Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Is Musical Ability Innate?

At the end of class several weeks ago, we were left with the lingering question: "Is musical ability innate?" I found this question rather compelling and felt it required further discussion. It's natural for us to assume a famous artist or composer is naturally talented. They just began playing or signing as if it were an everyday task like eating or walking. But is that really the case? Were they born with the natural ability to play an instrument or sing beautifully or even compose lengthy sonatas?

For years, the war has raged between Nature vs. Nurture. Depending on the sources you consult, one might say we are born with certain natural abilities, and that determines who we are and what we're able and not able to do. Others will say that who we are and what we can accomplish stems from the environment we were raised in. I believe that both cases are true. Each person is likely born with some inclination toward a certain activity, musical or not; however, the nurturing of that tendency will determine whether it becomes a natural habit or not.

I am the youngest of six children, and we all have varying degrees of musical ability. Neither of my parents is musically inclined. In our case, one might argue that whatever musical tendencies we have are a result of nurturing. I would have to agree and disagree. My mother and father, although not musical themselves, grew up in families that enjoyed music and dancing. They from a young age had been influenced by music, and it played a large role in their lives even if they themselves did not sing or play instruments. With the history of music on both sides of the family, it is quite possible that we all received some natural inclination towards music but not the same level of nurturing. I, of all my siblings, am the most musically accomplished. This may have resulted from me being the youngest; more resources were at my disposal to pursue my musical interests. I took piano lessons for 9 years and also learned how to play the trombone and clarinet. Throughout my years of lessons and youth, I constantly sang. I performed in a large and small select choir for several years. I also competed in both vocal and instrumental competitions growing up. As a result, music became a natural habit for me. I'm even currently learning how the play the guitar. Having nurtured my musical ability growing up, I'm able to quickly pick up on instruments and can easily read music when it's placed in front of me. I would say that I do have a natural musical talent but had I not been given the opportunity to develop it, it wouldn't come as 'naturally' as it does. I would have likely followed the road of my siblings and been limited in what I could do musically.

I find this debate fascinating. Most other cultures don't concern themselves with this idea. Music is such an integral part of their culture that everyone participates no matter what. It's in more developed nations that musical ability really must be subject to Nature vs. Nurture. Many people would not boldly say they're a 'musician.' They may play an instrument or sing nicely, but they'd say they're not musical. For us, musical = professional. We associate a person's musical ability to their level of stardom. We only assume that they're where they are because they have that natural talent; there was no nurturing involved.

For me, musical ability will never be one-sided. It is always comprised of both nurturing and nature.

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