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:44 PM

Originally Posted By: landorrano


Monica in no way supports by what she says the non-existant "hard-work oly camp". She doesn't say anything more than that "we don't have the data at the current time" to prove the existence or demonstrate the origin of "aptitude for music".



Actually Monica made this very firm statement:
"Innate talent" (if it even exists) plays only a negligible role (if it plays a role at all).


So she obviously doesn't feel a need for empirical evidence to make up her mind.
Posted by: sophial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 12:49 PM

At the risk of beating this in to the ground, I’ll repeat what I said before: in the end, nothing is purely genetic, biological or environmental-- how much of one's potential gets expressed is always some synergistic combination of all these factors. I don’t think anyone here (at least I know I’m not) is arguing that the environment or the amount of work someone puts into learning music is not extremely important but I’m also arguing that the underlying endowment or aptitude factor is also not irrelevant. I agree that there is very unlikely to be a “violin playing” or “piano playing” gene—not because there is not a physiological substrate to our physical and cognitive functions but that there are so many of them involved in these complex activities that likely a large number of individual difference factors come into play (literally!). They probably all interact with each other and depend on various environmental factors to allow them to be expressed.

Ok, here's another thought experiment: Let’s say that it is ALL environment, hard work and effort and there is NO innate aptitude difference among individuals in learning a highly skilled activity like the piano. (I’m not talking about any kind of musical activity like singing a simple song where the bar is set so low that virtually everyone can do it (e.g. “Happy Birthday”), but professional level piano playing. If that is the case, then what we ought to see is that everyone who puts in the same amount of effort should progress at the same rate, and should reach approximately the same level of proficiency, and in the real world we don’t see that. Of course, it’s an impossible experiment to run perfectly because we can’t precisely control how much effort, focus and time people put in, or assign people to certain training regimens. But what we see in the population at large is a distribution of achievement, with some people progressing much faster than others and reaching much higher levels even when they have had similar access to good musical training (think kids entering conservatories) and a very large number of people dropping out for a variety of reasons, one of which is lack of progress beyond a certain point.

The other problem with the “it’s all hard work and there is no such thing as innate individual differences as applied to music” argument is that it flies in the face of lots of data on the normal (Gaussian) distribution of physical and cognitive abilities in humans, abilities that certainly come into play in learning to play music at a high level of proficiency. Why should music be an exception and be one area where this phenomenon is not seen?

Let’s go to the other extreme. Let’s say it’s ALL innate “talent” and there is no effect of training or environment. If that is the case then we should not see the data on the effects of focused practice, which are quite impressive.

Suppose however that we assume that there is a complex interplay of genetic, biologic and social/environmental factors including training that allow aptitudes or abilities to be expressed and amplified under the right conditions. If there is an underlying continuum on a bell-shaped curve of "talent" or "aptitude" for piano playing, I would bet that after the 10K hours of focused practice, we'll still have a bell-shaped curve, or probably one that is stretched out even further on the top end. Everyone who puts in the focused effort will have moved up and gotten better, and many might even now be in the "expert" range however we define it, with a few (likely those with exceptional aptitudes (notice the plural) AND exceptional ability to work in a focused manner) having achieved “elite” level skills, which I think is similar to what we see happen in the real world.

None of this is to argue that any of us should be discouraged from working as long or as well as we can and to progress as far as possible because we can’t know until we try how far that might take us.

Sophia
Posted by: Mary-Rose

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 01:02 PM

Sophia, I agree with you that of course innate skills, sheer hard work and environmental opportunities all go into making us the kind of pianists we are - or aren't.

On your point about virtually everyone being able to sing 'Happy Birthday': I understand what you mean - but surprisingly, a fair proportion of people actually can't sing Happy Birthday, even. I don't know how many of the general population are tone deaf but I have come across enough to realise it is a great many people. Presumably such people wouldn't really be able to hear what they were playing on the piano, either.
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 01:26 PM

Originally Posted By: currawong
A few thoughts here (mainly for Monica, I think):
[1]You appear to be assuming that performance ability is where it's all at. There is much more to being a musician than technical facility. It's not just an athletic skill but an artistic one. The fact that deliberate and sustained practice leads to technical facility shouldn't surprise anyone. What I'm wondering is about that extra which goes to make an outstanding musician (who may in fact not even be able to play an instrument well but still may have considerable ability in areas such as composition).


These are all great questions. You are correct that I have been speaking mainly of technical playing skill. The literature talks a little about compositional skill (e.g., some of the studies showing that great composers don't produce their greatest works until they have put in that 10,000 hours). So it seems clear to me that focused practice matters a great deal for creative endeavors. But creativity is even harder to understand than technical skill. I would not want to go out on a limb and state that I thought 10,000 hours of focused practice in composition would be sufficient to make most people an expert composer... whereas I am willing to go out on the limb and say it would be sufficient to make most people expert players in a technical sense.

As for playing artistically, is it not the case that musical expression is something that teachers work on with their students and that can be taught? Musical expression has to be communicated through the skilled motions of the hands and fingers, so it's hard for me to think of an a priori reason why it should be any less susceptible to the 10,000 hour rule than other behaviors.

Originally Posted By: currawong
[2]Are there really no tests of musical aptitude which don't rely on learned performance? Are there no such tests of pitch discrimination, rhythmic perception, musical memory etc? Or are you just saying that there are no tests like these which prove a correlation between such abilities and achievement as a musician?


I don't know. There are some tests of musical ability (e.g. an older one that has been used for some years is the Seashore test). But they have not demonstrated the same kind of psychometric properties and empirical base that we see in other tests like standard IQ tests. This could likely be due to the simple fact that these tests don't attract the same kind of research attention as do cognitive ability tests, and not because of any inherent flaws in the tests themselves.

Originally Posted By: currawong
[3]I wonder how the "hard work only" camp would explain the musical savant? And if in this case it can be explained in terms of some inbuilt gift, then why not in anyone else?


The "hard work only" camp can't, nor can the "hard work mainly" camp (which is where I would cast my allegiance). But then again, the "genetic only" or "genetic mainly" camp can't explain the abilities of savants, either. laugh There is a lot we don't know about the brain.
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 01:34 PM

Originally Posted By: Mary-Rose

Actually Monica made this very firm statement:
"Innate talent" (if it even exists) plays only a negligible role (if it plays a role at all).


So she obviously doesn't feel a need for empirical evidence to make up her mind.


I did say the former, but your interpretation in the second sentence doesn't follow. I felt I was being sufficiently clear in my previous posts, and I don't think it would add anything to this rapidly becoming ever more awesome thread to repeat them here. So I'll simply state that you are mischaracterizing my views in that last sentence and will direct interested parties to re-read this thread if they have any motivation--which I seriously doubt--to sort it out. wink
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 01:53 PM

landorrano,

Months ago I mentioned the childhood experience of a besotted mother whose notion of the correct interpretation of Chopin involved cocktails, cigarettes and a swaying rubatissimo—and her remonstrations to me that I played "without any feeling."

Your response to me was "I am certain your mother was right. You can be certain that your mother was right."

Aside from an obvious and offensive callousness, you showed certainty of something that "just ain't so" (or, at the very least, the veracity of which you would have no way of knowing).

Originally Posted By: landorrano
What we don't know isn't the problem. It's what we're sure of that just ain't so.

I don't think you believe Twain's words. If you feel it's significant somehow to quote Twain's words back to me now, I don't think you understand them.

Steven
Posted by: Wombat66

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 02:05 PM

With over 170 posts spread over 18 pages everything that needs to be said has been said. But I might as well say it again (Sam).
Everyone seems to agree “that through hard practice and dedication most of the difficult literature out there is within reach for most people”,.. “most people can play practically anything or make a career out of it to one degree or another”, or ” learn and master respectable pieces or get to a level where they can play difficult music”… or ..”that most people with good teaching and appropriate hard work could be more than adequate cocktail pianists”.
We all seem to feel that this goal is within the reach of 2 standard deviations of mean ability and that for these people “innate talent” (that immeasurable what if) is not the rate limiting step in achieving their goal.
Nobody is saying that we can all play like Lang Lang, and others whose abilities are massively outlying from the 2 standard deviations mentioned.
What I understand everyone over the last 18 pages is saying is that for the vast majority of people, if they choose to become a good pianist, they are not limited from doing so by an innate lack of ability.
They may be limited by other environmental circumstances which could equally be beyond their control. To me this is a positive outcome of the thread since my as yet unreached goal is within my reach.
So yes I do believe that…. "Innate talent" (if it even exists) plays only a negligible role (if it plays a role at all)….in achieving the goal stated by the rest of the board as quoted above.
In agreeing with this it is utter nonsense to assume I believe that “every one of us is a potential Confucious, Voltaire, Dale Earnhart, Claire Chennault, Tiger Woods or Lang Lang?”
By stating a belief that most of us are capable of learning Chinese or flying a plane (is that even legal to do as a child?) it is surely innately stupid to suggest that I am saying that everyone can learn to do it equally well even with comparable background, motivation and amount of practice.
Much of the heated debate has stemmed from people refusing to read each others posts and acknowledging the truths of others posts.
It was not me who introduced reincarnation, politics or God to the thread.
I didn’t mention “evolutionary principles in such an ignorant part of the world” or bring to the boards attention the 25% of high school students who can’t name the first American president and think that Chernobyl is Cher's full name.
I therefore feel no need to enlighten the board anymore than it has enlightened itself.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 02:12 PM

Meh. Ever more awesome by the moment.

Steven
Posted by: Mary-Rose

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 02:24 PM

Originally Posted By: Wombat66
With over 170 posts spread over 18 pages everything that needs to be said has been said. But I might as well say it again (Sam).
Everyone seems to agree “that through hard practice and dedication most of the difficult literature out there is within reach for most people”,.. “most people can play practically anything or make a career out of it to one degree or another”, or ” learn and master respectable pieces or get to a level where they can play difficult music”… or ..”that most people with good teaching and appropriate hard work could be more than adequate cocktail pianists”.


