What is Your Musical Potential?

I love this quote from Beethoven:

“Prince, what you are you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am through my own efforts. There have been thousands of princes and will be thousands more, but there is only one Beethoven!”

I like how Beethoven attributes his skill and ‘talent’ to work ethic. In fact, when you read about men and women of expertise, they all do. They rarely go on about genetic giftedness – which is interesting because much of the public does just that. More than any other subject area, music is assumed to come from a genetic disposition. But there is no evidence for this. A ‘music talent’ gene has not been found.

How we attribute our skills and achievements is called Attribution theory. This asks the question “Why am I good at what I do?”

For musicians the question might be “Why am I good at music?” Let’s look at three possible responses.

  1. I was born this way. I got lucky in the genetic lottery and have a special innate musical gift.
  2. I have a really good teacher. In fact my teacher once told me, “I will make you a fine musician.”
  3. I work at it. I practise hard, I seek advice, and I learn from my mistakes. My effort is the primary reason for my progress.

The first two responses attribute competency to factors outside of the self. This mindset undermines autonomy, which in turn undermines intrinsic motivation. The third response supports autonomy and an internal locus of control. This is a growth-intelligence mindset that fosters positive learning behaviours. I’ll talk more about the importance of this mindset in the next post. If you are familiar with the excellent work of Carol Dweck (Stanford) – so relevant for music teachers – then you know where I’m going with this.

What do you think?


Our greatest gift is our capacity to learn. “We are born to learn.” -Aristotle

An excerpt from Learning Strategies for Musical Success

“A must read for all music educators” – Robert Adams, New Haven, USA.

“Fantastic book, simply brilliant! – Ian Cooper, Norfolk, UK

“Rarely do I come away feeling so inspired. Incredibly beneficial.” – Music Matters Blog

Amazon UK
Kindle US
Kindle UK
Australia: Contact mdgriffin63@gmail.com for direct mail.

front cover final

“Most stimulating!” – Nicholas Carpenter, Prebendal, UK

“A must buy for every music teacher and music student” – William Bruce, Teacher of Strings, UK.

“Deeply impressive, the breadth of research is fascinating!” – Robert Chamberlain, Team of Pianists and Monash University Piano Staff, Victoria Australia.

“Awesome! I want to recommend it to every teacher I know” – Michael Williamson, Australia

“I have read your book and it has made an amazing difference in my teaching and in my studio.” Beth Cruickshank, Past President – Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association.

Also by Michael Griffin

BookCover VR

‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Second edition. Bumblebee! is more than just a wonderfucollection of 130 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.

“This is really good for all kinds of vocal groups, choirs, conductors. Bravo!!”

“The thinking person’s guide to training a choir. Love it!”

“It’s great to have some fresh warm-ups to add to the repertory. The tips for actions and techniques are really useful, and the advice at the back of the book has made me review some of my strategies.”

harmony bk cover

Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging. Available at Amazon.com


Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents. “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at Amazon.com

BookCoverPreview Bk 2

Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.

View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!” – St George College, Australia

Available at Amazon.com



Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Music Education, Pianists
4 comments on “What is Your Musical Potential?
  1. pianolearner says:

    There was an interesting Nurture/Nature TV programme. Vanessa Mae was interviewed. She believed that she had a special gift, but then they asked her to calculate how many hours she practised for in her life and she realized it was well past 10,000 hours….

  2. mdgriffin63 says:

    10 000 hours…. inspiration for my next blog!

  3. Mark Levy says:

    You also need to be able to recognise a tune fairly quickly (i.e. have a good musical ear) and to play or sing it back in the same way people who excel in maths have an ability (which starts in early childhood with times tables and adding and subtracting quickly) to work out equations, calculus etc. The same goes with anything. What is important is that a talent in music, maths, writing stories, art whatever is recognised quickly and then developed with lots of hard work. There doesn’t have to be a musical “gene” for talent in music to be real.

  4. Real or imagines there is no question that one has an innate ability for one or more of the many aspects we call talent. Early it can be recognized with rhythm and a feeling for the down beat. Later it can be revealed with listening and direction techniques to name a couple.
    For the other questions: Just like a football team is only as good as its coach, so it is with a piano student. It is mostly the teacher. There is only so much one can do on their own. In addition a teach can give the student an attitude; a way of thinking. I don’t mean magic, but I mean giving the student the ability to make choices and the ability to know of the many possibilities of what can be done in any phrase. And then it is how the student takes what was taught and grow or add. Bottom line, music performance is the ability to solve problems, and knowing what it is that they have to say. None of this just happens. It is directly related to ones mind and ones ears. There is much more to this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: