Saturday, July 11, 2009


A few weeks ago I talked about the power of 'The Moment'… that crucial crossroads in our lives when we're given the reins of opportunity to turn right or left, to rise or fall… those choices that looking back, meant everything.

Most of us have had these moments in our professional and personal lives. But I believe that they're also there waiting in a place you might never expect… in the formation of talent.

Of course, there's no conclusive proof of what makes a musical genius… the debate goes back and forth between some combination of genetics, environment, brain circuitry and practice (10,000 hours of it, according to Malcolm Gladwell). In fact, the only thing experts do agree on is what they're uncertain of.

I certainly don't claim to have any definitive answers, either. But I would like to share what I've observed in my own practice over the past 13 years… commonalities that have led me to an exciting conclusion about 'the moment' that- perhaps- talent is born.

In my experience, brilliant musicians today… singers and instrumentalists that 'speak' the musical language fluently, intuitively, effortlessly and naturally… all had initial language-less, non-technical, and generally teacher-less experiences. In other words, they approached music's door, and- finding it open- walked in silently and usually alone, sat down, and make themselves comfortable.

In that space, immersed inside of music's house, they observed and played without inhibition, rules or criticism from self or others, and developed their ability as an extension of their soul's own language. Certainly, many of these musicians went on to study technique and to read music, but it wasn't part of their initial experience or engagement.

Conversely, I've observed that those who began the study of an instrument or the voice with technical instruction- or as an individual, intellectual pursuit- seemed to master only two rather than three dimensions of proficiency. Yes, they can read music. Yes, they can play songs. But they're not fluent. It doesn't come as naturally to them. They always have to think about it, the way someone who studied French or Spanish in school has to think about and translate from one language into the other before being able to connect.

For those scoffing at the idea that how we learn music might be as important as inherent talent, take a look at countries and cultures- Ireland, African-American churches, the Native American tradition- that teach and celebrate music as an uninhibited practice. It is astounding and inspiring to observe that most- if not all- bravely, comfortably and fluently speak the language of music with powerful, beautiful voices.

This is not a function of a greater amount of inherent talent per capita, but rather, a difference in approach toward music and creative pursuits: the initial engagement- if it wants to demonstrate as inherent rather than practiced, a natural ability rather than a learned one- must bypass the technical, language-oriented, left-brain, and engage directly and immediately with the creative, right brain, emotional centers. The aforementioned cultures go right to these emotional centers. Our current teaching model turns sharply to the left.

None of us can go back and change the way we experienced our initial musical, artistic engagements. But what we can do is use this wisdom to our advantage as we walk into the world and approach learning, particularly things of a creative nature. Abandon language, judgment, and a sense of time. Ignore the temptation to name and perfect things. When the moment comes, sit in the house of your creative pursuit, make yourself at home, listen, and play…

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Anonymous Jennifer Ann Gordon said...

Jen, I love this concept. I've just discovered scribbling to music. I went to a concert a few days ago and was inspired to pull out my pen and "idea book" and move to the music. Freedom from language and restrictions. I felt that natural connection/expression/ability you wrote of while scribbling, completely left brain free. I feel unspeakable joy and anticipation when your posts arrive in my emailbox. Thank you!

July 11, 2009 at 11:05 AM  
Blogger Hannah Tang said...

Hey Jen, I really appreciate this piece. I am about to open a new chapter, and it reminds me that as abundance and good fortune comes to me in even greater measure, I can use it to allow myself time and space to adventurously explore my voice and engagement with music, not yet focused on creating a product for distribution. What I invest now in some studio collaboration to shape arrangements, and rehearsal time to jam freely with collaborators, will be well worth it. And when the meal is ready to be served, it will be a whole other level of delicacy and nourishment.

July 11, 2009 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Hamady said...

Amen to you both! Thanks for the inspiration ladies... I'll carry it with me today!

July 11, 2009 at 11:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Perhaps we should listen more with our hearts and less with our ears.

July 11, 2009 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Hamady said...

Indeed... just as we need to learn to see with more than our eyes...

July 11, 2009 at 4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you 100%
I was lucky to enter a room with music, sit down and listen to the player (Jazz) That was the moment, when I wanted to have that sound around me and I started to play it with, like Jennifer wrote, no criticism from self or others.
The nice part of the story is that I was lucky to find that room :-) the sad part was that at that point I have already been playing the piano for over 15 years with no joy at all. The good old Classical Russian teaching-method how I like to call it :-)
For the first moment in my life I was able to play the piano in front of people without focusin on, what I play, rather than on the beaty of being in the musical moment.
I bet, that there are thousends of people who started to play an instrument and just couldn't find that little musical room...or maybe that teacher, who is able to show you where the room might be?

July 11, 2009 at 6:09 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Hamady said...

Wow... so powerful, Otto. Thanks for sharing your experience. Makes me think of what Mark Twain once said... "never let your schooling get in the way of your education."

I agree that many people never find that room, or worse... aren't sure it exists and/or that they deserve or have a right to be in such a space.

July 12, 2009 at 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Janae Noble said...

How refreshing. Thank you for this.

July 15, 2009 at 11:31 PM  
Anonymous Robert said...

That was my experience, that room being the piano bench I climbed upon when I was 3. To me it was largely imitation -- both my brothers played piano and trumpet, and Mom played piano and guitar while Dad played guitar. There was something inherently present in me, I'd be disrespectful to say otherwise, but the initial impetus was belonging. My home was much like the cultures you mention here, where music was celebrated and connective regardless of 'talent level', and no judgments were issued forth at all. Lessons came much later, and were, to me, the equivalent of keys to rooms full of toys and candy of every kind imaginable.

I was, and am, luckier than anyone could deserve to be.

August 6, 2009 at 12:37 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer Hamady said...

What a beautiful post, Robert. If you haven't read it, check out Victor Wooten's "The Music Lesson". Thanks for sharing. : )

August 10, 2009 at 6:26 PM  

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