I don't agree that through hard practice and dedication most of the 'difficult' repertoire is within reach of most people; and I doubt if I am the only one who thinks that way.

I do believe that hard work under a good teacher can make reasonable amateurs of most, after a number of years (that number being variable according to the person's abiliity).
Posted by: sophial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 02:42 PM

Originally Posted By: Mary-Rose
Originally Posted By: Wombat66
With over 170 posts spread over 18 pages everything that needs to be said has been said. But I might as well say it again (Sam).
Everyone seems to agree “that through hard practice and dedication most of the difficult literature out there is within reach for most people”,.. “most people can play practically anything or make a career out of it to one degree or another”, or ” learn and master respectable pieces or get to a level where they can play difficult music”… or ..”that most people with good teaching and appropriate hard work could be more than adequate cocktail pianists”.


I don't agree that through hard practice and dedication most of the 'difficult' repertoire is within reach of most people; and I doubt if I am the only one who thinks that way.

I do believe that hard work under a good teacher can make reasonable amateurs of most, after a number of years (that number being variable according to the person's abiliity).


yes, I agree. It of course depends on how one defines "difficult" and how one defines "play". I've had people tell me they can "play" the Waldstein sonata but in hearing it they are nowhere near the tempo it needs to be played nor are they pulling off the technical and musical demands of the piece. They might be hammering out the notes in some facsimile of the piece but are nowhere close to mastery. I am not at all sure that most people can reach professional level or that "most people can play practically anything" . I wish!

Sophia
Posted by: ProdigalPianist

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 03:13 PM

Originally Posted By: Damon

I live in the bible belt and don't know anyone who thinks the world is only 10,000 years old, or flat. Darwin is another matter.


I grew up in the Bible Belt and most of my relatives live there. I know people who are convinced the earth is 6,000 years old (not 10). My mother's take on global warming? "Well, the Bible says that in the last days the world will heat up." I don't *think* I know anyone who believes the earth is flat, but I'm not sure.

I grew up in small-town Kansas. Oddly, back 30-40 years ago, it didn't occur to our parents to try to prevent us being taught evolution (they might have said, "that's not what we believe" but you were expected to learn it for school). Apparently the separation of church and state worked better back then frown
Posted by: ProdigalPianist

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 03:36 PM

Originally Posted By: Mary-Rose


On your point about virtually everyone being able to sing 'Happy Birthday': I understand what you mean - but surprisingly, a fair proportion of people actually can't sing Happy Birthday, even. I don't know how many of the general population are tone deaf but I have come across enough to realise it is a great many people. Presumably such people wouldn't really be able to hear what they were playing on the piano, either.


Except I believe VERY few people are tone deaf and really can't sing in tune. Most of them just BELIEVE they can't sing...or have been TOLD they can't sing well...which is a self-fullfilling prophecy.

I'm going to give an example which may well blow the thread up for good. Let me just say right here that the important factor in this example is NOT race or genetics...it's cultural belief and expectations.

Black church choirs. I grew up attending many religious functions, the more enjoyable of which were gatherings of choirs from many area denominations. These choirs were made up of the rankest amateurs...almost no one had any formal voice instruction. Some folks had sung in school music classes and that was about it.

There were certain choirs that everyone really looked forward to hearing...the ones from the few black churches in the area. After watching and participating with many groups, and hearing the members from both black and white choirs talk about their experiences and participation, I came to the conclusion that the reason music was so grand in black churches is that, rather than thinking "Oh, I can't sing"...folks in black churches just opened their mouths and SANG. They expected to be able to sing, and sound good...they weren't self conscious and worried and afraid to be heard...so they sounded fantastic.

I'm not saying talent doesn't exist...but believing you can - or can't - do something is a HUGE factor for participation in music for the general public. If you think you CAN do something, if you have some trouble with some aspect, you will work on it and straighten it out. If you think you CAN'T, at the first sign of trouble you will drop the activity completely (like with me and sports and math wink )

OK...flame away...
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 03:57 PM

In terms of singing hymns or Happy Birthday, I think part of the equation is exposure and familiarity.

I've seen teenagers auditioning for musicals who couldn't sing a scale even when the piano played along with them. They weren't necessary unmusical or tone deaf...many of them had never heard a major scale before.
Posted by: gooddog

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 04:07 PM

Pianoloverus, that brings to mind a painful memory. During jr. high school I auditioned for a part in the school musical. Everyone but me knew the music and sang their best. I had a pretty decent soprano but didn't know the music at all and was sightreading the music and the words for the first time. Under those circumstances, I did fairly well. That fact was never acknowledged and I didn't get a part. It still steams me. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest! Isn't it funny how we hang on to old, unresolved resentments.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 04:11 PM

Tone deaf means the inability to discriminate between pitches - inability to tell that, for example, C and D are different. I accept that it exists, but I believe it's extremely rare. I have never met anyone who was tone deaf. On the other hand, I've met hundreds who can't sing in tune. It's as others have said, familiarity - and also knowing how to find and use your voice. That's what some people have never done. In my previous life as a classroom teacher I taught hundreds of little bullfrogs. Not one was truly tone deaf, and all improved in their ability to sing in tune with instruction and patience.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 04:24 PM

And P.S. - thanks Monica for addressing my questions. I guess I'd be surprised if that extra something could be measured anyway smile. But interesting to know that Seashore is still around! (well, his tests, anyway smile )
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 04:45 PM

Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
Except I believe VERY few people are tone deaf and really can't sing in tune. Most of them just BELIEVE they can't sing...or have been TOLD they can't sing well...which is a self-fullfilling prophecy...

I'm not saying talent doesn't exist...but believing you can - or can't - do something is a HUGE factor for participation in music for the general public. If you think you CAN do something, if you have some trouble with some aspect, you will work on it and straighten it out. If you think you CAN'T, at the first sign of trouble you will drop the activity completely (like with me and sports and math wink )



Excellent point, ProdigalPianist! You'll get no flaming from this quarter. I started my academic career many years ago working with Robert Rosenthal (he of the well-known "Pygmalion in the Classroom" experiment and my dissertation advisor) on the nonverbal mediation of self-fulfilling prophecies. I think everything you have said is right on target.
Posted by: sophial

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 05:38 PM

Nor from me either. Appreciating that we all have different sets of abilities, strengths and weaknesses (many of which are modifiable with training) does not in any way mean that we should not fully explore everything that we can do and achieve through passion, hard work and persistence.


Sophia
Posted by: Mary-Rose

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 05:46 PM

Originally Posted By: sophial
Nor from me either. Appreciating that we all have different sets of abilities, strengths and weaknesses, does not in any way mean that we should not fully explore everything that we can do and achieve through passion, hard work and persistence.


Sophia


Amen. smile
Posted by: -Frycek

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 06:18 PM

Originally Posted By: Wombat66So
yes I do believe that…. "Innate talent" (if it even exists) plays only a negligible role (if it plays a role at all)….in achieving the goal stated by the rest of the board as quoted above.
In agreeing with this it is utter nonsense to assume I believe that “every one of us is a potential Confucious, Voltaire, Dale Earnhart, Claire Chennault, Tiger Woods or Lang Lang?”
By stating a belief that most of us are capable of learning Chinese or flying a plane (is that even legal to do as a child?) it is surely innately stupid to suggest that I am saying that everyone can learn to do it equally well even with comparable background, motivation and amount of practice.


So learned and innately unstupid one, how do you account for the difference?
Posted by: Otis S

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/20/09 11:07 PM

The vast majority of us would agree that it takes a combination of both talent and hard work to be a good pianist. Where the disagreement lies is in the degree to which one matters more than the other. The bottom line is that we do not have reliable methods for quantifying the degree to which one is more important than the other for piano playing or other similar endeavors. Research in this area is riddled with biased and weak methodologies. The following post describes some of the problems with the Ericsson article Monica mentioned previously:
http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthrea...html#Post936206

Regarding the question raised by the original poster, it is difficult for any of us to predict how far you can go in achieving proficiency playing the classical repertoire. In general, pieces that you refer to such as the Chopin Etudes and Ballades are extremely difficult to play well, particularly if you are talking about the more difficult etudes. I would consider any pianist who can play such pieces well to be quite accomplished. It should be noted that there are many technically less challenging pieces that are very rewarding to play.

It should also be noted that if someone claims that he can play (for example) Chopin’s 4th Ballade, this does not necessarily mean that he can play it well. I know someone who “plays” really difficult Chopin pieces but lacks the technique to play a Bach invention properly. He probably should be working on pieces at the level of Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook. However, his view is that the codas of pieces such as Chopin’s 3rd scherzo and the Polonaise-Fantasie op. 61 are where the action is. When he plays one of these pieces, it is often difficult to determine what he is actually playing. I would not recommend this approach but chacun a son gout.
Posted by: Toman

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 12:15 AM

Great post Otis, it's nice to see some refreshing thoughts on this subject.

Originally Posted By: Otis S
The vast majority of us would agree that it takes a combination of both talent and hard work to be a good pianist. Where the disagreement lies is in the degree to which one matters more than the other. The bottom line is that we do not have reliable methods for quantifying the degree to which one is more important than the other for piano playing or other similar endeavors.


There actually are some relatively decent methods for determining how much of what we call "musical talent" is inherited: By what are typically referred to as "twin studies" and "adoption studies.'

These methods have been used quite extensively, and across different countries, to study all manner of traits ranging from intelligence to height, happiness, and even income.

From the Wikipedia entry:

"Twins are invaluable for studying [nature vs. nurture] questions because they disentangle the sharing of genes and environments

...

Modern twin studies have shown that almost all traits are in part influenced by genetic differences, with some characteristics showing a strong influence (e.g. height), others an intermediate level (e.g. IQ) and some more complex heritabilities, with evidence for different genes affecting different elements of the trait - for instance Autism.
"
Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 04:31 AM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.

