How is that a few children are able to read and play music exceptionally well at a very early age? Is this genetic? Are they just born having a natural tendency towards doing this better than everyone else?
If you have believed in the talent myth, then I am guessing you also believe that child prodigies are “born” being able to play music better than everyone else at an early age and even better than most adults.
Child Prodigy Definition
A child prodigy is someone who develops the skill of playing (and possibly reading – although less common) music at a level considered not normal for their age.
They must be younger than 18 years of age and able to perform at the ability of a highly trained adult.
This definition does not say a child prodigy is “born” being able to play music beyond the capacity of most people at an early age, but they “develop” the skill over time.
Keep this in mind as we explore this a little further…
What You May Believe About Child Prodigies
One of the reasons why you may believe you cannot read and play music due to not being born with this natural “talent” or “gift” is because you see child prodigies as a confirmation of this belief.
In many ways, I don’t blame you. How else do you explain why some children can do this so well at an early age that is not considered normal by most people?
When first presented with the talent myth, I bet your first response and counterargument was “But, what about Mozart?”
A Famous Child Prodigy Case Study
One of our most famous child prodigies to either support or deny the talent myth is Wolgang Amadeus Mozart.
He is the ultimate example of true musical greatness.
Mozart began composing at the age of five, giving public performances at the age of eight, and went on to produce hundreds of highly regarded works before his death at the ripe early age of thirty-five.
A Closer Look
Upon first glance, Mozart definitely supports the explanation that “talent” is genetic and not learned.
However, if you take a closer look, you will find some very striking details that you may not have thought about before.
Wolfgang Mozart’s father, Leopold Mozart, was a famous composer and performer in his own right. He was also a very controlling parent that started Mozart in an intensive training program of music study starting at age three.
Leopold was well qualified for this role as he was considered one of the most highly accomplished and sought-after teachers. He also had a deep interest in how music is taught to children.
At a very early age, Wolfgang was receiving heavy instruction from a teacher whom he happened to also live with.
Wolfgang’s Early Compositions
There have been several questions raised by many scholars after close examination of Wolfgang’s early compositions.
These early manuscripts are not written in Wolfgang’s own hand. It seems Leopold always wanted to “correct” them before anyone else saw the compositions.
It’s also interesting to note that Leopold stopped composing himself at about the same time he began teaching Wolfgang.
The Non-Original Compositions
There are a few cases where some of Wolfgang’s compositions are not original. In fact, the first four piano concertos written by him at the age of eleven do not contain any original music.
They were put together using works by other composers.
The next three works like this composed by the age of sixteen also do not contain any original music. They are simply arrangements of works by Johann Christian Bach. This is whom he happened to be studying with at the time in London.
None of these pieces are considered today as some of his greatest works. They are rarely performed or recorded today.
What they really represent are pieces by someone being trained as a composer by the usual methods of copying, arranging, and imitating the works of others. These works may also have been polished a bit by his father who spent most his life promoting his son.
Wolfgang’s First Masterpiece
The Piano Concerto No. 9, composed at the age of twenty-one, is considered Wolfgang Mozart’s first real masterpiece. This is confirmed by the amount of recordings we have available today.
This is still considered an early age, but we must remember that by this time, Wolfgang had been through eighteen years of gruelingly difficult, expert training.
This is something most of us never get the opportunity to experience.
Think about this for a minute. If there was any magical talent Wolfgang was born with, it still did not help him to produce his first masterpiece very quickly or easily.
For nearly 200 years, people have believed that Wolgang Amadeus Mozart had a miraculous ability to compose entire major pieces in his head and write them down later.
This viewpoint is based on a famous letter where Wolfgang says, “the whole, though it long be, stands almost finished and complete in my mind…the committing to paper is done quickly enough…and it rarely differs on paper from what it was in my imagination.”
Well, guess what? Scholars today have determined that this letter was forged. It’s not true at all!
Mozart did not write music in his head as perfectly and completely as you might have originally thought!
Today’s surviving manuscripts show that he was constantly revising, rewriting, crossing out, and reworking many sections of his music over time. In many cases, he would jot down fragmented ideas and set them aside for several months or years.
This is the way most ordinary human beings write music.
The Real Truth
Mozart was the same as you and I, but underwent intense training (or focused practice) at a very early age. This is not something most of do in our childhood.
It certainly takes some of the romance and magic out our beliefs, but it’s important for you to understand the real truth.
Until you start believing what is true and real, you will always stay right where you’re at…unable to read or play music because you think you are not someone like Mozart who was “born” to read and play music.
As it happens to turn out, Mozart wasn’t “born” to read and play music easily either.
It took a whole lot of hard work.
Change Your Belief’s About Yourself
Start thinking about Mozart and explore listening to his music from all ages of his life. See if you can hear the difference between his music before the age of 21 and his masterworks created between the ages of 21 and 35.
Allow his example to be your role model and inspiration for focused practice. More importantly, start changing what you believe about yourself.
If Mozart can do it, so can you. That is truth you need to stand firmly on. Say this out loud to yourself on a daily basis.
Once you really start believing that you don’t need the magical talent gene to accomplish great things in your own life, the world will finally start opening up to you.
Progress is only a belief away…