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Growing up playing the violin, I was of average talent and met many people who had just much more natural talent at the muscle movements required to control the instrument as well as the fine hearing required to hear the correct pitch at speed. Has there been much research on what's different physically for these people? It must be something to do with the type of muscle, dimension of skeletons, quickness of nerve conduction, and probably the complexity of the area of the cortex required for muscle control. Also I wouldn't be surprised if these talented musicians have a lot more connection between auditory cortex, somatosensory cortex, and motor cortex.

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    the answer is: practice – 0x435d2d May 15 '20 at 23:27
  • Practice is a component but the underlying hardware matters a great deal, even more so than pure practice otherwise every aspiring violinist can become Itzhak Perlman. – Shuheng Zheng May 15 '20 at 23:30
  • doing something repetitively shapes your hardware though. If you repeat a certain movement or put pressure on something all the time, it will start to adjust to the movement and will become easier. practicing is that repeated movement and so their muscles build up to further help them play. – 0x435d2d May 15 '20 at 23:34
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    @Haversine - whilst 'practice' can be advantageous in furthering one's ability to do almost anything, it's certainly nowhere near the answer. Having short legs, I would never become an excellent runner, even if I practised 25 hrs a day! There are attributes which will give some people more than just an edge. And some of those are surely advantageous to becoming superior on specific instruments. Including mental capacity and brain control over one's body. – Tim May 16 '20 at 9:09
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    More broader, in science this is discussed under the heading "nature or nuture". And in my opinion, the mere existence of AP makes it obvious that some have an edge in music from birth. – StefanH May 16 '20 at 13:30
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I suspect the main difference is that they love playing their instrument so much that what seems like hard work to me and you is just fun to them and that that love started at a very young age. What sparked that love was often hearing a parent or elder sibling playing when they were toddlers. You will not find neurological differences. That isn't how the brain works.

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While I cannot give scientific evidence, I may give my own anecdotal answer. In my own experience I have been considered very talented and gifted as a pianist. I've always performed better than others that have played for a similar amount of time and even those years beyond me. I think that yes in some part I was naturally talented however that is not what I contribute to my success. If you are familiar with a comedic YouTube channel named "twosetviolin" they often say (quite sarcastically) "geniuses are born, not created". While yes there are certainly some that are naturally talented; that talent doesn't matter without discipline and practice. In my case I would (and do) practice and play for several hours a day with a minimum of 4 hours every day (I would do more but there's only so much I can do as I am in school). I have the advantage in that I love what I do, I have no complaints doing meticulous practice every day because it's something that I enjoy. It's much like what Brian Towers said in the previous answer, that it's not so much hard work but it's a love, passion, and joy. Don't get me wrong some of the practicing can be somewhat tedious; however, for me it is very satisfying and in the end I find myself enjoying myself more than I feel worked. There are some advantages genetically such as being double jointed or having large hands; however, these do not contribute to one's success. Perfecting your craft through dedication and practice is what leads to success.

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  • 'Geniuses are born not created' comes from this video: m.youtube.com/watch?v=Jy-6-niIx-Y – marcellothearcane May 16 '20 at 13:15
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    You're not answering the question, you're denying the premise. That's not helpful in an ideologically controversial question like this if you can't point to any research. – Kilian Foth May 16 '20 at 16:49
  • @KilianFoth How so? I gave my own answer based off genuine experience. People look for reasons as to why others perform better as an excuse for why they can't play at the same level. In everything there are going to be people who are naturally gifted perhaps genetics or other reasoning. All this does is give a slight edge, however these people have a tendency to take their gifts for granted, thinking they do not have to do the same amount of work. Great musicians are not born great, they earn it. I answered the question, I simply didn't say what you believe, which makes me wrong, apparently – Alexander Shaneyfelt May 16 '20 at 17:02
  • An example outside of music would be Mike Tyson for boxing. For Heavyweight boxing he is considered to be far too short with too short of a reach. He didn't have the sought after "genetic" advantages; however, he put the work in, and is now recognized as one of the greats in heavyweight boxing. My point was that just because someone is better than you in something, or "naturally talented" doesn't mean that they have increased "complexity of the area of the cortex", or other physiological advantages. Work and experience has a far more significant part to play than anything. – Alexander Shaneyfelt May 16 '20 at 17:13
  • @AlexanderShaneyfelt I also have a casual interest in Tyson specifically. He is definitely gifted even though he has a short reach. His coach was able to craft a style based on his explosiveness and his short stature that uses his size to his advantage. His coach recognized his talent at a young age so there must be something that indicated his probable ascent to greatness, some of it must be physical it cannot be entirely psychological. In terms of explosiveness, I'm sure a significant portion of it is genetic and at the very top level that becomes the limiting factor. – Shuheng Zheng May 18 '20 at 17:20
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From my own experience, I would have to say it's is an amazing abundance of interest and drive. I can't say why I have the interest, I just do. And I've pursued that interest in the face of pretty incredible opposition. That takes a lot of what I refer to as drive. I feel driven to do what I do. To keep this idea in perspective, I'm pretty sure there are others that are even more interested and driven than I am, making it possible for them to achieve even more than I have. To illustrate my point I refer folks to Django Rienhardt, seriously handicapped but very talented in my opinion. He was driven.

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https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00658/full "The genetic basis of music ability".

This is an overview article that studies genetic basis for various music abilities but most of it is around music memory, perception, singing. Nothing specific for instrument playing.

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  • The article documents multiple attempts to measure and to co-relate different aspects of musical abilities to genetic and cultural inheritance. The unintended result is that no one really knows why one set of people can perform better than another. I would simply describe it as "the gift", which would sufficiently explain Artur Rubinstein's ability to perform brilliantly every piece Chopin wrote from memory. – Francis Phillips May 18 '20 at 18:58
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Malcolm Gladwell can say it better than I can.

From his book Outliers:

the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play.

once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

The reason why Mozart was so good is that he practiced a lot. And he apparently had a high capacity for practicing with attention for long periods of time. If there's anything innate, then that was it. Although I think you could substitute passion for your subject for any innate ability to concentrate for long periods of time.

That is what I noticed when I looked at high level artists. They worked like crazy, they practiced constantly. Picasso is a great example of this, as is Rembrandt. In music, look at Charlie Parker or Steve Morse or Steve Vai.

I started learning guitar when I was in my 30s. After two years of work, I was playing professionally. People liked to tell me I had talent because then they didn't have to take responsibility for not pursuing their own dreams. They didn't like my answer: I just worked hard and I worked smart, constantly working on my weak areas.

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