As for playing artistically, is it not the case that musical expression is something that teachers work on with their students and that can be taught? Musical expression has to be communicated through the skilled motions of the hands and fingers, so it's hard for me to think of an a priori reason why it should be any less susceptible to the 10,000 hour rule than other behaviors.



This is one of the most interesting areas for me in the "talent" discussion. You are right that musical expression of a generic kind can be taught to many, maybe most, people. I think it is easier to teach the relatively tangible mechanical aspects of playing the piano and reading music. But still, the basics of musical expression can be taught and many people seem to feel it as a fairly normal part of learning music.

However, to me, that's just the rudiments, and it is not what I think of as musical artistry. It's more like musical craft.

It's not so difficult to get someone to play a nicely expressive Chopin prelude, if they have the technique. What is difficult is for someone to play a Chopin prelude in a way that transports the listener (especially a listener familiar with the music) to a state of mind they've never been to before. Or maybe play something very familiar in a way that makes it seem new and fresh, as if just written. That's the kind of thing that I think of as real artistic talent, and I don't think it can be taught, although great teachers can nurture it. Some of that kind of playing relies not only on specifically musical qualities of the player, but other parts of the personality and life experience, too. I think there are some extremes in musical expression that can't be expressed by a player that hasn't been there, or pretty close to there, in real life. And that can't be taught.

As far as I know, there's not a lot of study of that kind of artistic talent. It would be hard to even define it in order to study it. But millions of people have experienced it, both as performers and listeners, and think it is quite real. And at least for me, I tend to think of "talent" in terms of potential for that sort of artistry, as well as in the more measurable sense of aptitude for the more generic aspects of making music.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 04:35 AM

Well said, wr. I think you said what I was trying to say in an earlier post, but much more eloquently.
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 04:53 AM

I agree, good post, very nicely said, wr.
Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 04:57 AM

Originally Posted By: cardguy
Originally Posted By: kevinb
I have mixed feelings about this notion of innate talent. When I doubt that there is such a thing, I only have to look at my two children, who couldn't be more different musically, to wonder. There are only a couple of years apart in age. Both play a string instrument. Both practice about the same amount and with the same diligence. Both have good teachers. And yet, one is just miles ahead, in all aspects of music, than the other.






As others have remarked, I can't help thinking that the overwhelming factor that will determine what is achievable by an adult learner is the amount of time available to practice, which depends on how one juggles one's other commitmments.






I simply can't understand this reluctance to accept what should be as plain as the nose on your face, or in this case, your children's faces. Is there some sort of fear of genetic predetermination at work here, some overly nice liberal tendency to want not to hurt anyone's feelings?

If you can't see that human beings are each born with a unique, genetically based set of talents and traits, then look to the animal world, which is just another way of looking at ourselves. I've 3 dogs at the moment, all the same breed, all with essentially the same training and background, and yet they couldn't be more different.


Leaving aside the obvious point that people aren't dogs -- well most people, anyway -- I wonder what part of my post lead you to think that I am denying a role for heredity in musical talent? I think, in fact, I said the exact opposite of this.

What I did say, and you did not address, was that the role of innate talent is impossible to quantify. It's impossible because people who show early talent will be treated differently than those who do not, and will find practice more rewarding.

Therefore, whether innate talent is influential in adulthood -- absent the influence of environment -- is unknown. Many people assume it is, but there is no evidence (so far as I know) to support this assumption.

I assume it's unknown for dogs too, whether they play piano or not.
Posted by: Wombat66

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 08:55 AM

I sense a certain convergence of opinion and would whole–heartedly endorse WR’s post. I am re-posting just to reiterate my position in the debate and clarify my own views for those who although probably disinterested, have obviously misunderstood me.
I am simply saying that those with average ability have the physiological tools to progress very far at learning the piano when starting as an adult. They are limited, not by their innate ability (?talent) but by environmental factors such as time spent practicing, psychological barriers etc etc and, as the aging process continues, physiological barriers.
I believe that an average adult is, under ideal conditions, equipped to at least respectably fail their ABRSM diploma (ie pass grade 8 and get to the point where it is not considered absurd to sit it). At this point a lack of musicality might prevent passing the diploma. To my mind this is outstanding progress, and would equip one to play very difficult pieces to a level where a non-expert listener would be impressed. It would enable one to play in a Cocktail bar for money and not starve to death.
This position seems entirely compatible the views of Mary Rose and Sophial – it’s just a question of defining what’s “good”. I understand Monica to be saying that for most adults to get to “good”, they are limited not by their talent but factors as outlined above.
I wholeheartedly endorse this view.
We are a little backward here in Cornwall and last night I had to ask my particularly stroppy teenage daughter what “meh”, meant. She sullenly shrugged and left the room snorting “meh”, I think because she couldn’t think of anything intelligent to reply to the question.
However my detractors will be delighted to hear that in the car on the way to school this morning, when I tried to discuss the issue of how far an adult beginner pianist can get, the same daughter said “Dad – it doesn’t matter how much you practice, you’ll always be crap”.
I’m just trying to prove her, and some of the rest of you, wrong.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 09:11 AM

Originally Posted By: Wombat66
[...]I believe that an average adult is, under ideal conditions, equipped to at least respectably fail their ABRSM diploma (ie pass grade 8 and get to the point where it is not considered absurd to sit it). At this point a lack of musicality might prevent passing the diploma....

[W]when I tried to discuss the issue of how far an adult beginner pianist can get, the same daughter said “Dad – it doesn’t matter how much you practice, you’ll always be crap”.

But was she referring to your musicality or your technical proficiency?

The mention of reaching Grade 8 in technique while lacking in musicality made me realize that the converse problem is probably equally plausible: being possessed of great musicality (or the potential for it) while so limited in technique as to be unable to render it in any music save for the least complex technically.

Steven
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 10:20 AM

Wombat, ROFL!! laugh laugh My 13-year old has not yet reached the "stroppy" stage, but I know it's just a matter of time. crazy

I've been thinking more about the issue of tone deafness. I won't begin to profess any special knowledge of the topic, but I did a quick search of the literature and was not surprised to find that very little has been done on it. (Searching PsycINFO for 'tone deafness' or 'congenital amusia' [which is how researchers refer to it] yielded only 22 hits of varying relevance.)

An article in Nature Neuroscience (2007, vol. 10, pp. 810-812) reports data suggesting that tone deafness seems to be related to deficits in spatial processing. However, they also note that there is "scant evidence for gross morphological correlates of amusia," and suggest that "the deficit may derive from changes in neural functioning that are invisible to the tools that have been applied to date," (which of course is just fancy language for saying that they don't know what causes amusia).

There was an intriguing recent article in Musicae Scientiae, Vol 12(1), Spr, 2008. pp. 3-26. My university doesn't carry this journal, so I wasn't able to read the whole article, but the abstract summarizes their main points:

Research has suggested that around 17% of Western adults self-define as "tone deaf" (Cuddy, Balkwill, Peretz & Holden, 2005). But questions remain about the exact nature of tone deafness. One candidate for a formal definition is "congenital amusia" (Peretz et al., 2003), characterised by a dense music-specific perceptual deficit. However, most people self-defining as tone deaf are not congenitally amusic (Cuddy et al., 2005). According to Sloboda, Wise and Peretz (2005), the general population defines tone deafness as perceived poor singing ability, suggesting the need to extend investigations to production abilities and self-perceptions. The present research aims to discover if self-defined tone deaf people show any pattern of musical difficulties relative to controls, and to offer possible explanations for them (e.g. perceptual, cognitive, productive, motivational). 13 self-reporting "tone deaf" (TD) and 17 self-reporting "not tone deaf" (NTD) participants were assessed on a range of measures for musical perception, cognition, memory, production and self-ratings of performance. This paper reports on four measures to assess perception (Montreal Battery of Evaluation of Amusia), vocal production (songs and pitch-matching) and self-report. Results showed that the TD group performed significantly less well than the NTD group in all measures, but did not demonstrate the dense deficits characteristic of "congenital amusics". Singing performance was influenced by context, with both groups performing better when accompanied than unaccompanied. The TD group self-rated the accuracy of their singing significantly lower than the NTD group, but not disproportionately so, and were less confident in their vocal quality. The TD participants are not facing an insurmountable difficulty, but are likely to improve with targeted intervention.


The take-home message I'm getting from this is that many more people define themselves as tone-deaf than who really meet criteria for 'congenital amusia,' (in another article, I found an estimate that only 4% of the population can be considered true amusics), and that tone-deafness can be 'improved with targeted intervention,' i.e., focused practice.
Posted by: ProdigalPianist

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 02:03 PM

It occurred to me in my most recent perusal of this topic, to wonder why, when an adult amateur asks how 'good' people think it's possible to get, that people feel the need to drag "Rachmaninoff, Horowitz and Argerich" into the discussion. What percentage of piano performance majors in the conservatories of the world are going to get as good as "Rachmaninoff, Horowitz and Argerich"? Yet no one thinks to discourage a gifted high school piano student from practicing hard and applying to good schools because "they'll never be as good as Argerich."

I think society in general thinks about these things all wrong. It should be the birthright of every human being to:

*participate in and enjoy physical games and activities
*participate in and enjoy musical expression
*participate in and enjoy artistic expression
*participate in and enjoy intellectual challenge and debate

Unfortunately, what we have now is a society where only those who are "good enough" are "supposed" to participate and the rest of us are supposed to just buy tickets and spectate. Those who are not "good enough" to participate are mocked if they try anyway.

That's screwed up.
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 03:15 PM

Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
It occurred to me in my most recent perusal of this topic, to wonder why, when an adult amateur asks how 'good' people think it's possible to get, that people feel the need to drag "Rachmaninoff, Horowitz and Argerich" into the discussion. What percentage of piano performance majors in the conservatories of the world are going to get as good as "Rachmaninoff, Horowitz and Argerich"? Yet no one thinks to discourage a gifted high school piano student from practicing hard and applying to good schools because "they'll never be as good as Argerich."



