Editorial Talent Is Overrated

Published on May 12th, 2015 | by Sam


Talent is Overrated

I love reading books – really about all kinds of different subjects.  My favorite though tends to be sort of self help/success work.  Nerdy as hell, I know, but there’s so much to learn in that type of book (usually).

Right now I’m just about finished with a great one called Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.  I’m going to summarize some of the areas that this resonates with me and hopefully it can lead you to some of your own discoveries, this week in the area of deliberate practice.  The idea of the book is pretty straight forward.  Basically the talent idea is pretty much false and there are other, much more important factors when it comes to success in just about every area of life.  The music talent myth is so prevalent that it makes this book an important read for all musicians.

The Importance of Deliberate Practice

Colvin’s first major point is that real mastery comes with Deliberate Practice.  He uses a couple of main criteria that are especially applicable to to musicians.  It must be specifically designed by a teacher or expert, repeatable, something that stretches your ability (hard work), and something that feedback is readily available.  He also points out that deliberate practice isn’t much fun.
Of course we can argue the point that practice isn’t fun, but the other points here are very valid.  I think that the most important points for a musician are that the practice is designed and repeatable.  Many times practice is loosely defined, but only by saying “I’m going to practice scales.” Or “I need to practice some tunes.”
Here are some suggestions to make the things you practice more deliberate and designed.

1. Isolate a problem area

Finding your problem areas comes out of anther element here – feedback.  This can be from a teacher, from listeing to your own recording, or just knowing “I suck at…”  I find it helpful to write some of these down.  You might not want to write down ALL of them, especially if you have a lot of holes in your playing!  Here are some ideas (hint: these are all things I’ve needed to improve at one time or another!)

  • timing
  • eighth notes
  • blues vocabulary (after getting a gig with a blues band)
  • nailing bends in tune
  • playing fast
  • knowing intros and outros for jazz tunes
Most of these are specific enough to give me guidance in creating a practice plan. I would highly suggest consulting a teacher or expert in this area because some of the answers are either counter intuitive or there are known solutions that you don’t need to find yourself.  If you want some suggestions from me, email me!

I can tell you from experience that turning these into measurable or defineable chunks makes this work much more effective.  So timing… I worked on this in several ways, each more specific than just “timing.”  I worked on syncopation with the and of four, extremely slow tempos (lower than 50 BPM), subdivisions (like quarter notes only), etc.  There are endless options.

2. Repeat it!

OK it has to be repeatable, so make sure you hold up your end of the bargain and actually repeat it!  It does almost no good to know that you need to work on eighth notes, and then to not actually spend 2 weeks doing it.  Hopefully this is a ‘duh’ moment, but many guitarists skip the repeating part and just jam or play what they can play… so:

3. Focus on things that you CAN’T already do

This is when it gets tough.  Maybe something is tough mentally to figure out.  It might be really tough physically to get those minor 3rd bends in tune, or to endure the sound of sloppy “chikas” while chicken pickin.  Don’t stop. Trust the process – especially if it’s been given to you by an expert or teacher.

4. Get Feedback

Getting feedback is critical.  Record yourself.  It can be on your phone – it really doesn’t have to be fancy.  Listen to and endure the warts, they are so instructive.  Listening to yourself for 10 minutes beats an hour of practicing the wrong things, because you can hear what isn’t working.  Even experienced professionals do this, they just use it as a tool to figure out what isn’t sounding exactly how they want it to sound.

There you go – go get the book right now!  Then meet me again next week for two more applicable parts of this equation.

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