Genetic Musical Ability

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by FattoneTele, Dec 18, 2016.

  1. maxvintage

    maxvintage Friend of Leo's

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    Not a big fan of genetic explanations in general. They have kind of an ugly history: noble dynasties, the divine right of kings, racial slavery, extermination camps.

    That being said, obviously some things are heritable, and you often see professional musicians who were the children of musicians. Is that genetics, or the fact that they grew up in a culture where musical practice was normal?

    The one argument in favor of genetic musical ability is that music is a realm where you see "child prodigies." You don't see kids who are great novelists at age 6, or fantastic plumbers, but you do see six year olds who can play freakishly well.

    But again, that being said, how may of them go on to make a living at it? How many have something powerful and original to say? Other than the wow look at that" value of child prodigies, who cares?

    When I listen to a great performance, the last thing I'm thinking about is whether or not their parents and grandparents played the fiddle/accordion/piano/harpsichord/viol da gamba/rebec/lute/pan pipes
     
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  2. BorderRadio

    BorderRadio Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    What ever you believe, we can still be sure that imagining a problem doesn't exist doesn't make it go away.
     
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  3. boneyguy

    boneyguy Doctor of Teleocity

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    Absolutely true....couldn't agree more. And a good place to begin in changing a problem is understanding whether it's based on something real or imagined....that's not a bad place to begin IMO.
     
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  4. BorderRadio

    BorderRadio Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    There seems to be a need to make this dichotomous. It's likely a combination of things, and not one factor in the nurture realm, or in the nature realm, means anyone is going to pickup an instrument and be a badass instantly. One guy does, ok that person is the 'mutation', and how is that going to ensure his/her mating success? This hypothetical wiz kid might be a terrible parent....

    One has to practice, and not just play scales quickly. I think the human desire to play is well over half the battle of being a success at it. Success is a variable notion in itself. It seems for some dudes that is money. Others, its sexual prowess, for others its respect and adoration. For others its touching peoples' lives. For many, its just the sound of music that is the reward and pulling it off is all the success needed. It can be all or any combination of these things.

    If one has a biological benefit: long fingers, good ears, fine motor skills, how exactly does that make or break chances of success? How does practicing and being exposed at young ages overcome or enhance those factors? Biological benefit and years of practice, real 'talent'=guaranteed success? Anyone who has tried to make it in the business of music knows sometimes people are just in the right place at the right time.
     
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  5. charlie chitlin

    charlie chitlin Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    It's karma.
    You chose to be born into a musical family.
     
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  6. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Tele Axpert Ad Free Member

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    I choose poorly. I blame myself. Stupid karma!
     
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  7. 8barlouie

    8barlouie Friend of Leo's Gold Supporter

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    Even biological adversity doesn't stop people. Look at Redd Volkaert. The man has sausages for fingers and you wouldn't say he was disadvantaged.
     
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  8. MandyMarie

    MandyMarie Friend of Leo's

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    I think it's pretty obvious that I worshipped my husband, and it's a fact that John was a guitar hero to many more than just me....and I think he was born with this amazing gift of melody. John could TEACH me something and I could learn it, practice it, and play it.....but I'd never, ever be able to *think* like him. And my ultimate goal as a player is to *think* the way John did.

    That's the stuff that can't be taught. And not to sound like an *******, but one of the worst steel players I've ever worked with has a degree from Berklee music. You can't teach someone how to come up with a melody. It comes to you naturally! :)
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2016
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  9. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    This is a great post!
    I highlighted my favorite parts.

    For me, BorderRadios point about desire to succeed is paramount. I've always felt (and said it here many times) that the 'talent' lies in ones desire to do the hard work. To get joy out of doing the hard work and being ok with failing and sucking ... a lot!

    All of the good and successful musicians I know, whether they come from families of musicians or otherwise (and I know a ton), put in a huge amount of work at their craft (10,000 hours easy).

    Maybe the gene isn't a music or art gene but a focus gene.
     
  10. boneyguy

    boneyguy Doctor of Teleocity

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    The idea of a single music gene is probably too convenient and simplistic....it's probably more like a conglomeration of genes that predispose a person to have an aptitude toward music or similar endeavours....?? And I'm not in any way diminishing the role of environment and other non-genetic factors which may prove more influential than any genetic predisposition....