I don't think most piano performance majors expect to be the next Horowitz or Argerich. I agree that bringing in comparisons to Rachmaninov etc. is not very reasonable when discussing goals for adults/late starters.

I think a more relevant question/benchmark is how many amateurs will ever get as good as piano performance majors are even right before they start attending at a top conservatory?

I think the answer is a very tiny %.
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 03:19 PM

I agree with you, pianoloverus, but I think the reasons are largely due to those environmental factors we've been talking about (practice, negative self-fulfilling prophecies, lack of motivation, etc.) rather than innate factors.
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 03:57 PM

Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
It occurred to me in my most recent perusal of this topic, to wonder why, when an adult amateur asks how 'good' people think it's possible to get, that people feel the need to drag "Rachmaninoff, Horowitz and Argerich" into the discussion.


Hear hear !

I'd like to add Tiger Woods to your list!
Posted by: pianoloverus

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 04:17 PM

What is the probablity of my being able to play the piano like Rachmaninov and play golf like Tiger and tennis like Roger?

I don't need my calculator and come up with 0x0x0 = 0. At least it's not a negative number.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 04:23 PM

I believe that the expectations for achievement are significantly different for adult learners with a childhood background in piano who return to it versus adults who are late starters.

Maybe that point has already been made? I've lost track at this point.

Steven
Posted by: currawong

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 06:05 PM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.
The take-home message I'm getting from this is that many more people define themselves as tone-deaf than who really meet criteria for 'congenital amusia,' (in another article, I found an estimate that only 4% of the population can be considered true amusics), and that tone-deafness can be 'improved with targeted intervention,' i.e., focused practice.
Interesting, thanks Monica. I'd be very surprised myself if the figure were as high as 4%, as I wouldn't say I've ever come across one (as opposed to all the people I've met who say they're tone deaf). But maybe I just don't get out much. smile
Posted by: currawong

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/21/09 06:11 PM

Originally Posted By: Wombat66
We are a little backward here in Cornwall and last night I had to ask my particularly stroppy teenage daughter what “meh”, meant. She sullenly shrugged and left the room snorting “meh”, I think because she couldn’t think of anything intelligent to reply to the question.
However my detractors will be delighted to hear that in the car on the way to school this morning, when I tried to discuss the issue of how far an adult beginner pianist can get, the same daughter said “Dad – it doesn’t matter how much you practice, you’ll always be crap”.
I’m just trying to prove her, and some of the rest of you, wrong.

Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/22/09 04:09 AM

Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
It occurred to me in my most recent perusal of this topic, to wonder why, when an adult amateur asks how 'good' people think it's possible to get, that people feel the need to drag "Rachmaninoff, Horowitz and Argerich" into the discussion. What percentage of piano performance majors in the conservatories of the world are going to get as good as "Rachmaninoff, Horowitz and Argerich"? Yet no one thinks to discourage a gifted high school piano student from practicing hard and applying to good schools because "they'll never be as good as Argerich."



Oh, come now - this thread has gone far beyond being a simple response to the OP. But even in the terms of the OP and some of the early part of the discussion, it wasn't clear at all that some people were not saying that sheer work was all that was needed to be at the level of Argerich, et al.

Quote:


I think society in general thinks about these things all wrong. It should be the birthright of every human being to:

*participate in and enjoy physical games and activities
*participate in and enjoy musical expression
*participate in and enjoy artistic expression
*participate in and enjoy intellectual challenge and debate

Unfortunately, what we have now is a society where only those who are "good enough" are "supposed" to participate and the rest of us are supposed to just buy tickets and spectate. Those who are not "good enough" to participate are mocked if they try anyway.

That's screwed up.


I agree that there should be much more active participation and less spectation. Generally speaking, I myself haven't noticed a lot of mockery of people who try stuff, though (maybe because I don't watch TV?).

Actually, there was something rather sweet that BBC Radio 3 did over the last few weeks, which was to include amateur piano performances from some UK amateur fest (I think associated with the Leeds competition) in their programming.

And I have to say that the number of amateurs putting their stuff up on YouTube is surprising, and seems to get a lot of positive response. I do wonder why so many put stuff up that they freely admit is not close to "ready" - that seems odd to me.

Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/22/09 07:36 AM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.
I agree with you, pianoloverus, but I think the reasons are largely due to those environmental factors we've been talking about (practice, negative self-fulfilling prophecies, lack of motivation, etc.) rather than innate factors.


Well, that seems to be the point on which people disagree most strongly. I guess those people who argue for a strong, perhaps dominant, role for innate ability are going to say that people who lack such talent are going make make limited progress however hard they work. Which is kind of sad.
Posted by: currawong

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/22/09 08:13 AM

Originally Posted By: kevinb
I guess those people who argue for a strong, perhaps dominant, role for innate ability are going to say that people who lack such talent are going make make limited progress however hard they work. Which is kind of sad.
I tend towards the view that there is a definite innate ability which plays a significant role, though I wouldn't attempt to put a percentage on it! However, that doesn't mean this innate ability will always show itself clearly from the start, and I'm certainly not going to make statements such as you suggest. It also depends what you mean by "limited". Everyone's progress is limited to some extent, I suppose. We just don't know what each person's limit is. That's the important thing.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/22/09 08:25 AM

Originally Posted By: kevinb
[...] I guess those people who argue for a strong, perhaps dominant, role for innate ability are going to say that people who lack such talent are going make make limited progress however hard they work. Which is kind of sad.

I'm not sure what you're describing as sad: the consequence of innate ability that you mention, or that anyone should actually say it.

Steven
Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/22/09 08:41 AM

Originally Posted By: sotto voce
Originally Posted By: kevinb
[...] I guess those people who argue for a strong, perhaps dominant, role for innate ability are going to say that people who lack such talent are going make make limited progress however hard they work. Which is kind of sad.

I'm not sure what you're describing as sad: the consequence of innate ability that you mention, or that anyone should actually say it.


Both, to some extent. If it is indeed true that no amount of diligent work can make up very much for an innate deficiency of talent, then that's kind of sad. If it isn't true, then it's kind of sad that people should be wrongly discouraged from pursuing something that they might enjoy and might even, eventually, excel at.
Posted by: -Frycek

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/22/09 09:31 AM

Personally I don't think anyone with sufficient sensitivity to music to be willing to put in the requisite amount of diligent work is likely to be innately deficient in talent. If you took fifty people off the street and forced them to take up piano you might run across some "innately untalented" individuals but I doubt that many of them would voluntarily subject themselves to hours of disciplined piano practice.
Posted by: Otis S

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/22/09 08:36 PM

Originally Posted By: Toman
Great post Otis, it's nice to see some refreshing thoughts on this subject.

Originally Posted By: Otis S
The vast majority of us would agree that it takes a combination of both talent and hard work to be a good pianist. Where the disagreement lies is in the degree to which one matters more than the other. The bottom line is that we do not have reliable methods for quantifying the degree to which one is more important than the other for piano playing or other similar endeavors.


There actually are some relatively decent methods for determining how much of what we call "musical talent" is inherited: By what are typically referred to as "twin studies" and "adoption studies.'

These methods have been used quite extensively, and across different countries, to study all manner of traits ranging from intelligence to height, happiness, and even income.

From the Wikipedia entry:

"Twins are invaluable for studying [nature vs. nurture] questions because they disentangle the sharing of genes and environments

...

Modern twin studies have shown that almost all traits are in part influenced by genetic differences, with some characteristics showing a strong influence (e.g. height), others an intermediate level (e.g. IQ) and some more complex heritabilities, with evidence for different genes affecting different elements of the trait - for instance Autism.
"


I have not come across any convincing studies which quantify the degree to which one’s level of piano playing (or a similar endeavor) is a result of talent versus hard work. If you have found studies which you feel really do shed insight into this (and are not as flawed as the Ericsson study), please bring them to our attention. It would be extremely difficult to conduct such a study. If, for example, one were to take a sampling of people on this forum for a study, the widely different backgrounds that we have would make comparisons difficult. The degree to which people have practiced varies considerably. Some have had much better instruction than others. It is often pointed out that the age at which one learns to play the piano seriously makes a significant difference. Someone who learns the piano at age 4 and makes significant progress before the age of 10 is going to have considerable advantages over someone who is not exposed to the piano until age 24.

If one took a rigorously sampled group of people of the same age who had not yet been exposed to playing the piano, exposed them to exactly the same piano training and practice regimen over several years, and carefully tracked their progress, it might be possible to make some progress in answering this question. However, it would be extremely difficult to conduct such a study. How could one enforce the same piano instruction and practice schedules for all participants over several years? If people dropped out of the study, this would bias the results.

Also, there are many factors that go into becoming a good pianist. These include technical ability to play the notes, musical expressiveness, sight reading ability, speed of memorization, ability to improvise, compositional skills, etc. The relative degree to which talent and hard work are important for these various skills most likely differs.

I don’t think that it is possible to resolve this debate simply because we don’t have enough empirical evidence to quantify in a rigorous way the degree to which one (i.e. talent/hard work) is more important than the other.
Posted by: Toman

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/22/09 09:09 PM

Adoption and twin studies are not impacted by any one of the problems you identified above. That's precisely what makes these specific studies so valuable.

Here is an excellent writeup on how adoption studies work and why they are important.

"Modern twin studies have shown that almost all traits are in part influenced by genetic differences"

"For IQ, adoption studies show that, after adolescence, adoptive siblings are no more similar in IQ than strangers (IQ correlation near zero), while full siblings show an IQ correlation of 0.6. Twin studies reinforce this pattern: monozygotic (identical) twins raised separately are highly similar in IQ (0.86), more so than dizygotic (fraternal) twins raised together (0.6) and much more than adoptive siblings (~0.0)."

If musical talent is anything like IQ, then we'd expect genetics to play a very large role.
Posted by: Otis S

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/22/09 09:43 PM

This information does not address the question of the degree to which talent or hard work plays the dominant role in piano playing. That is the topic I was discussing in my previous posts. Furthermore, I am not aware of any twin/adoption/IQ study which sheds meaningful and convincing light on this issue.

You raise the separate question of the degree to which musical talent is similar (perhaps correlated) with IQ. That opens another can of worms which I am sure that people have widely different views on.
Posted by: Toman

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/22/09 10:23 PM

You brought up the "talent vs. hard work" regarding musicality. My contribution is to point out that a significant portion of the equation is found right in the ol' genes.
Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 03:28 AM

There is evidence that heredity is influential on IQ, but it's a big step to assume that those results can be extrapolate to musical skill. As others have said, I'd be very interested to see any hard evidence on this.

I don't know much about music teaching, but I know a bit about the general education of children. One thing I've noticed is that children at the age of five or so show huge variations in their abilities at basic scholastic skills such as reading. But by 15 or so, those differences have levelled out. There are still differences, to be sure, but anybody who can't read competently at 15 is considered to have some sort of cognitive problem, that won't be overcome by ordinary teaching.

The reason, I think, is that in general scholastic skills, we do the opposite of what we do in music -- we pour all our resources into teaching people who are least able. We just don't allow people to get to adulthood and be unable to read and write if we can possibly avoid it. So it seems to me, in at least some areas of endeavour, we can overcome the limitations of our genes with hard work.

I wonder what would happen if we took the same approach to music? If we decided, for example, that no child should leave school without being able to play a musical instrument competently? What that be possible, or would the 'ol genes make it a doomed enterprise?

I don't know, and I suspect nobody else does.
Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 03:44 AM

Originally Posted By: kevinb
If it is indeed true that no amount of diligent work can make up very much for an innate deficiency of talent, then that's kind of sad.



Really? Why?

There are any number of things in life for which I don't have innate talent, and for which I can't manufacture a pseudo-talent through diligent work. It has rarely crossed my mind to think of that fact as being sad. It's just life - we're all different, with different abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. For me, it is interesting, rather than sad. If there is sadness to be found, it is in people who have not discovered or developed the talents they do possess.

Quote:


If it isn't true, then it's kind of sad that people should be wrongly discouraged from pursuing something that they might enjoy and might even, eventually, excel at.



I don't understand how anyone would be wrongly discouraged. If they are interested enough, they'll pursue it.

What I think is really sad is kids who are told they have all kinds of talent when they don't, and later they have to go through a very painful process of figuring out why they aren't doing better, when they were lead to believe they could do anything.
Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 04:15 AM

There are many things for which I have no skill for obvious, anatomical reasons. I would never have made a ballet dancer although I was, at one time, a pretty fair heavyweight boxer. I think if I had really, really wanted to be a ballet dancer, then the fact that I could make a decent boxer would have been little consolation. `Sad' does seem to me a reasonable word to express this state of affairs -- inevitable as it is in this life.

Even then, I think we accept our overt, anatomical limitations more easily than our mental ones. When it comes to playing the piano, the basic anatomic requirements seem easily met by almost everybody: two hands, but one will do at a pinch; at least one ear and one ear; some sort of brain to connect them together. It isn't immediately obvious what makes one person more adept at piano playing than another, given the same basic equipment.

Now, you say: ``There are any number of things in life for which I don't have innate talent...'' but is that really true? That is, given something for which you have the requisite bodily machinery, are you sure what you perceive as a lack of innate talent isn't, in fact, a lack of interest? Or a lack of a proper environment to practice? Or something else?

This is a complex subject and I certainly don't have all (or any) of the answers. When it comes to my children, I prefer to tell them that if they want to achieve something badly enough, they are likely to with sufficient application. This seems a more generous and encouraging notion than `be prepared to do less well than you would like', although of course we all have to face that harsh reality at some point.

As for adults, in the subjects that I teach (generally mathematics and computing), I do come across students who will require massive expenditures of effort just to get to a standard that other students will reach with ease. I've met very few students who wouldn't eventually reach competency, but in many cases the students realize quite quickly that the amount of effort required so far exceeds the reward that they give up. That also is sad, in my view, but entirely understandable, given the limited length of human life.

I presume that learning the piano as an adult works in a similar way.
Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 04:30 AM

Originally Posted By: kevinb
There is evidence that heredity is influential on IQ, but it's a big step to assume that those results can be extrapolate to musical skill. As others have said, I'd be very interested to see any hard evidence on this.

I don't know much about music teaching, but I know a bit about the general education of children. One thing I've noticed is that children at the age of five or so show huge variations in their abilities at basic scholastic skills such as reading. But by 15 or so, those differences have levelled out. There are still differences, to be sure, but anybody who can't read competently at 15 is considered to have some sort of cognitive problem, that won't be overcome by ordinary teaching.

The reason, I think, is that in general scholastic skills, we do the opposite of what we do in music -- we pour all our resources into teaching people who are least able. We just don't allow people to get to adulthood and be unable to read and write if we can possibly avoid it. So it seems to me, in at least some areas of endeavour, we can overcome the limitations of our genes with hard work.

I wonder what would happen if we took the same approach to music? If we decided, for example, that no child should leave school without being able to play a musical instrument competently? What that be possible, or would the 'ol genes make it a doomed enterprise?

I don't know, and I suspect nobody else does.



In developed countries, being literate is necessary in order to function and participate in society to any normal degree. There is a pretty large stake in getting as many people reading and writing as possible, just to keep things running with some degree of efficiency. Simply training people to be literate doesn't overcome genetics through hard work, any more than training them to a modest degree of proficiency in math or the sciences does.

I question the idea that reading and writing skills even out by around age 15. It seems to me that what really happens is that the skills being tested simply don't get into anything very advanced, so sure, it appears that the skills have leveled out, when what is actually being shown is that most of those being tested have achieved a certain common denominator which is fairly low. If you tested for reading skills at higher levels, such as being able to parse out the meaning of a page-long sentence in Henry James or Faulkner, I bet you'd quickly see that the skills had not evened out at all.

I would guess that similar training results could be obtained in music, except that in terms of motivation, there isn't the same pressure of "you've got to learn this to survive". For some reason, I have this idea that in some countries music is a regular part of school studies. If so, maybe they have some experience in thinking about how genetic predisposition shows up. But if they are only interested in getting as many as possible to a certain low degree of proficiency, maybe not.
Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 05:09 AM

Originally Posted By: kevinb


Now, you say: ``There are any number of things in life for which I don't have innate talent...'' but is that really true? That is, given something for which you have the requisite bodily machinery, are you sure what you perceive as a lack of innate talent isn't, in fact, a lack of interest? Or a lack of a proper environment to practice? Or something else?



I think interest and talent are very closely related, sometimes to the point of being slightly different aspects of the same thing. I think that talent will always generate interest. But, on the other hand, interest alone can also be generated by something less compelling than talent. Maybe interest comes from some degree of affinity, rather than a full-blown case of talent. Or from simple curiosity.

But no, I don't think most of those things in which I don't have talent are that way through lack of opportunity or environment. I think they are "really true". Some may be due to physiological realities, but I don't discount those; they are surely part of "innate".

There's a whole new area opening up of how parents' and the larger environment's expectations actually shape children's neurological and physical development (particularly in regards to gender expectations), and I can see that some of that stuff might shift some things I currently think of as "innate" over to being "environmental" and therefore more malleable, but at this point, it is too early to say. Or it might be that those kinds of influences should still be considered to be "innate" even if not specifically genetic.
Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 05:25 AM

Originally Posted By: wr
There's a whole new area opening up of how parents' and the larger environment's expectations actually shape children's neurological and physical development (particularly in regards to gender expectations), and I can see that some of that stuff might shift some things I currently think of as "innate" over to being "environmental" and therefore more malleable, but at this point, it is too early to say. Or it might be that those kinds of influences should still be considered to be "innate" even if not specifically genetic.


I don't think I disagree with you very strongly, if at all; the lack of coherence of my posts just reflects my ambivalent views on this whole subject area.

I can't help thinking that the answer to the question what are realistic expectations of an adult starter is ``Goodness knows''. There just seems to be too many variables.

I suppose a related question that might (maybe) be easier to answer is: if I practice for (say) one hour a day, and I've made such-and-such progress in two years, where can I expect to be in (say) ten years?
Posted by: TimR

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 08:42 AM

Originally Posted By: kevinb
I suppose a related question that might (maybe) be easier to answer is: if I practice for (say) one hour a day, and I've made such-and-such progress in two years, where can I expect to be in (say) ten years?


I would have asked it slightly differently. Where will I be after 100 hours of practice, where will I be after 1000, where will I be after 10,000? Grade 1, grade 3, grade 5?

And then factor in age. Easiest way to do that might be equivalent hours. Maybe 1 hour of practice for a 10-20 year old really counts as 45 minutes for a 20 to 30 year old, 30 minutes for a 30 - 40 year old, 20 minutes for a 40 to 50 year old. So you still have to get your 100, 1000, 10000 hours, but it takes longer for the oldtimers like me.

Chinese is a language that almost no 3 year old fails to learn, and almost no 50 year old succeeds in. I suspect piano is similar.

By success I mean become a competent craftsman, not the rare genius virtuoso. That isn't common even starting at 3.

Teachers I've talked to have had success with the 50+ adult if they had an early musical background. I don't think I've heard of anyone actually succeeding on any instrument starting cold after 50. There may be some out there but they have to be rare.
Posted by: Little_Blue_Engine

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 08:56 AM

Originally Posted By: wr

And I have to say that the number of amateurs putting their stuff up on YouTube is surprising, and seems to get a lot of positive response. I do wonder why so many put stuff up that they freely admit is not close to "ready" - that seems odd to me.


