Post by Murdick
Let's ask Kevin. He teachers a lot of 3rd graders. Does talent make the difference?
Funny you should ask...I am interested in this topic because of not only what it means to the student, but what it means to the teacher. I think that is why this thread initially caused so much interest and eventual parody.
I will preface my statements saying that I have only taught about young people for about 32 years and so I am still learning my trade.
The fact that there are students who excel (according to my definition) above others, yet experience a similar curriculum and teacher methodology suggests that there is something inherent in the student that creates that difference of excellence. Identical twins (and I've taught a good number) do not play identically even though they have experienced the same words, examples and instruction; the difference is apparent from the second lesson.
I think I understand Greg's take on the subject and I am not convinced he is wrong. I think those who object to his belief see that some students are starkly different in their ability and are left with the inevitable conclusion that the difference must be attributed to something other than training. That is essentially my position, too. However, for a devoted teacher, that conclusion demands that whatever that "thing" is must be discovered and examined. And I'm willing to admit it may not come back to "talent."
I have a requirement of my private student that they practice 6 hours per week. Some barely make it, some exceed it. Those who exceed it do better. So is that "thing" practice time? There is no question that those who increased their practice to 6 hrs. per week from a lesser number have learned more material, play better and progressed more than they used to. However, if their learning style is deficient - say they always play too quickly and are not attentive to details or a technical issue is chronically overlooked then their playing may still not compare favorably with another. So time is part of the equation but obviously not all of it.
When I examine those students who are putting in the time but not playing up to my vision of excellence, I then must investigate their practice style. Usually those students have learning proclivities that are not conducive to classical guitar training: attention and concentration difficulties; language or auditory processing or visual processing challenges; resistance to self-reflection (common in kids below 9.5); and, in rare cases, physical anomalies that interfere with growth. I then address those issues in the lesson (I call it "practice counseling"). Even when effective, and improvement happens, that doesn't guarantee the student will now be among those called "talented." So this is part of the equation, too. But not all of it.
There are many subtle and unconscious messages a teacher delivers to a student - facial expressions and special words and phrases of encouragement that pop out spontaneously when teaching a student who excels. Lets call that the "Gladwell Effect". I think that is part of the equation, too. This motivates the student to achieve. I am aware of this and try to express similar things to student who are not in the "talented" category yet. This is helpful, but does not move a student to that special "talented" category, though it does improve the student's motivation.
Does there exist students who seem to be "hard-wired" for excellence above others? I know the answer is yes (that is the source of this controversy). When I look at those students and try to find common traits I cannot find 100% commonality. For the sake of this thread, I will call them "talented." Here are a few things I can think of right now:
• Most of them were very intelligent, judging from their grades in school. However, their type of intelligence varied and affected the quality of their musicianship.
• Most practiced more than others.
• Most had fast twitch mechanisms. They did not have to practice long to play fast.
• They have good memories, though some have memory issues with music because of learning style.
• Most had extraordinary fine motor skills when they first approached the guitar.
• Most were highly motivated early. Perhaps this is due to the interaction with the teacher. It is difficult to sit in front of an amazing student and not be amazed. This is wonderfully validating for them and stimulates further growth (provided there is rapport between student and teacher). I try to spread my amazement to all students but I don't discount the "Gladwell effect" either.
• Most initiated repertoire. This happens more now, with youtube, than it used to. But it is only the "talented" category student that comes in with music I did not direct them to. Even with a student who hasn't excelled, yet, when and if they do come in - even with a pop tune - I consider that a sign of ownership and an important link to the "talented" category. They have a vision for themselves.
• They own their skill. The "talented" ones have taken control of their practice. They initiate it. It is a part of their life.
• They want to perform. There are always two voices about performing. The "talented" students listen to the good voice more that the negative one. They see themselves performing.
• The "talented" ones are "teachable". They listen and respond every lesson. This requires a deep rapport and trust for the teacher.
• They can play in ensemble well. I have experienced high-skill players who, due to Asberger's, could not interact musically with others. They were just high-skill and did not have that quality of musicianship of the "talented" student.
I believe talent may be a Myth, but it is certainly not a fable. I don't know what it is, how to cultivate it (it seems out of the teacher's hands - we can only discourage it), but I can recognize it. No doubt students want to believe they are special. I do not think I should discourage that thinking if its productive. I have told students that they are talented - usually to bolster their motivation.
The popularity of the Harry Potter books among the tweens and young teenagers is evidence that kids are attracted to the possibility that they possess some kind of special gift that they didn't know they had; that they are magicians but have just not yet been sent to Hogwarts for training. This is the idea of "talent." My job as a teacher is to help them find their gifts and become magicians. Again, "magic" may be a Myth, but it is not a fable.