    I think people classified as 'savant' raise a lot of interesting questions about all this stuff.....genetic? learned?...there's some astounding examples of savants who seem to have an enormous innate (genetic?) ability that would seem very unlikely to have come from their environment or any obvious skill development as a result of focus and determination....
     
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  11. maxvintage

    maxvintage Friend of Leo's

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    I've known people for whom music seems to come really easily, and they seem to have an intuitive understanding of it that I lack. In my chosen field (not music) I'm that guy--it comes easily to me and stuff they struggle over is easy for me. I'm hesitant to call that genetic or "natural" though. There's nothing--absolutely nothing--natural about a guitar. They are not natural, everything about a guitar is a product of technology from milling the wood to making the glue to drawing the fret wire to winding the strings. They're not found in nature. So how can some one be "naturally a good guitar player? it's like being "naturally" a good automotive engineer. Or "naturally" a good reader. There's nothing natural about reading.

    I've come farther as a musician than I ever thought I'd come, and I can now do things easily that I once thought were some kind of natural magic. I say that with all genuine humility, and awareness of my limitations


    Bill Evans, the great jazz pianist, always said that everything was a struggle for him, nothing came naturally, it was all work work work work. But all I hear is inspiration.
     
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  12. noah330

    noah330 Friend of Leo's

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    This kid is nothing. You guys better hope Nathan Brown never shows up here!
     
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  13. maxvintage

    maxvintage Friend of Leo's

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    Also I'm a teacher for a living, a liberal arts guy, and I'll often offer up as a challenge the claim that there is no such thing as human nature. Most of the things that are described as human nature are usually things we have in common with animals, and in that sense they aren't human at all: humans are distinctive because we're culture-making animals. Bears don't make a distinction between breakfast, lunch and dinner: they don't have formal meals or say grace or set the table or consult recipes. All those things are culture, not nature.

    Music is culture: it's a set of meaning-making practices (singing religious music, singing protest songs, singing songs about love) mediated by technology (instruments, amps, sheet music, thumb drives). To say there is a gene for music is like saying there is a gene for cooking, or a gene for plumbing. The interesting thing about people is the culture-making, and that's fundamentally in opposition to a natural self.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2016
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  14. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    I'm split as to whether it's nature, nurture or a combo of both.
    My dad was/is a musician. I'm a musician. My brother could've been but he opted to be a painter and ultimately a production designer for the movie biz. As far back as I can remember we had music on the stereo, music in the car, we all got transistor radios when we were 5 or 6, went to concerts, watched the music programs on TV, had instruments all over the house and private lessons on anything we wanted to play. OK, pretty much the stereotype of what you'd expect a musician's house to be like (mine now is similar). I loved music, worked at it, studied, persevered, became a musician. Also, not so revolutionary or unexpected. Here's the interesting bit ...
    My cousin came to live with us for a year when she was 15 years old. She played the french horn. She was pretty good but no 'prodigy'. Neither of her parents played an instrument and weren't even that into music. Upon moving in with us, we (me, bro, dad) subjected her to our 24/7 music lifestyle which included jam sessions at least 3 times a week, endlessly talking about music, going to concerts and regular trips to the record and music store, etc. She went to music school and became a horn player for the Seattle symphony (retired now). Go figure.
     
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  15. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Having a musical family would help a lot I suspect, and might be both nature and nurture.

    I know of not a single musician in my genetic past, broke my eardrums around age ten, badly broke my left wrist around 12, and chopped off the end of my left pinkie at 15.

    When i started trying to play guitar at age 20, of course I had only three usable fretting fingers and my wrist didn't work bent.
    It might have taken a couple of weeks but the fingerboard presented itself like lit up patterns of notes in scale shapes, and phrasing withing the shapes was much like singing. I took no lessons and read no books, knew not a single thing I could explain, not even what the notes were, but I could play with people almost right away.

    I would not say genetics are likely to specifically target the playing of a musical instrument, and there are so many different mental and physical attributes needed to excel at playing one or another musical instrument including voice.

    Imagination, visualization, communication, empathy, courage, flamboyance, stamina, math skills, hearing acuity, for a start.
    Then some instrument specific attributes like good hands for most instruments and good lungs for some, good eyes for sight reading, good spine and posture, I'm sure I missed a few. Dogged determination absolutely!

