Posted on May 20, 2013
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I’ll go ahead and be blunt here – and my intent is not to be harsh or offensive, I assure you, but – I don’t believe in talent.

There. I said it.

I simply don’t believe that talent exists. I’ve never experienced it, seen it, felt it, and have ever known anyone else to have had it. As far as I have experienced thus far in my life it’s a word that we made up to express what we’re thinking when we see someone do something that we can’t.

Now, before I get too much further into this, as I’m sure a few of you already disagree with me, let me define this word “talent,” because its meaning may differ to us all. When I hear someone say, “That person is SO talented,” it’s usually within the context of referring to his or her natural ability to perform, accomplish, focus, or think through a specific task with speed, agility, and ease. So, for our intents and purposes today we will define the word as such:

Talent = You’re naturally good at something.

My first problem with this concept is that this natural proficiency implies that you’ve always had it. And though it may appear as so (for instance I’ve been playing music since the age of 4, so one might assume that I’m “talented” since I have shown signs of a musical affinity for more than 95% of my life), I can guarantee you that the only things we are naturally good at are the things we were born with: breathing, crying, blinking, sleeping, bowel movements… Not much, basically. You didn’t know how to talk or crawl, let alone walk, hold a pencil, ride a bike, or anything involving even the most basic of motor skills (like coloring inside the lines – a real “tuffy” for toddlers, ya know). Things like being able to follow directions, public behavior, personal courtesy and general politeness; ALL of these things you had to learn how to do, and most of them we don’t consider a “talent” because just about anyone can do them. So right from the start this concept of a “natural” knack for [fill in the blank] is flawed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe in “gifts.” Biology givess us many gifts; some people are certainly gifted in ways that might make it easier for them to excel in a particular field. For instance, someone born of tall parents who might grow up to be 6’10” will certainly have an excellent advantage in becoming a great basketball player, unlike someone like myself who barely pushes 5’7″. Sure, that’s obvious. But that’s not “talent” now, is it? Just cuz you’re tall it doesn’t make you a great basketball player. And just cuz you’re heavy it doesn’t mean you’ll be in the NFL as a linebacker… You need something else, and we’ll get to that in a minute.

Let’s also not ignore our neurological chemistry; right side of the brain vs. the left; different personality types; the way that men think vs. the way that women think; levels and types of hormones… There’s so many factors that make up who we are and what we are attracted to, and I think this plays a HUGE role in our “talents.” Some kids excel at math and sciences, some at communication, some at social interaction, others in arts and expression; I believe this is directly related to not only our upbringing but also our chemical makeup. I like the color red but not green. I’m right handed, not left. I don’t eat tomatoes but I love salsa. I like attention but not too much. I get uncomfortable when I’m in small groups but I have no problem standing/talking/performing in front of thousands of people. I can’t help any of those things, that’s just how I am. Whatever it is in my brain that has wired me to feel and act this way is far beyond my own control. Certainly, I can change them if I really want, but I have naturally become this person that feels the way he feels. I didn’t go out of my way to do it.

Keeping that in mind, some people naturally have a passion and love for things that others don’t; so much so that they will dedicate as much time and effort into it as they possibly can. For me that happens to be music – I’m drawn to it. Money doesn’t impress me, neither do nice cars, sports teams, photography, paintings, Shakespeare, TV shows, video games… I’m impressed by the creation of music, the art of engineering, aural expression, and in particular the LOW frequencies of the sonic spectrum. I’m SO drawn to these things that I have dedicated my entire life to pursuing them. So surely some sort of chemical “gift” gave me a sense of awe for these things but my ability to do them DID NOT come from a strand of DNA.

Hard work and dedication. I practiced piano every day as a child for 30 minutes. By the age of 7 I played bass for about an hour a day. By the time I was 11 I was playing 2 or 3 hours a day. I started writing my own songs in middle school. I began performing my own music in high school. For 4 years in college I had to practice 6-10 hours a day JUST TO KEEP UP with everyone else; any less and I would have failed. To tell me that I’m “talented” is actually an insult; to think that I got to where I am without the hours and hours and hours and years and years and years of study, dedication, practice, blood sweat & tears; it’s actually offensive. It’s like telling a wealthy business man that it’s great he was got all his money handed to him without working for it.

Now let me back up for a moment; I don’t get offended. I’m not mad, I never blow up on anyone, I always respond with a smile and a “Thank you” when someone says that I’m talented. I chalk it up to what they meant to say, which is “That was cool.” It’s all good! I didn’t write this whole blog entry to anger you when someone says tells you that you’re talented. I wrote this to hopefully change your mind about what you’re capable of.

You see, a lot of us look at other people and say, “Wow, he’s so talented. I could never do that.” The truth is you could, if you spent as much time doing it as they did. I’ve idolized so many bass players and producers and thought I could never achieve what they have. But rather than letting that statement conclude my efforts I do the exact opposite; it only fuels me more to strive toward that goal. If they could do it then I can do it. It’s possible. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s freaks of nature out there who maybe got there “easier” than you will (because of those biological and neurological advantages we mentioned earlier), and that’s ok. It just means that you’ll need to work harder. Remember that they started with the same abilities you had: breathing, crying, blinking, sleeping, bowel movements…

I can’t believe I almost ended this seriously-detailed blog post with the words “bowel movements.” We covered beliefs, philosophies, science, a nice heartwarming message, and all that to finally wrap it all up with doo doo. There must be something wrong with me.

