Musical Talent – Fact or Opinion?

If you’re like me, music is an enormous (or at least very significant) part of your life.  Finding new artists to obsess over and rave about to your friends is a normal part of your day.  So when you find out that one of your friends hates your new favourite artist, the first question (or exclamation) you have is, “WHY?!”

Why, indeed?  Personal opinion is all well and good, but when you’re talking about an occupation or activity that requires some talent to succeed, is there actually a set definition of “talent” to follow?  I’ve often wondered this when my friends and I differ on what music artists we like, or even who we think is “better” than who.  (Usually, we’re talking about the musical talent of the artist, not necessarily the genre of music that artist falls under, since my friends and I all tend to like the same kinds of music…)

So is talent something you can really measure or even define?  Or is it something that must be purely based on others’ opinion and the parameters of the genre or job description?  I mean, I don’t particularly like screamo rock, but that’s because I don’t think it takes much talent to scream into a microphone at the top of your lungs for four minutes straight.  But then again, I don’t know that genre very well, so I could be missing out on a lot of really great artists who do have a lot of talent…..  I don’t think I am, but you never know.

Or here’s an interesting angle: is our taste in music (specifically our talent-taste, not genre-taste) dependent or at least somehow related to our own musical proficiency?  For example, if we’re tone deaf, does that mean that we can’t hear when other people aren’t hitting the notes perfectly on key?

“She’s pitchy on the high notes too often.”  “He has a weird vibrato.”  “Her voice is too nasally.”  “They don’t harmonize well.”  Are these facts or opinions or both?  And does the answer to that question determine whether that artist is talented or not?

I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts!

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Words + Grammar = Writing?

Do they?  Is it that simple?  Is writing but a mix of the right words and correct grammar, maybe with a little style added to make it more than mundane?  Or is writing “Words + Style and Inspiration = Writing” with maybe a little Grammar mixed in to keep it understandable?

I would argue it is the latter.  Why?  Because writing with too much attention to the grammar and syntax and rules and correctness and perfection and order makes a piece of writing – no matter its form – boring.  I don’t believe in the old idiom “rules were made to be broken,” but in this case, I think we can make an exception.  The very definition of style is to be distinctive, unique – so how can we be unique if we all write the same, correct, stiff, perfect way?  The simple answer is we can’t.

Now, does that mean we should shun all lessons about grammar?  Well, no.  As I said before, a little grammar is necessary if you expect – and want – to actually be understood.  The skill of a writer comes with knowing the rules, and them breaking them beautifully.  So we should at least learn some grammar, but it should not be something that is pounded into our heads until its shouting drowns out the creative whispers of inspiration.

So, if I were teaching a class of Literature or Writing students (…which I very well might), I would not focus on grammar as a keystone of writing; I would mention it, spend a little time on the basics and the necessaries, but then I would let it go and allow my students learn the rest – including how and when to break those rules – by reading the writing of those that have mastered the art.  When they are assigned writing, I would correct their mistakes and continue to remind them of the fundamentals, but I would not be so strict as to let those mistakes stifle their own developing style.

Many people may disagree – and I expect them to! – but I speak from my own experience.  My own teachers drove those lessons into us like nails… large, sharp nails.  And the presence of those nails kept me from finding my own voice and style until much, much later.  I don’t regret knowing what I do now, but I do regret not being given the chance to grow in my own style while being taught the bare bones of the necessary rules.  So Writing does not = Grammar + Words, it =’s Words and Style.