Sunday, January 23, 2011

Teaching and Talent

There seems to be a lot of material being produced about how there is no such thing as talent. It seems in the modern era we do not like to suggest that some will naturally be better than others at a task for no apparent reason other than they are somehow gifted and naturally built for the task. Alternatively we have the Olympic coaches measuring kids up at school to see if they are naturally built to ride a bike or row a boat. Why is the bagpipe any different?

Over the years I have probably started hundreds of people off on the practice chanter. I have read a lot on this subject of talent and hours of practice, and like to think I am as open minded about these subjects as possible.

It does stand out to me though that there were a few people (only a very small number) who picked up the chanter and instantly looked comfortable and learned new lessons very quickly. There were others that were not so fortunate and seemed to struggle and take longer through the whole process (again a small number). A lot of this has to do with hand eye co-ordination and I am sure the same percentage would struggle to throw and catch a ball as well. The vast majority were similar in the rate at which they picked up new material and how much practice they did made a huge difference to their development.

The exceptional students (who could pick up lessons very quickly) also seemed to drop less in standard during the times when they were not playing. Some just seemed to have to always work hard at it.

Adult learners are another matter. I have taught many adult learners and the age at which you start makes a huge difference on the end result. As I get older, my hands (and brain) are not the same as they were 20 or 30 years ago. If I had to start again now, I would not progress at the same rate as I did when I was a child. However a good teacher and a realistic program can reap good results.

Now that I have spent many years teaching at seminars etc. I see a broad spectrum of students from a variety of teaching sources. I see many who are hampered by technical issues from being taught poorly or incorrectly.

Like any activity there are those with a natural ability for it. Some people just seem naturally co-ordinated. They will pick up new material very quickly, BUT they will not be the World champion pipers unless they put in the many hours of hard work needed and have good tuition. Likewise, those who struggle to pick up the lessons will have to work harder and probably will never be the next Worlds best piper (that is not to say that they will not become a good piper).

Realistically, there are those with a natural ability. There will also be those with less natural ability. Hard work and a good teacher will benefit both. The true champions are those with a natural ability who also put in the hard yards and have the quality guidance behind them of a good teacher.

There is information on teaching and lots of advice for pipers at

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