I think it may be because even though they are not "there yet" they are so excited and proud of how far they have come that they feel the need to share it with someone.
Posted by: Toman

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 10:52 AM

Originally Posted By: wr
There's a whole new area opening up of how parents' and the larger environment's expectations actually shape children's neurological and physical development (particularly in regards to gender expectations), and I can see that some of that stuff might shift some things I currently think of as "innate" over to being "environmental" and therefore more malleable, but at this point, it is too early to say. Or it might be that those kinds of influences should still be considered to be "innate" even if not specifically genetic.


Where did you hear this? It's my understanding that the evidence is going precisely the opposite direction.
Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 11:06 AM

Originally Posted By: TimR

Teachers I've talked to have had success with the 50+ adult if they had an early musical background. I don't think I've heard of anyone actually succeeding on any instrument starting cold after 50. There may be some out there but they have to be rare.


Fair enough -- but how many 50+ cold-starers can there be? Not many, I would have thought. I would imagine that anybody who had the motivation to play a musical instrument would have started before then. While I can conceive of circumstances that would lead a highly-motivated person to be unable to start learning until 50, they must be extremely unusual.

I do know people of my general age -- 40-50 -- who are learning musical instruments for the first time to show solidarity with their children. The kids are encouraged by the school to learn an instrument, and the mums and dads get involved too, on (I guess) a sort of safety-in-numbers basis.

These folks seems to make the amount of progress I would expect for a couple of hours' practice a week. On the whole, the difference in progress between the parents and the children has not exactly been striking.

Very possibly the difference between enthusiastic kids and enthusiastic 50+ folks will be as striking as you say -- but I just wonder whether there is actually anybody in the second group, in practice?

I'm not doubting you observation that 50+ cold-starters don't do very well -- what I'm wondering is if these are the kind of people who would not have done very well if they started at 20? (for whatever reason).
Posted by: Wombat66

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 12:48 PM

Originally Posted By: Otis S


I know someone who “plays” really difficult Chopin pieces but lacks the technique to play a Bach invention properly. He probably should be working on pieces at the level of Bach’s Anna Magdalena Notebook. However, his view is that the codas of pieces such as Chopin’s 3rd scherzo and the Polonaise-Fantasie op. 61 are where the action is. When he plays one of these pieces, it is often difficult to determine what he is actually playing. I would not recommend this approach but chacun a son gout.





Do they play digital?
You haven't heard a certain
nameless poster on Piano
World play? I've often wondered
what it sounds like.

I was also very interested
in Kevin B's thoughts on poor
readers being given remedial teaching
to overcome their literacy difficulties. This is an
excellent point. In contradistinction
to piano playing, people are not
allowed to give up learning
to read, and are forced to acquire
competence. I'm sure the same would
be true for piano playing if society were
that sadistic.
Posted by: TimR

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 01:33 PM

Originally Posted By: kevinb

Fair enough -- but how many 50+ cold-starers can there be? Not many, I would have thought.


Fortunately they are rare. Unfortunately they are not nonexistent. Any church choir has at least one member who joined after retirement when he/she finally had time, and who stays forever singing the wrong notes loudly, making no improvement year after year. Sigh.

Quote:
I do know people of my general age -- 40-50 -- who are learning musical instruments for the first time to show solidarity with their children.


Yes, that seems to happen frequently. In my experience all these parents stalled relatively quicly and then gave up. I think if someone had explained that their progress would be slower than the kids, but improvement would would continue, maybe they wouldn't have been frustrated so soon.

I started piano with my daughter when I was 50 or so and she 13 or so. I practiced roughly 3 times as long, and as efficiently as possible; she still made far faster progress than I. Difference is I'm still working while she's moved on to other activities.


Quote:
I'm not doubting you observation that 50+ cold-starters don't do very well -- what I'm wondering is if these are the kind of people who would not have done very well if they started at 20? (for whatever reason).


No, I don't think so. I think there are two different problems here. There is some early musical vocabulary that if missed, is very hard to learn later in life. Just like a language. I don't pretend to know neurologically what happens, but fluency seems to require some early exposure.

And then the other problem is that learning anything is considerably harder for us old timers, while forgetting anything becomes easier every day.

And while I sound optimistic about 50+ with experience making progress, I bet it is the very rare teacher who actually has one. I'm still working, but I think I've set realistic goals.

I heard Sergei Ignatov talk about talent once (head juggler with the Moscow Circus). He said there is a level of skill anyone can achieve through effort, and a level of skill that requires natural talent beyond what most of have. He claimed that breakpoint was 8 balls, which would suggest most of us sell ourselves short.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 01:52 PM

It would be nice if a couple of things did not keep getting presented as fact. One is the language learning story. It IS possible to learn new languages and to speak them with fluency and without an accent. One reason that does not happen often enough may have to do with how we approach things as we get older. If the approaches change, the results will change. The (lack of) ability is not a fact. Certain observations made in certain scenarios are a fact. What they mean may not be.

Secondly, Tim, could you not keep stating as though it were a fact, that people cannot learn as well when they get older. It is not a universal experience and it is not a fact. When people believe something about themselves then that can affect what they can achieve.

Among the choir members who continued to sing badly and out of tune - What were they doing in order to learn? Anything? Did they know how to learn and approach it? If any of them wanted to learn how to sing, did anybody know how to guide them? They would have to work at it between rehearsals. The first choir I joined (close to 50) considered singing a social occasion. Some had been in the choir for 25 years and sung the same songs for 25 years, and yet still had to bury their heads in the music. If they had sung for a hundred years, their noses would still be buried in the pages. I knew their repertoire by heart within half a year, but I worked at it. The point is that if you direct a choir and the members aren't going anywhere, you cannot draw any conclusions about people's potential in general, unless you know what they are doing in their efforts (if any) to learn.

And how they are doing it, i.e. approach. For adult learners there is probably a host of unexplored areas.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 02:00 PM

Actually, could you expand on this?
Quote:
There is some early musical vocabulary that if missed, is very hard to learn later in life.


What type of musical vocabulary are you refering to? All I had was solfege from a class in some primary grade, so my orientation tended to be melodic. Solfege the way I learned it held some sense of functional harmony, but it's a distant instinctive thing. I had to learn the names of notes maybe three years ago. I'm still weak in my sense of chords, especially the part that seems second nature to most pianists. So yeah, there's vocabulary for me. Is this the kind of thing that you mean?
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 02:24 PM

Originally Posted By: keystring
It would be nice if a couple of things did not keep getting presented as fact. One is the language learning story. It IS possible to learn new languages and to speak them with fluency and without an accent. One reason that does not happen often enough may have to do with how we approach things as we get older. If the approaches change, the results will change. The (lack of) ability is not a fact.

Neither is your hypothesis, which I think amounts to no more than wishful thinking. I can't believe you wish to go down this road again! I wonder if you're the only linguist in the world who rejects a fundamental precept of language acquisition as "not a fact."

Steven
Posted by: keystring

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 02:56 PM

Steven, I work in this field, teach language privately and toward the aims that I have described. I am learning my seventh language. The precepts of language acquisition or due to studies done a certain way among a certain population. Have you yourself tried to teach language toward those aims, and experimented with alternate methodology? Is this going by theories of what can be done, or experiments giving the conclusion that it cannot be done?

I'm afraid this is going to get just as abstract and academic as this thread was going before. There are practical issues that people are addressing practically. If even some people are managing to acquire or teach language through different approaches from a different angle, then what is achieved is achieved, regardless of what the books may say. Bumblebees fly. Why limit ourselves? This goes over toward learning music or an instrument at a later age, including the idea that adults progress more quickly than children, as a *fact*. If it's something observed here and there, then it's observed. But when it is made a fact, we limit ourselves.

In this forum people are trying to do something. Why tell them as a fact of limitations that they may or may not have?
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 03:13 PM

We've been all through this before. I have a degree in Spanish and Linguistics from UCLA; I studied with Ladefoged and Stockwell. You're entitled to your opinion, but don't present it as fact while simultaneously accusing others of the same error. The apparent real-world experience you have as a "linguist" somehow puts you squarely out-of-sync with academia on this matter.

"Bumblebees fly" sounds like a line from "Over the rainbow." And conjectures about what might happen should be tempered with the familiar line from Wayne's World: "And monkeys might fly out of my ****."

The number of adult learners of foreign languages, with no prior experience, who achieve complete fluency and perfect pronunciation is probably comparable to the number of adult beginners of piano with no prior experience who attain concert pianist-level proficiency. Sure, it might be because teaching methodologies are faulty rather than the way our brains are wired. (And monkeys might fly ... well, you know.)

Steven
Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 03:56 PM

Originally Posted By: Toman
Originally Posted By: wr
There's a whole new area opening up of how parents' and the larger environment's expectations actually shape children's neurological and physical development (particularly in regards to gender expectations), and I can see that some of that stuff might shift some things I currently think of as "innate" over to being "environmental" and therefore more malleable, but at this point, it is too early to say. Or it might be that those kinds of influences should still be considered to be "innate" even if not specifically genetic.


Where did you hear this? It's my understanding that the evidence is going precisely the opposite direction.


Most recently, I was reading about it in a book review, but I'm not sure in what publication - could have been the NYT. Sorry, can't remember the book or author, either, but it is a very recent one that talks about new research done in this area. What I retained from reading the review was that some stuff that used to be thought to be innate to gender and caused by DNA, turns out now to be thought to result from the social environment surrounding infants and very young children, such as parental expectations. Seemed like they were talking about credible, scientifically-based information to me, but then, I haven't read the book.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 04:31 PM

Steven, your academic qualifications are much higher than mine. I have a BA and linguistics was part of the course of studies, then a degree in education with side qualifications. After that I have mixed experience in teaching and working directly using languages, and also did some one-on-one type language teaching. Without a doubt your theoretical knowledge surpasses mine by far.

Quote:
You're entitled to your opinion, but don't present it as fact

It was not my intention to do so.

My relationship to language is concrete and practical. There are aspects to both language learning and music learning which seem to make a difference when they are considered and applied. It goes toward approach, but that is an approximate word since there isn't room to define it here. If someone may have made inroads, why dismiss it just because it does not match the studies?

The experiences with students and my own learning are not conjecture, they're real. Of course one person's experience doesn't prove anything, but at least maybe there is room for thought. It didn't bomb. Why are you so against the possibility, or - are you against the possibility?
Quote:
somehow puts you squarely out-of-sync with academia on this matter.

It probably has. I don't know much about it. You have mentioned studies that test what people can do. Do you have anything involving learning approaches and teaching approaches? I suppose that I am not interested in this academically. I want to help people learn languages if they approach me for that, and I want to study music effectively. I will tend to ask "How can it be done?" I don't know if that is an academic question.
Posted by: ProdigalPianist

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 04:57 PM

I was thinking about this very thread while watching a Nova episode on epigenetics last night. Studies are finding that experiences of, not only the individual, but even the individual's ancestors (grandparents' diet, in the case of the diabetes research mentioned on the program), can impact what gets 'turned on' and 'turned off' on the genome.

So even saying "it's genetic" means that individual experience (nurture) plays an enormous part.
Nova - Epigenetics
Posted by: Toman

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 05:16 PM

All genes are formed by individual experience.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 05:20 PM

All jeans are formed by individual experience. smile

Steven
Posted by: landorrano

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 05:25 PM

Originally Posted By: Toman
All genes are formed by individual experience.



Internet forums are great, for being able to pull theories like that out of a hat.

Or is it a typing error, corrected by sotto voce?
Posted by: Toman

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 05:58 PM

You two, right into the trap!

How is it possible for a gene to form outside of personal experience?

The personal experience of our ancestors, that is. grin

Okay, let's get back to pianos now.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 06:21 PM

Flags of our Fathers ... jeans of our forefathers. smile

Steven
Posted by: gooddog

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 06:25 PM

Epigenetics doesn't refer to the presence or absence of jeans (oops, I mean genes). It refers to whether or not those genes are expressed. There appear to be environmental, social and emotional factors that affect it.
Posted by: ProdigalPianist

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 07:32 PM

my interest in the absence of jeans is totally dependent on the individual from whom the jeans are absent...
Posted by: TimR

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/23/09 11:06 PM

Originally Posted By: keystring


Secondly, Tim, could you not keep stating as though it were a fact, that people cannot learn as well when they get older.


So, it is your position that old and young learn languages equally well?

This seems a strange position to me, but I'm willing to listen to you defend it.

Note that I have never claimed that older people cannot learn a language, only that it is far more difficult. Usually orders of magnitude more difficult.
Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 03:26 AM

Originally Posted By: TimR
Any church choir has at least one member who joined after retirement when he/she finally had time, and who stays forever singing the wrong notes loudly, making no improvement year after year. Sigh.


I believe you. But I know of children in school choirs in the same situation.

To be honest, I'd be a bit surprised if what drew a retired person to sing in a church choir, having no prior musical experience, was a burning passion to make music. I'd be a bit surprised if a person who really wanted to sing, was really unable to do so until retirement -- not in the affluent West, anyway. I mean, even in the England of the Industrial Revolution, working folks managed to find time to sing together.

It's more likely, surely, that such a person has found herself or himself with to much time and not enough to do, and then a friend says ``Why don't you come and sing in the church choir with me? It's get you out of the house and we have a cup of tea and a bun afterwards''. Or whatever.

I would suggest that, on the whole, learning to play piano is not a social thing, and people who make the attempt probably are doing so for very different reasons for the retired lady or gentleman who joins the church choir.
Posted by: TimR

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 06:33 AM

Originally Posted By: kevinb

I would suggest that, on the whole, learning to play piano is not a social thing, and people who make the attempt probably are doing so for very different reasons for the retired lady or gentleman who joins the church choir.


The church choir example is extreme and is intended to convey some humor as well.

We do see adult entrants who do okay. By okay I mean sing on pitch without obvious errors. I don't mean develop the ability to read music and carry a vocal line independently, I haven't seen that happen. But they are able to listen to a strong singer and follow well, which is an interesting skill in itself. That one is something I struggle with myself.

We've had this discussion before. One thing conspicuously absent is anyone giving examples of adult successes, this seems to be rare. Of course a lot of kids take piano lessons without developing much skill either. So I dunno. I started after 50. I haven't developed a high degree of skill but I'm still making progress and have yet to come near my potential. But I've played brass instruments and sung in choirs since age 12.
Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 07:29 AM

Originally Posted By: TimR

We've had this discussion before. One thing conspicuously absent is anyone giving examples of adult successes, this seems to be rare. Of course a lot of kids take piano lessons without developing much skill either. So I dunno.


I dunno either. I take your point about absence of evidence, but that isn't -- pardon the cliche -- evidence of absence. There really can't be many 50-year-old musical virgins (so to speak) who are actually enthusiastic about learning -- not enough to draw statistically valid conclusions from, I suspect.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 09:40 AM

Quote:
So, it is your position that old and young learn languages equally well?

... but I'm willing to listen to you defend it.

Tim, I'll qualify that, and also try to answer your question. I'll try to go from the theoretical to the practical. I'll have to develop this so please bear with me. I'll probably end up with the usual gobbledygook - wordy and incomprehensible blush but I'll give it a shot.

We have this statement floating around: The language folk tell each other that you can't learn a language well past a certain age and they justify it by citing the "known fact" about music. The music folk do the same thing, only they cite language. It loops. From this we have built a kind of model of the human mind resembling wax which is malleable but hardens into a final shape that cannot change. We get stuck there. Things tend to have more sides to them. What if there is more than hot wax, which might limit what we try to do? What else is there?

After a certain age we do things differently: we have a different "approach" than children. Actions are choices that can be redirected, while hardened wax is beyond our control. Some of this doing: analyzing more than direct interaction - this can complicate and interfere; conceptualizing and wrapping what we encounter in the framework of the concept we have formed; relating the new thing to what we already know and "translating" it (are you still perceiving things as they are). People do not learn in a vacuum - there is how and where they learn, and what it is they are doing in that learning - how they direct themselves, and the fact that they are directing themselves (possibly interfering).

Supposing that adults have common tendencies, and these tendencies block aspects of language/music learning. If we change these approaches we might also change the outcome.

I've used this and what I know about languages including having experienced languages, both to learn a seventh language and to teach some students who wanted fluency. The approach included circumventing what we do as adults. This is already too long and I don't want to get into the technicalities. The bottom line is that by actively doing something different, we also did not have those usual results.

Personally I don't know whether a statement about how well old and young *can* learn languages is true or not. I guess that the tone of finality of it bothers me: the conclusion that it's some permanent condition. I am not convinced that it is, because certain changeable habits can change those results.

I hate writing these long things and this one has probably come out as nonsense.
Posted by: sotto voce

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 10:04 AM

If we do things differently as adults, I think that's significantly influenced by culture (whether or not our "hot wax" has hardened): there's a universal societal expectation that adults behave and perform differently from children.

A human who grew up in complete isolation from other humans—feral, if you will, and a blank slate in terms of learning experience—would be as childlike and unaffected by human culture (and unencumbered by the baggage of conceptualizing and analyzing) as anyone could possibly be. Such humans, to the extent there have been cases to examine, do not acquire verbal communication skills as adults in any degree that approaches normalcy. It tends to confirm the "window of opportunity" for childhood language acquisition that is so widely accepted.

keystring, it's interesting that you've found differing results by "actively doing something different." However, the study of foreign language acquisition by adults has a long history, and it's difficult for me to imagine any approach that hasn't been thought of, tried out and the results examined. If you have indeed arrived independently at something exceptional, both in the means and in the outcome, its import to the field of language pedagogy would be inestimable.

Steven
Posted by: keystring

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 11:06 AM

Thanks, Steven. I think, in fact, that it might be significant. But I am only one individual and not in a position to do more than pursue my own learning and teach a person here and there. It is quite possible (likely?) that teachers in both language and music use approaches that cannot be easily explained, don't fit any established theories, and get lost with the teacher. I suppose such things would have to be in something like thesis form because of the interlinking of ideas - who has the time to do so, or even knows how?

Is it helpful at all to consider that some adult behaviours might get in the way of learning music and languages, and if we can alter these by choice, we might have greater success? It's not easy to change a behaviour; for example to realize that you are filtering out when you think you are listening, and then learning to listen. But it does not carry the same impossibility as believing that we have been frozen into a permanent form by a certain age.

At the end of the day, I don't know. I've been able to achieve some things and helped a few people. I don't know if that means anything.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 11:11 AM

Quote:
there's a universal societal expectation that adults behave and perform differently from children.


Must we give in to that? How eccentric are we willing to become?

Actually I had flashback this morning that in my first year of lessons I explored the instrument playfully, trying to see what it could do not much differently than a little kid who rattles, shakes, tastes (ok, I didn't do that wink ) with abandon. Later I decided that I had to be a "serious student" and became properly analytical and correct - that is the period when I did less well "despite" my hard work (took a while for the penny to drop that it was because of it).

That's not all of it, just a wild random thought.
Posted by: TimR

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 11:50 AM

Originally Posted By: keystring
Quote:
So, it is your position that old and young learn languages equally well?

... but I'm willing to listen to you defend it.

Tim, I'll qualify that, and also try to answer your question.
We have this statement floating around: The language folk tell each other that you can't learn a language well past a certain age and they justify it by citing the "known fact" about music.


But that is not my position, either with regard to language or music.

I think there are two separate elements here.

