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“Natural Talent”

February 5, 2024

As time goes on, I more and more strongly refuse to believe the line about there being no such thing as natural talent at something. Both from seeing other people, as well as from my own experiences at trying things.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe that nearly anyone can learn a skill to an equivalent level of anyone else with enough dedication and practice (to trot out a cliché), and I'm sure there are people considered grand masters at something that had no talent at it originally. But pretty objectively, there are some people that just intrinsically are able to learn something easier than others.

For example: I tried to learn piano for a year or two when I was a kid, and absolutely struggled literally every step until I just gave up after a little over a year. I mean, I would practice for hours every day and try my absolute best between the classes, and barely be passing at whatever the skill being taught that week was. I could read sheet music fine, I just could not learn even the most basic elements of actually playing.

But then, in high school, I took a music class focusing on guitar. It was literally the first time I'd ever touched a guitar in my life, and the first time I'd played any instrument since I stopped playing piano. Yet, I picked up on how to play and all the new concepts so quickly that the teacher thought I had guitar experience and suggested I move to the advanced class. Of course I didn't, because I didn't know any concepts that hadn't been taught yet, but I just picked up on everything being taught so quickly that it looked like I already knew them.

And it wasn't super dumbed-down either, it was classical guitar (played without a pick), and he was teaching fingerstyle, which is supposedly more difficult than the more standard strumming style. And by the end of one year, with only like five hours a week playing, I was playing surprisingly complex songs and was pretty happy with myself and the results. Honestly quite disappointing, because while I like guitar, if I could only play one or the other I would much prefer to be able to play the piano (just like the sound better, and piano is underused in modern music).

Even with natural talent you obviously still have to learn and practice; but there is a massive difference between spending a few hours practicing something and tangibly seeing your skills improve, and spending twenty+ hours practicing something and seeing near-zero improvement. Just very annoying if there's something one wants to learn but one just can't get it without Herculean effort.

Although, it seems to me that the zero-improvement-for-decades path is likely the much more common path for most people. I've think I've just gotten very lucky with being able to naturally pick up on most things that I enjoy doing, and picking up on things that make it easy to get through grade school and (early) college. Like working with computers, (formal/academic) writing, math (at least up to calculus), and such. Can see why people who aren't lucky enough to automatically get that stuff can absolutely despise school.