If you're reading this, then you were almost certainly brought up in a generation that was told that some people are “gifted” and others are not. We accepted this to be true, we made up our minds about which category we fall into, and then moved on from there.
As a children's piano teacher of several years now, my experience has shown me that this is NOT the case. In this article I'll explain what I see as the essential key factors in whether or not a child “takes” to the piano and plays it skillfully enough to be considered gifted.
-- It bears mentioning that while this article will be mostly about piano, the same readily applies to the guitar and any other instrument. --
It IS true that some kids take to the piano and others don't.
But what exactly DETERMINES a child's ability to play the piano? Instead of it being some sort of intangible, luck-of-the-draw gene, I find that a child's musical aptitude is a combination of her interest and her self-talk. It's these two that determine playing ability and ease of learning.
By interest I mean how naturally interested the child is in playing. Does the kid approach the instrument herself? Does she spend some time playing around with it, experimenting with the sounds? Does the child ask for lessons? If yes, these are good indications that the kid is interested in learning, and is already half-way toward developing her skill at playing it.
It's worth noting that it's very difficult to make a child interested in something about which they have no native interest. It's possible, it CAN be done, but it's an uphill battle. So if they are naturally interested in playing, that's a huge plus.
Now the other part is self-talk. The good news is that self-talk can very easily be taught and re-taught. The bad news is that children usually inherit their self-talk from their parents, and commonly, grown-ups do NOT speak to themselves nicely or constructively.
I have found in observing the adults that I've taught, as well as the parents of the children I teach, most speak to themselves condemningly about their piano ability. “I can't do it.” “It's too hard.” “I'm not the type of person who can learn this.” “Some people can just pick it up like that, I wish I were one of those people.” These are the types of things they'll say.
When I'm teaching children to play, I'm not just teaching them to play a song. When I teach, what I'm mostly doing is teaching them how to think about themselves and their abilities. I tell them that they're quick learners and I – very importantly – point out how quickly they're learning. I hammer this idea home by continuing to show them how quickly and how well they're learning until they accept it as one of their own beliefs.
Once they really internalize the idea that they're quick learners; that they play well; that they have a good sense of timing; a good sense of pitch; a good sense of showmanship; it starts to show in their behaviour.
It's awesome to see. When their self-talk is focused on how good they are, they sit up straighter; they enjoy themselves more; they develop more preference as to how they want to grow; they practice without being asked; and they look forward to their weekly lessons.
Again, I need to emphasize this: It's awesome.
So: Is your kid gifted? The answer is that they are if they speak to themselves the way a “gifted” child speaks to themselves. There's no need to believe me, just try this out for yourself. Look for evidence that your child is gifted at something and point it out to them. They'll take it, run with it, and impress us endlessly.