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Comments (13)

    1. Awesome! I tend to have it all the time, for some reason. Most people think that their dreams are impossible. Nothing is too far away!!!

  1. Hey Jayme, I finally realized that I can do this more effectively if I put in on here. I’m just making your argument for you (which is typical of me in any sort of debate):

    “If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it.”

    Ignacy Paderewski

    After many years of singing and being around singers, my experience shows that there are those who can sing and those who just can’t. No amount of practice will keep them in tune or even close to it. The worst cases are that they can’t tell that they’re not singing in tune. I guess you could argue
    they they are still singing… See, there I go again!

    1. Ya I hear ya man. “Tone-Deafness” is another touchy subject that’s hard to dispute. I know so many people who love to sing (and have probably done so their entire lives) but yet still can’t. However, I also don’t believe in tone-deafness because we speak and hear in tones. For example, if my voice goes up you know I asked you a question. If you were “tone-deaf” you wouldn’t hear a difference in my voice; it would sound the same (monotone). And the fact that not only can they HEAR my voice going up, these people who are “tone-deaf” can also do it themselves (when they ask questions). Now, although it’s obvious that they lack the CONTROL to use their tonal change as effectively as we do in music, they still have the ability to do it (they’re just REALLY bad at it). So the very fact that they have this ability leads me to believe that they COULD develop it into “singing” in some way, shape, or form.

      However, I’ve never witnessed anyone go from being tone-deaf to not-tone-deaf. Perhaps it’s just a theory 😉

  2. Wow, praise God. This blog cover some of what I am going thought. Read below:

    I am seeking help with the mental aspect of playing in public in regards to “getting out of my own head.” I am not talking about thinking I am talking about confidence, solid note placement and attention to detail. In short, I am my worst critic and it show in my playing. I over think and over shoot the performance process.

    I do not know why this happens to me and it is driving me nuts. I practice daily, I go over and listen to the songs, but when it come to begin playing or certain parts of the set things start coming apart. i.e. missed note, timing, my plucking hand begin to shake uncontrollable until it subsides. When these type of things start i mentally begin unravelling, but not to the point to stop the song. My Gosh! Whatever is going on in my head i have to stand there and keep playing.

    I have to find out a way to get out of my head when i play in public. I have all the confidence in the world until tune starts. Ahhhh!! Do you have any advice on how I can strengthen my mental execution in performance?

    Your assistance is greatly appreciated.

    1. I have the same problem. Practice for hours to get a particular run or other part down and when it comes time to play it (either at rehearsal or in worship), it just goes south. Fortunately, I know the song well enough to substitute something that I at least consider tasteful. Maybe I what I end up playing is more what I like and what I think is better. But more likely, it’s a mental block. I love playing with singer/songwriters just so I can write my own material. That way, nobody can say that it’s wrong!!

      1. totally. you can sell anything if you play it right 🙂 My secret is to do it over and over again. The more times you do it the more “right” it begins to sound haha.

        1. It’s weird… I think it has something to do with age. I’m 56 and have been playing in bands since I was 14 but usually as a vocalist/harmonica player. I took up bass many years later. When I was younger, I had no trouble memorizing lyrics. Now, I can’t seem to memorize much of anything. I can still remember the lyrics of songs that I used to sing all those many years ago, but nothing new. I say all that to say that now that I’m playing bass, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I go over a piece, I still forget stuff and play “my own thing”. I’m serious when I say, “thank God for charts”! One thing that is coming along now is being able to play bass and sing at the same time. I FULLY and COMPLETELY credit that to God. Up until about a year ago, I couldn’t even think of the melody line when I was playing before I messed it up. Then one day after praying about it for a long time, it clicked. I can’t do anything fancy on bass while I’m doing it, but I CAN do it!

          WHEN you come to the Alabama Gulf Coast, maybe to hold a bass clinic one day, we need to sit down and discuss our slightly differing views on talent vs. hard work…. and I don’t think they are mutually exclusive… 😉

    2. We all critique ourselves and we all wish we could be better. You probably notice things about yourself that NO ONE else does, but you let it bog you down. BTW I may be saying “you” but I mean “me” equally as much. I blogged on this a while back when talking about nerves (http://labasslix.com/dealing-with-nerves/), but I just try to remember that I actually like doing this. Stop analyzing, over-thinking, or even just thinking in general. Just play. Just have fun. Just feel. Let your mind go free and see what happens. You can always go back to feeling uncomfortable later 🙂

  3. I have recently started teaching bass lessons, I have been playing for over 30 years and have dedicated a lot of hours and years of my life pursuing one of my loves…. Your right on Jayme, when it comes to playing it is a lifetime journey with no real destination….I realize as I teach there are things I have learned that I do that comes naturally, only because I have developed them over the years. There’s no fast road only hard work and dedication… Keep up the good work…

    1. Thanks man! I’m glad you are teaching because that’s perhaps the best way to learn about yourself; to explain WHY you know something or HOW. It really puts things in perspective and an understanding to the gravity of what music truly is. Thanks for sharing!!!

      Jayme

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