Natural Ability

I have written previously about talent. My definition is being able to do something very well with little effort and hardly any training. Singing is something that some people can “just do” and do “well”. Some people just have “good voices” and a few lucky individuals have “exceptional voices”. Some people can easily sing with great expression. Some people are just very gifted.

But some people are over six feet tall and do pretty well at basketball without much training. And some people can discern the various tastes in food without being able to explain why. Some people can draw well, just by trying. There are all kinds of things that human beings do well for no particular reason. Sometimes they do something with their various kinds of talent and sometimes they don’t.

What about the rest of us? What if we are not the “greatest”? What if we are just pretty good? What if we are just OK? What if we aren’t that good? What if we are hardly any good at all? Should we not bother?

Many people who have a decent amount of ability decide to learn more and see if they can get better. In the hands of a good teacher, getting better would be a given, particularly if the person did what the teacher suggested. And, anyone who has the time, the means and the desire, at least in the USA, has a right to try. Sometimes a person with less natural ability will surpass someone of much greater talent just by working harder. I have seen it happen many times just that way. It has been said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, and I think that is true.

Why should singing be any different than basketball? Why should it be that someone who wants to sing can’t learn how? Isn’t it so that we should be able to teach anyone to sing if he is interested and willing?

The answer, of course, is yes. Unfortunately, however, there are still plenty of people out there with some of the ideas I wrote about in the previous post. Either you can or you can’t. There was a woman, I think she was named Mary Small, who used to advertise in Back Stage, our trade newspaper here in NYC, with an ad that said: If you can’t sing, no one can teach you. If you can sing, you don’t need lessons. If you are someplace in the middle, I can teach you. [] Every time I read that ad, I cringed. She really believed that and she was absolutely not alone.

What’s worse, I suppose, is singing teachers who have a rigid idea about what singing is and make everyone try to fit into that preconceived mold. Either you sing the way they think singing should be or you don’t have what it takes. Yikes. I’ve seen this too, at conferences and even asked the teachers about it. Yes, I was told, one has to have a preconceived idea because that’s what the students need. I think the teacher needs an idea about how voices function, but not how the person should sing. They are two different things. How can you discover what you want to sing if you don’t have a chance to also discover what your voice is and how it wants to grow and develop?

Natural talent is a good place to start the journey but it isn’t an end in itself for most people. Even the great artists of all time had mentors, teachers, influences and guides. Sometimes talent emerges through training. Sometimes people don’t really know they are going to become great singers for quite some time. Natural ability can be hiding.

Stay open minded about “talent”. It’s relative and it is subject to positive influence. Everyone who wants to sing, ought to sing, and everyone who sings ought to be able to improve and have fun doing so. Don’t forget.

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2 thoughts on “Natural Ability”

  1. Here’s some more information on Mary Small, considered one of the great delineator’s of song in the 1930’s through the 1950’s at

  2. Interesting to see who she was. Clearly, she could sing, but she had no clue about teaching singing. They are, sadly, not related. I can’t imagine what she did with students who did not have her native talent.

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