What If I Don’t Have Any Talent?

Murphy HenryThis Blog was inspired by Marty who read the following in the March Banjo Newsletter and sent me an email. This is a quote from a banjo player and teacher:

"All teachers occasionally get a student who has no musical promise at all. What do you do with them? I just keep trying to teach them until they reach their own conclusions."

Marty then wrote, “My heart stopped for a minute and I thought, ‘Hey, he could be talking about me.’ Then I decided that if he couldn't teach them, they should have tried a better way and used the Murphy Method....I still agree with the perspective that if a willing student can't learn it is more about the teacher than the student.”

I replied thusly:

Bless your heart (as we say down South). I'm sorry that article gave you even a moment's pause. You have plenty of promise! And I mean that. And what is more important, you have stick-to-it-ness and desire. Which, in the long run, is the most important. If, as the Good Book says, you have a talent and bury it, what good is it?

I agree with you about it usually being the teacher. In fact in my BNL article in 1983 (!), I quoted a professional tennis teacher who said that the attitude of many teachers is “If you don’t learn what I teach you, you’re a dummy.” His approach was, “If you don’t learn, I’m the dummy.” That’s the philosophy the Murphy Method is built on.

I have found that most people, regardless of age, have some musical ability if you just explore deep enough. For instance, if I encounter someone who really seems to "lack talent" on the banjo, I make things as simple as possible. In the beginning this might include simply strumming the open G chord and trying to play in time. In that regard the banjo is the easiest of the instruments to teach, because the string are so light (not like guitar or mando) and the chords (G, D7, and even C) are so easy to make. I then take that foundation stone and build on it.

Unfortunately the musical talent we all are born with sometimes gets buried by inattention or covered up by other life experiences. Or, worst of all, a well-meaning adult (parent or teacher) tells a child that she or he has NO MUSICAL ABILITY. Kids then carry that damaging—and false---belief into adulthood where it is very hard to shake. But it can be shaken!!! I make it my job to shake it! If any of you believe this about yourselves IT’S NOT TRUE! And it’s not too late! (I feel like I’m giving an alter call and we should all stand and sing “Just As I Am.” Perhaps in a former life I was a preacher!) 

I have taught many people who have come to music late in life and who get a great deal of pleasure out of being able to play a few songs. I get a reciprocal amount of pleasure watching them learn and hearing them play. I have also taught a number of adults who come to the banjo in their middle years and learn to play lots of tunes, learn to jam, learn to improvise, and even form bands.

The keys are: learning by ear, sticking with it, taking it slow, and never giving up!

So if you’re asking yourself right now if you have any talent, the answer is: YES!

One thought on “What If I Don’t Have Any Talent?

  1. banjomamas

    I thought I was one of those unfortrunate souls who had no talent for the banjo. My problem was that I had played classical music on the piano and organ since age 6 and I had learned by reading notes. When I first started banjo, I kept asking “Where are the notes?” And I could not understand why every note in the song was not reflected in the banjo tablature. Then, I came across the Murphy Method and met Murphy herself. I strted learning by ear. Since then, I have followed Murphy’s and now Casey’s instructions to the best of my ability, and I CAN PLAY. I’m not the best, but I love the music and I adore playing. Thank you Murphy and Casey for being such great teachers and for showing even banjo “retards” such as I was how to play!!! Martha

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