One is that there are some developmental steps in learning either language or music that, if missed, can never be fully recovered. However, these steps are not a complete block to learning either (well, they probably are for language. If you've learned no language at all past this stage, you're probably sunk. But we all learned at least our first language young.) This developmental step is an either-or proposition, but the handicap is not complete and may in fact be minor. This step is probably around age 8, and most of us miss that for both music and foreign (but not native) languages.

The second element is age. This is not either-or, it is continuous and progressive. After mid teens, acquisition of either skill continuously and slowly deteriorates. It is somewhat compensated for by improved strategies, increased persistence and dedication, better understanding, etc. Adults learn more slowly than children, older adults learn more slowly than younger adults. It's just the nature of the aging process. It happens faster to some of us than others but is inevitable.

I think accepting this instead of denying it would encourage adults to persevere. I've seen so many other parents try to keep up with their children at piano lessons, fall behind, and give up as something they just can't do. If instead they'd been told they could do it, but to expect much slower progress, some of them would have continued.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 12:05 PM

TimR, you are writing things as facts which can be discouraging to those setting out to learn, and the self-image can be harmful. That concerns me. It does not affect me personally.

KS
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 12:10 PM

[stops, groans, and can't help wading back into this thread...]

My class will be reading this article in a couple of weeks: Trainor, L. J. (2005). Are there critical periods for musical development? Developmental Psychobiology, 46, 262-278. It's an excellent article, with lots of discussion of relevant issues (including an extended foray into the literature on absolute pitch, another controversial topic here wink ).

Here's Trainor's bottom line message, taken from the concluding paragraph of the article: "What can we conclude about critical periods for musical expertise? Deprivation studies certainly have indicated that it is necessary to experience spectrally and temporally patterned rich sound to wire brain circuits for pitch processing. And enrichment studies have also indicated that early intensive musical experience has an effect on brain development. However, the adult brain also retains some plasticity, and it appears to be at least possible, if uncommon, to acquire musical expertise later in life. Therefore, critical periods for higher levels of musical expertise are probably quite fluid, and it is clear that there are multiple pathways to achieving musical expertise."

This conclusion is based on the consideration of a lot of neuropsychological research, including some animal studies, the details of which I don't have time to get into here, but I recommend this article to interested others. Basically, and also paraphrasing from the article's abstract, the evidence supports critical periods for "basic" aspects of musical pitch acquisition (e.g., tonotopic map formation and absolute pitch perception) but less so for more complex aspects of music comprehension and production (scale structure, harmony, musical interpretation, and composition).

Posted by: RonaldSteinway

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 12:38 PM

It is harder to learn how to speak new langugage perfectly than learning to play piano perfectly.

One's personality has something to do with the learning process of a new langugage. A shy person will feel very uncomfortable to emulate a native speaker speech patterns. Changing intonations requires self determination and also the ability to surpress timidness. An outgoing person will be able to speak much better than a shy person. Asian males or other males who came after the formation of their personality will have problem to change their style of speaking. Non native speaker females, on the other hand, are more willing to change their speach patterns. Male is more bound to the norms where they grew up. When you observe non native speakers around you, you will notice that non native speaker males speak much worse than female non native speakers.

Playing piano, however, for adult does not really requires physical emulation, everything takes place inside their mind. They can just still sit, only their fingers that need to play. They do not need to do all the movement that will make them uncomfortable, therefore, I think playing piano to perfection is a more achievable than learning how to speak a new language perfectly.

I think the main problem with adult is that they want too much things in their mind, and worry too much things too. Children will take one step at a time, they do not really care whether they achieve the goal or not so that they do not have too much preassure.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 01:03 PM

Monica, thank you for that quote. smile

KS
Posted by: theJourney

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 01:30 PM

It should be a crime against culture to allow school systems to exist without an integrated, foundational music education. The more that the "free" market takes over our lives, the poorer we all become. Kids can now buy Coca-Cola at the school cafetaria or study hall, but music education is eliminated as superfluous.
Posted by: madrigal

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 01:59 PM

I am an adult starter too. I used to play violin as a child. Started piano lessons when I was 24. Now I am 39. I plan to play at parties or as an accompanist or whereever I could play. I practise 4 days a week for 5 hours.
Posted by: ProdigalPianist

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 02:02 PM

I've often wondered if how much of the difference in adult language acquisition has to do with the fact that, as far as I know, no one spends a few years talking to an adult learner without expecting a verbal response, the way we do kids...no one talks to adults the way they do babies and toddlers. I'm not talking about baby talk. I'm talking about single words and simplified sentence structure. If an adult spent a couple of *years* in full-immersion language learning, doing nothing else, the way kids do, being talked to the way we talk to toddlers, being corrected the way we correct toddlers, how well would they learn?

The same with music. I think it was the musical fossils webpage or another webpage like it, where a teacher, who was currently visiting a piano pedagogy conference and listening to others' students play, commented that if one of their own adult students was 7 years old instead of 40 (or whatever), their skills and amount of progress would impress the other teachers and they would get a tremendous amount of positive feedback. Since it was an adult, however, no one would be impressed.

I think smaller stages of accomplishment get significantly more praise in children than they do in adults. For things like music and language acquisition, I think that's a big part of the picture.
Posted by: kevinb

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 02:07 PM

Originally Posted By: madrigal
I am an adult starter too. I used to play violin as a child. Started piano lessons when I was 24. Now I am 39. I plan to play at parties or as an accompanist or whereever I could play. I practise 4 days a week for 5 hours.


Wow! I find it hard to make an hour a day -- and that probably comes at some cost to family life in general smirk
Still I should be grateful -- I imagine a lot of people with small children can't even find that much time.
Posted by: theJourney

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 02:19 PM

Originally Posted By: ProdigalPianist
I've often wondered if how much of the difference in adult language acquisition has to do with the fact that, as far as I know, no one spends a few years talking to an adult learner without expecting a verbal response, the way we do kids...no one talks to adults the way they do babies and toddlers. I'm not talking about baby talk. I'm talking about single words and simplified sentence structure. If an adult spent a couple of *years* in full-immersion language learning, doing nothing else, the way kids do, being talked to the way we talk to toddlers, being corrected the way we correct toddlers, how well would they learn?

The same with music. I think it was the musical fossils webpage or another webpage like it, where a teacher, who was currently visiting a piano pedagogy conference and listening to others' students play, commented that if one of their own adult students was 7 years old instead of 40 (or whatever), their skills and amount of progress would impress the other teachers and they would get a tremendous amount of positive feedback. Since it was an adult, however, no one would be impressed.

I think smaller stages of accomplishment get significantly more praise in children than they do in adults. For things like music and language acquisition, I think that's a big part of the picture.



Many moons ago I used to teach English as a second language in Central America at a place that took exactly this philosophy. We attained amazing results with adults -- even with people of limited literacy.
Posted by: RonaldSteinway

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 02:55 PM

Originally Posted By: theJourney

Many moons ago I used to teach English as a second language in Central America at a place that took exactly this philosophy. We attained amazing results with adults -- even with people of limited literacy.


What do you mean by amazing result? Could they speak without Spanish accent? I have no doubt that they can learn the grammar. The grammar can be learned quickly, but the pronunciation that is very difficult to improve. I have been in the States for 18 years, I have to put a lot of effort to pronounce ANY word so that my accent will not come out too much. It is the same like playing Schumann's Traumerei...It is not that difficult to just play, but play beautifully is different matter.
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 03:01 PM

Originally Posted By: Monica K.
Therefore, critical periods for higher levels of musical expertise are probably quite fluid, and it is clear that there are multiple pathways to achieving musical expertise.
No doubt it's more to do with dedrites- 'About 80 percent of dendrites form after birth, and a large percentage of them form during the first three years of life.'
Posted by: keyboardklutz

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 03:03 PM

Originally Posted By: RonaldSteinway
It is the same like playing Schumann's Traumerei...It is not that difficult to just play, but play beautifully is different matter.
I've seen plenty of kids in my school start with an accent at age 11, they never lose it.
Posted by: keystring

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/24/09 03:20 PM

Tim, I didn't really go into what you actually wrote the first time.
Quote:
This developmental step is an either-or proposition, but the handicap is not complete and may in fact be minor. This step is probably around age 8, and most of us miss that for both music and foreign (but not native) languages.

I question this. That's what I refer to as the "hot wax" idea. I work in languages including occasionally teaching it one-on-one and am learning a new language at a relatively late age - more successfully with less effort than as a young adult. I don't know if you could follow my convoluted treatise.

Quote:
After mid teens, acquisition of either skill continuously and slowly deteriorates.

I question this as well. I am also not convinced that we can know such things. People devise tests, print out results of such tests, and interpret them. That does not make the interpretation true or absolute.

Quote:
I've seen so many other parents try to keep up with their children at piano lessons, fall behind, and give up as something they just can't do.

Before I put my foot in my mouth, are you the observing teacher? Can you explain more? In what kind of a scenario would a parent and child be taking the same lesson? Is this like Suzuki, where the child is being taught and the parent participates in order to help? Or something different?
Posted by: wr

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/25/09 04:04 AM

Originally Posted By: keystring
I work in languages including occasionally teaching it one-on-one and am learning a new language at a relatively late age - more successfully with less effort than as a young adult.


Just to add another element to this already thick stew - is there not evidence that acquiring new languages is quite different and easier for an adult who already has a few, than for a person who is trying to learn their first (outside of native) new language?
Posted by: Jeff Clef

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/30/09 11:45 AM

"Aha! You just gave me an idea for a new version of Damn Yankees especially for PW members!"

We should be so lucky. Whatever happened to those great show-stoppers like, "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets"--- numbers that put the "tang" back in tango.

I think one reason piano used to be so much more popular is because people used to dance to it. It was fun, it was sexy, it was not the marathon of isolation-endurance that it has become.
Posted by: Horowitzian

Re: Realistic Goals as adults/late starter - 09/30/09 11:56 PM

Uh, Jeff? I think this thread probably ought to be left to die a peaceful death. smile