I just found a fascinating article called “Is Musical Talent Rooted in Genes?” in which author Jillian Rose Lim challenges the conventional wisdom by writing:
Practice doesn’t always make perfect when it comes to becoming the next Mozart, a new study suggests. Researchers compared pairs of identical twins, and found that no matter how hard one twin had practiced up until that point in their life, the other twin who had practiced much less still had an equal level of ability in certain musical skills. This may be because some aspects of musical talent are built into the genes the researchers said.
Another study showed that “it’s a myth” that practice brings greatness: “What Do Great Musicians Have in Common? DNA.” Certain talents run in families — think of the Bach family, for example. Did you know that Johann Sebastian Bach came from a family of over 50 musicians? My family is musical too; I found out years ago that all my aunts, uncles and cousins have played a musical instrument at one time or another as well as my siblings. My two sisters are professional musicians, too.
And yet . . . another idea that has been floated by Malcolm Gladwell — the 10,000 hour rule — it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill like music, and if you practice at least 10,000 hours, you’ll “get” it.
And what about those musicians who are the only ones in their family? The great Paul Jacobs, head of the organ department at the Juilliard School, is the only musician in his family, and even my former organ student, Joey Fala, is the son of non-musical parents. And did you know that outside of one cousin, Carl Crosier also came from a non-musical family. His mother once told me that he drove his family wild with his fiendish practicing, and they all had to leave the house. They just didn’t know how to handle living with a musician.
All of this is not to let my organ students off the hook, however. I can always tell when you haven’t practiced! By the way, the Stark kids always practice!