Confessions 3: Naturally gifted students?

Guest Author: Simon Reich   “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student”, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions. In this series he shares their answers…

Question 3

Being someone who had a natural ear for music and could play back most things I heard, this was a question I was keen to hear the answers to –

“Do you feel some students have a natural gift in music? How does that manifest?”

Ioana Andreea Boancă : Yes, some students are more musically inclined, they can easily sing and imitate musical or rhythmic passages. This is the first impression.

Nikolas Sideris : Yes, but I wouldn’t want to call it “talent”, or “God-given gift”. I do believe that our early experiences tend to manifest in various ways… When you get a student coming into the classroom singing (correctly), then that’s indeed a happy student and a happy teacher!

Jenny Walker : Yes. I’ve had a few who ‘jump’ grades and have a flair for improvisation and composition. I compose and I think this encourages them to try it. There are also some who struggle but they achieve through commitment and determination.

Jimmy Rotherham : I believe we are all born musicians in the same way that we are all born swimmers. We need to differentiate sound to survive – we have a keen sense of pitch. As soon as we start walking or become aware of our heart beat, we develop an appreciation of rhythm and tempo. If this is used and hard-wired into the develop brain, it will grow into a musical brain. It’s much harder to correct difficulties after the age of 8 or 9, in my experience. So I would say everyone has a natural gift for music –  some are developed more than others, some have the opportunity to discover, to be discovered and to develop; some are more disciplined in practising and these are the people working from pro to genius level.

Donal Gormley : I would say that some pupils clearly have parents that sang to them, brought them to concerts etc, discussed music and got them curious about music. I would say some students continue to use their bodies in a well-coordinated way in their musical studies, this makes it easier to learn new music and coordination. I feel that some have families that encourage the student to think in terms of growth rather than fixed limits. I don’t think there’s such as thing as natural gifts, just complex combinations of skills that continue to develop.

Joanne Snowden : I agree with Donal. We don’t know what they were exposed to in their early years – a child whose parents sang lullabies and rocked them to sleep, then played music regularly as they got older or took them to junior music classes, will more than likely have a sense of pulse and rhythm and can identify high and low pitch before they start piano lessons. This isn’t natural talent, this is as awareness that’s already been nurtured and gives those students a head start before they start to learn an instrument.

Sarah Martin : I think I tend to agree with those who’ve said that it’s more a case of their innate musicality having already been stimulated and nurtured rather than some being more musical ( whatever that means) than others. If there is music and a love of music in the home then that is obviously going to give the child an advantage.

Naomi Craddock : Yes, nurture appears to have more impact than nature in the development of musical skills.

Frances Magdalene Wilson : Yes. Some seem to have a natural ease when they play, or an innate sense of rhythm or phrasing or a very good ear but often they don’t realise they have these abilities (perhaps because the parents are not musical and do not nurture them at home).


Some of the answers to this question were very interesting indeed. I may have to agree to disagree on some of the opinions expressed here.

As a visual artist as well as musician, I teach calligraphy to adults. They all come along highly motivated, keen to get value for their money and willing to practice. Unfortunately, some will never quite “get it” and have returned for further classes and still struggle to do the most basic letterforms. Likewise, some people I’ve come across, my brother included, cannot sing in key, EVER!! No matter how I tried to teach him and encourage him to sing with me, he just couldn’t replicate what he was hearing into what he could pitch from his brain / mouth. Having said that, he was an incredible drummer and had the most amazing grasp on rhythm.

Although this question could crossover into the nature vs. nurture debate, I would side with nature having a slight edge. I have four children and brought them all up very similarly, but one in particular could catch a ball at an early age and ended up being an accomplished sports person. They all had the same education, but one exhibited a “natural” edge the others didn’t have. This has also turned up when twins, separated from birth meet each other years later and have been known to have similar musical talents, even though they were brought up differently.

Despite the debate, the basic thrust of this question was a need to find those that are progressing faster than others and accelerate their education.

Next:  in Confessions 4 Simon asks about how we select music for students to learn…

Simon Reich

Simon is a pianist and award winning composer from Victoria, Australia.
Further information : Simon Reich Music
Simon is a regular contributor to Pianodao.

One thought on “Confessions 3: Naturally gifted students?”

  1. Great answers all around. I tend to agree that kids are raised differently and some just haven’t had the exposure to music that some others may have had. It’s really obvious when you find someone that’s naturally good at the instrument, but sometimes they don’t make the best students.

    My best students are the ones that work hard, and sometimes the most natural students just don’t. They think they can get by on “talent” alone.


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