Cultivating natural talent

Apropos the recent discussion about the place of formal training in the development of people who seem to possess native or natural ability, Sue C. Smith, a songwriter who does a lot of (good) work in southern gospel, wrote this recently in passing as part of a longer post about making Christmas gifts:

I don’t know if I’d call my self an “expert” in songwriting, but I’ve certainly invested a lot of time, money, and energy in learning about it. And it’s always funny to me when people act like writing is just a talent that you have or you don’t have and you can either do it or you can’t. So it never really occurs to them that writing is a craft that you practice and you get better at the more you study and work and sacrifice.

Replace “songwriting” with “singing” or “playing” and Smith pretty much sums up my thinking in this matter. Obviously people can possess a great deal of talent, more than enough so that they can succeed without any formal training. Often, though, when people talk up someone’s “God given” ability, it’s a way to implicitly or explicitly suggest that getting formal training is vaguely anti-Christian or at least besmirches God’s gift and diminishes one’s giftedness, which is in fact just nonsense (not to mention a way for a person to turn obstinancy and laziness into a mark of spiritual heroism). As Smith suggests, training will only HELP people with natural ability get better and better - but only if they want to.

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  1. Kyle wrote:

    Okay….steel is steel, whether it be raw material or a finished product. The problem is this: it’s VERY hard to build a structure with raw steel!!! You have to used refined, finished, strong steel. Otherwise, you’re just fooling yourself into thinking this is a strong building.

    Same with singing/playing/writing/[insert God-given talent of choice]; you may have the raw material, but that doesn’t mean you can just run off with it and start using it. God gives you the BASE talent. He instills in you a calling (well, it SHOULD be a calling), and it’s something you should spend your whole life perfecting for His glory. I’d think that’s the very LEAST you should do for Him….

  2. Jim E. Davis wrote:

    Mother played the accordion. Dad picked a guitar and mandolin. Instruments were the most important possessions in our home and were purchased upon the slightest of interest shown by me or any of my siblings. The missing ingredient was music lessons. Because of the natural talent and ability to quickly pick up harmony parts as well as accompany ourselves on varied instruments, my parents didn’t feel it necessary to waste money on formal training. In fact, they were rather proud of it and wouldn’t pass up a chance to brag about it. We traveled for years, recorded several projects and I didn’t think much about it until I was hired as a music director at a church and found myself staring blankly at a Christmas choral book in my hand.

    Tediously over the years I have taught myself and leaned heavily upon my wife who learned to read music from a child. I have wished more than a thousand times that I had been given the opportunity to learn the basics while I was young and had the time and energy.

    In my opinion, God-given talent is never spoiled by proper training, only enhanced. Even those who seemingly have no talent can persevere and sharpen their skills in such a way as to replace grimaces with smiles in the pews.

  3. Revpaul wrote:

    I’m sure all would agree that Justin Ellis has God-given talent. He also has a Masters Degree in Music which helped him cultivate that talent and hone his craft.

  4. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I’m one of those who started with no “God given talent” and had to learn everything about music the hard way. When I was in fourth grade, the children’s choir director informed my mother that I was a monotone. When I consider all the hours I’ve spent studying music, I’m inclined to get a little bit chapped when people unlike me…those who have been blessed with a natural ear for music…don’t apply themselves or make any effort to improve, settling for theaTricks (deliberately spelled wrong) rather than displaying an amazing skill.

  5. Trent wrote:

    The great songwriter Kyla Rowland once told me that she writes every day. Every day! Yes, she has a natural gift, but she works and works and works at it each day to improve. No wonder her music has blessed so many hearts.

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