Awhile ago, I had a conversation with two friends about natural talent. We were discussing just how much someone is able to improve their voice through training, and I gave my opinion, which is that anyone has the potential to be a good singer, and everyone can achieve this through practice or instruction. One of my two friends countered this, asking if I didn’t believe that there were some singers who were just born with incredible voices, referencing Freddie Mercury as a musician who falls into this “untrained genius” category. My other friend was more neutral-- she agreed that training can change a lot, but believed that some people have lesser potential, and others are born with a leg-up, with naturally nicer voices. This discussion made me think about the idea of “natural talent.” Collectively, we tend to treat natural talent like some sort of holy gift, without giving much thought to what we imply with this term. I really believe that the concept of “born talent” is a detrimental one. Young artists are discouraged by it, believing that they were not meant to be artists if they don’t have instantaneous ability. People ignore their full potential by hiding behind the idea of it, deciding that it’s more important to sound “natural” than to learn about their craft. It’s far more admirable when an artist spends time improving themselves than when someone seems to instantly have a knack for painting, taking photos, or playing an instrument.
Primarily, art is about expressing yourself, and some people confuse training with insincerity. What I mean by this is that it seems to be widely believed that when an artist goes to art school, they lose some of their raw ability, and become some sort of art robot, as if training somehow clouds your ability to express yourself. I don’t think this is true at all. No one enters the world knowing how to make art completely by instinct. We learn, whether this is by observing other artists and their art, or being taught. As we learn, it gets easier to express ourselves. It’s similar to building a vocabulary. As you learn new words, you can better elucidate your ideas. As art students learn new techniques, they can better convey their artistic ideas. Sure, some people may naturally be able to convey these ideas. In every field, there are prodigies. Not all artists are created equal, but potential and dedication is what separates amateurs from geniuses, no matter how gifted those amateurs may appear to be.
It’s easiest for me to talk about this topic in terms of singing, as it’s the art I’m most familiar with, and it lends itself to the topic. It’s important to realize that singing is not really about natural talent. It’s like any other kind of music-- it takes creative decision-making, practice, and development. We aren’t born with one unchangeable voice, and training is just as important to vocalists as it is to instrumentalists, and other artists. I firmly believe that there are no people who simply have bad voices-- everyone has the ability to practice, or to study with a mentor, and to train their voice, it’s no different than an instrumentalist who takes lessons to learn how to use their instrument. Sure, we were all born with an instrument, we were all born with the ability to make melodic sound with our vocal folds. But, not everyone inherently knows how to sing-- actually, I don’t think very many people at all naturally know how to produce quality vocalization without guidance or practice. Even the great “untrained” artists that we revere today have had to put in countless hours of practice, honing their craft. Of course, it’s impressive to meet kids who’ve had little-to-no training and sound like little virtuosos, but it’s more important to recognize these kids’ full potential, which is much greater than their initial capability. Further, you don’t have to be some sort of prodigy to have the same potential.