The commonly accepted definition of musical talent would include an innate or genetic trait, something we are born with. That label has also been reinforced media by reality shows like Got Talent, Factor X, La Voz or Operation Triunfo. In fact, a modern way of calling musical talent is precisely the “X factor” when it is considered to be almost magical in nature.
But the understanding of musical talent is less and less magical and increasingly scientific. The use of the words “potential” or “musical predisposition” is becoming more frequent in neuroscientific and genetic research and is challenging the portrait made by means of musical talent.
So we identify as musical talent, something that really is the conjunction of two complementary factors: a predisposition or musical potential and a high level of executive function. To understand this, we share reflections from the experience of Ubuntu Management Group.
Ubuntu specializes in different segments of music in the spectrum and has built a strong market presence now. Under the umbrella, you will find Ubuntu Music (a record label company), Ubuntu Ideas (Management and Consultation Services), and Ubuntu Talent (artist development and management).
Ubuntu’s specialization in talent acquisition and management has brought them to discover a wide array of talented music artists. Working with different talented individuals, they have come to understand the metrics of talent which are explained further in this article.
What is the “musical predisposition”?
Recent studies in the field of neuroscience and genetics speak of an interaction between several different genes that could result in musical aptitude. But it’s not that simple. An innate predisposition for musical ability means nothing without experiences that take advantage of that potential from an early age.
The musical experiences of the first years of life are essential for that innate musical capacity to grow, but this does not consist of putting a trombone in the hands of a two-year-old child.
The musical experiences for babies and toddlers are as simple as parents singing to their children, talking to them lively, teaching them how to clap and exposing them to a wide variety of sounds, including speech, musical and environmental sounds. It’s that easy, and it’s done naturally.
What these experiences do is develop three aspects of a child’s brain: the auditory processing network; the motor cortex, which actually develops with the help of the auditory cortex; and the visual processing network, through the connection of where the sound comes from, how it is made and how it sounds (which is a precursor to language learning). What these experiences do is prepare a child’s brain to face the next challenge of musical talent: learn to play a musical instrument.
What is the Executive Function?
The executive function is the set of skills that we learn through many trials and mistakes or the teachings received from parents and teachers during childhood and adolescence. From knowing how to keep the attention, concentrating for longer periods of time on complex tasks, controlling our emotional reactions, making good decisions, having long-term goals and memorizing facts, figures, names and events effectively. All these traits are developed by learning disciplines, such as learning to play a musical instrument, a sport or another language.
The True Measure of Musical Talent
The development of executive functioning skills is the true measure of musical talent. In order for a child to have the discipline to practice most days of the week for years or to face emotionally that the improvement can be very slow and that he must keep trying, he has to work perseverance, emotional control, logical analysis or Flexibility among other aspects.
In short, the next time we attend a show, instead of thinking “What a talent!” It is better to think about how that person has improved their conditions through hard work, dedication, perseverance and determination.