Indiana Daily Student

​Talent: Natural or Learned?


Talent, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a special ability that allows someone to do something well. The Merriam-Webster dictionary also says that this word derives from the old English word talente and from the Latin word talenta, with its first known use being before the 12th century. 

Often, those who are able to create, perform or write music “effortlessly” are said to have natural talent. Their musical ability seems to just come to them and they can usually create, perform or write music without any practice — or that’s what people think.

Dave Woodley, a Jacobs School of Music professor and director of Athletic Bands, said natural talent happens early on.

“A lot of it happens when you’re a child,” Woodley said. “You run across something, no matter athlete or musician, or get put in position where you start to pay attention to certain things.”

Woodley began playing the piano when he was a kid, which he said developed his ear for music — or musical aptitude — and later helped him create better music because he was introduced to it at an early age.

On the other hand, Bryan Thompson, a sophomore and musician at IU, says people are born with natural talent, but may not discover it until later. Thompson has been playing the saxophone — now focusing most of his talent on the soprano saxophone — since he was young and says he has a natural talent.

“I started when I was nine,” Thompson said. “I never had any lessons. It was just kind of a natural thing for me — I kind of picked it up. Now of course, I didn’t sound the way I do now like I did then. But it just progressed over time.”

Thompson, a 2nd-place winner at the Apollo Theater in New York, said he was able to play most of the music he heard as a child although practice and working with new people helped sharpen his talent. 

“Every time you practice and you spend time with your instrument, you’re getting better whether you know it or not,” he said. “Not only does it enable you to get better with your craft, but practice enables you to connect more with your passion.”

Woodley says ability is just as an important as work ethic when it comes to music.

“Practice is good because you get rid of mistakes,” he said. “You should practice to get better, but I think you should practice to get rid of bad stuff.”

Though Thompson says practice is important, he says it’s also important to let the talent grow on its own.

“If you know that you have a natural talent, let it breathe,” Thompson said. “Don’t force it. We should not be controlling, the music control us. It’s an entity that you have to let breathe through you.”

INSIDE's Natural Playlist:

Description: Dave Woodley,Jacobs School of Music professor and director of Athletic Bands, Bryan Thompson, IU sophomore and musician share some of their favorite tunes.

Created by: Dave Woodley & Bryan Thompson


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