How to Develop Natural Talent: A Case Study

We focus on practice here at Study Hacks because practice is so amazingly effective. Practicing makes people more talented. The effort and repetition involved with practice are the foundation of talent.

Many people believe talent is you are born with – that talent is something that cannot be taught.

This is wrong.Talent is mostly the result of practice and hard work. Practice makes people more talented.

Many times people mistake as talent is simply the result of someone getting a bit lucky the first time they try something, or just plain old liking the task, then believing they are good at it, and then practicing so much they actually become good.

My son is an excellent example of “a natural talent” actually being the result of hard, persistent practice. He is a “natural talent” at the piano! Well, that’s what everyone thinks – that he has a natural talent.

But, let’s examine this supposed natural talent. He loves to play the piano. He truly enjoys it. He will play the piano anytime he is near a keyboard of any sort. We do not have to force him to practice. We just suggest to him to play and he will walk over and start to play.

He likes to play so much we thought he would even play more if he had the opportunity. So, we bought a cheap keyboard and put it in his room. Every time he walks into his room, he will play a few bars or maybe for 5 minutes, and then many times even longer. So when he gets home from school and heads upstairs to his room, he will play for a few minutes just because he likes to play. This is practice!

Not only does he practice frequently, but he also has a great approach to practice. He likes to figure out how to play the new pieces his teacher has just given him.

I’ll hear him go over a few bars, very slowly, and then repeat those parts slowly but perfectly. He will speed them up slightly. He finally stitches all of the parts together and plays the entire piece very well.

He really likes to show off and show that he can play the pieces without even looking at the piano! I’ve been in many staring contests with my son while he plays his most recent piece! It’s totally hilarious for me, but for him, it’s incredibly demanding practice. He forms a detailed mental model in order to play the pieces without looking at the keyboard.

His “natural talent” is the result of his playing the piano for about 20 minutes a day, every day. It’s the result of him playing for a few minutes every time he walks by his keyboard. It’s the result of him breaking down the hard parts into small, manageable pieces, and mastering those small pieces. It’s the result of his wanting to learn the pieces so well he can play them without looking at the keyboard.

It’s not even work for him, because he enjoys playing. But all of the little parts of effective practice are there in his approach to the piano. Let’s see:

  1. Breaking down difficult parts into smaller, manageable chunks
  2. Repeated, Daily practice
  3. Intense Practice Sessions focusing on getting small parts exactly right
  4. A focus on mastery
  5. Stitching the small parts into the larger whole

They say my son is a naturally talented musician. I say he works his butt off getting better at the piano.

The steps he’s stumbled on for being a natural talent happen to be the same steps covered in the Talent Code, where some of the best performers in the world share their secrets to getting better at pieces.

Where do your kids show their natural talents?