Talent vs Practice: Who Wins?

When I started building my course, I interviewed many of the top beginner guitar teachers. I was on a quest to learn about any techniques or psychological barriers that I might have missed and that deserve a place in my teaching.

An interesting trend came up in response to my search for the perfect student.

Every teacher was asked to talk about their top success story: a student who blazed through their lessons with surprising ease, or one who struggled at first only to become an example to others later on.

Talent vs Practice

Every teacher I spoke with had a similar realization

When thinking about this question, they noticed that their best students were rarely the ones they would have picked out on the first day.

It’s true that some new students could sit down, pick up a guitar, and one hour later be learning the same lessons as those who were 2 weeks or even a month into their practice. These apparent outliers often had in common that their web of connected activities was particularly dense and filled with similar skills. Some had been in a choir and had developed intuitive rhythmic notions, others were already proficient with a different instrument, most of them were obsessed with music in general and very aware of their bodies.

The positive baggage they brought to the table gave them a head start that many students could only envy.

Further down the road, however, a surprising change happened.

After a long stout of seaming invincibility, each outlier started hitting roadblocks. This could be expected, but what surprised teachers was the way they reacted to these obstacles and how it compared to other students who had started out struggling.

Students having a hard time early in their learning often showed up to their first class with little or no connecting activities. Even the simplest of tasks could turn into a mini challenge, because of how foreign it was to their world. These students had no choice but to adopt a very specific mindset in order to make their dream of learning guitar come true.

Struggling students had to learn to practice in a very deliberate way, combining intense focus with precision and consistency.

They were lucky enough to integrate this form of practice from the very first day, when the concepts and exercises are still in their simplest form. Their strength built up little by little, with just a few minutes of practice almost every day.

When roadblocks appear to these students, they are not surprised. They expect to see them, and they know exactly how to overcome them.

When the outlier students hit their first roadblocks, they’re still in cruising mode: “I can skip a few practices and it won’t make a difference”, “I get this concept, I’ll skip the exercises”, “I’ll catch up with a 3 hours session Sunday evening”, etc.

They didn’t take the time to build discipline in their practice, which makes them unprepared for the obstacles that invariably appear down the road.

This is the tipping point the teachers I interviewed kept mentioning.

A defining moment where their apparent “star” students would start faltering and losing motivation, while those who came in weak showed strength and determination fueled by their impressive results and stellar practice habits.

In every interview, the students chosen by theirs teachers as examples of success, were rarely the “naturally gifted”. More often than not, they simply shared the common trait of having integrated great practice habits early on, which made them a little stronger every day.

Who will you chose to be?

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