    Yet out of all this there is the fact that to be a well loved musician we needn't excel at all aspects or even excel at any playing skill.
    The ability to move the listener is not tied to mechanical virtuosity, and in fact the extreme virtuoso instrumentalist has a much smaller audience than the soulful singer.

    I like the comment by @MandyMarie about one of the worst steel players she's ever worked with having a degree from Berklee school of music.
    Totally agree there are some things you cannot teach!
     
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  16. JayFreddy

    JayFreddy Poster Extraordinaire

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    That's one of the things I've realized with my guitar students. If I can show them how to enjoy practicing, the rest is gravy.

    Most of us enjoy playing tunes more than rudiments. In my experience, the key to success with a musical instrument is being able to enjoy both.

    As for the focus gene, that's key for any kind of success in life.

    If you take it one step further, it's really about clarity of vision. Focus brings clarity.

    Know where you are, where you want to be, and then have a plan for getting there... I wish I knew that when I was a teenager!
     
  17. songtalk

    songtalk Friend of Leo's

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    BOOM!

    But, the natural self is kind of like the wizard behind the curtain at the end of the yellow brick road, to the best of my knowledge. We have powerful instincts and animal tendencies that tend to dramatically impact our narratives, independently of our best intentions/creations.

    The technology we design is more of the Darwinian struggle. We make/buy cool guitars and then play heavy blooz licks at the bar to get the chicks and the complimentary dinner and free drinks for the night (reproduce/establish pecking order/earn money for food). We like to highlight culture and civilization as much as we can to distinguish ourselves from the animals we still eat.

    We have no control over how our biological overlords (the hand we each get dealt at birth) affect us. Even if we sort of do. They're still in there stirring up the endocrine!
     
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  18. BorderRadio

    BorderRadio Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    Well, it's a bit of a overreach to make that conclusion: "there is no human nature." 'Human nature' as an idea is not a universal truth. It's not a law of physics. But our sense of 'us' as separate entities to the rest of the biomass is a common idea cross-culturally, brought about by our own consciousness, which may not even be unique to our species. How do we know consciousness is not a genetically encoded trait? Our will alters the mechanisms of evolution, elevates our carrying capacity, changes our response to environments--is that not a trait of human-ness? Human nature?

    Early Homo, outside our sapiens sapiens were putting red ochre on their dead and potentially making art. I personally think we can't say hominins weren't human individuals, because of their potential for consciousness (we don't know the extent of this). I don't think we moved very far genetically from early Homo sapiens, bad as we've ever been, only our knowledge and information have increased, which has allowed people to prosper and explode on this planet..but I'm getting away from the point :)

    Back on music: K. Anders Ericsson published work basically saying 'practice enough hours, don't compromise' and you too will be a musical master. A study of 15,000 twins found that some traits such as drawing ability, were more likely to be shared between identical twins, and not paternal. What these studies say are at odds with each other, but they describe the same things everyone is saying here, it's more complex than that, a little 'column A' and a little 'column b'...
     
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  19. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I like what you're saying here, but it's very important to remember that while you can add column B to column A, you cannot add column A to column B if it wasn't there to begin with.
    IMO Ericssons ideas are fully of idiocy!!!

    I wonder if a part of "human nature" includes the tendency to believe that what we believe must be so as proven by our own unwavering belief?
    Self delusion. Is it natural? Genetic? Environmental?

    Not many animals bring death upon themselves to prove a point.
     
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  20. BorderRadio

    BorderRadio Doctor of Teleocity Silver Supporter

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    Yeah, I hear this: people don't need much proof of anything to believe in something. Maybe the greater the mystery, the stronger the belief? This propensity for our beliefs to put us in action shouldn't be underestimated. The problem with facts and objectivity is the rush to make conclusions, make things applicable. "So, what does this have to do with me?" puts pressure on interpreting research data. Statements such as "So you're saying 'human nature' doesn't exist, and we are all glorified animals" doesn't dissolve our cultural structures, like say morality, as much as some people think they do.

    Ericsson's data is there; it's valid, but his conclusions seem hasty. Chasing that rabbit hole can be constrictive--tunnel vision? Would you say spending 10,000 hours on your guitar wouldn't have a musical payoff? If we are saying some guys are naturals, and spend a quarter of that time on guitar to blow us out the water, aren't we saying it is somewhat genetic?
     
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