How to Recognize Musical Talent in Your Child
Is your child speaking the language of music?
Image courtesy of Dyanne Harvey
Rap-tap-tap on the back of the driver’s seat.
Rap-tap-tap while reading a homework assignment.
Rap-tap-tap while waiting in the checkout lane at the grocery store.
Always, ALWAYS…rap-tap-tap, rap-tap-tap.
Maybe it’s not a rap-tap-tap at all. Maybe it’s that your child sings her school lessons or can remember the lyrics to that popular song on the radio AND can hit every note flawlessly. Maybe he can hear when grandpa’s guitar is out of key or just wants to sit and pick at his ukulele for the evening.
Do you notice? Are you listening?
If you’ve answered these questions with a resounding YES, then it’s time to really look at these little nuances. Perhaps after some thoughtful observation and evaluation, you might come to the conclusion that your kid isn’t just trying to annoy you.
Maybe your precious little one is simply speaking another language — the language of music.
Being a musician AND parent myself, I am aware of other musical gifts around me. But what exactly is it that stamps an individual a musician?
I’ve compiled a list of 8 signs which indicate that your Mr. Rap-tap-tap may be breaking a few drumsticks in his future.
NOTE: It’s important to remember that typically prodigies are obvious prodigies at around age 3. We non-prodigy humans often develop a little more slowly and at our own pace. Basically, we may need extended time to find music on our own. Like Mr. Rap-tap-tap though, we will usually throw our parents a bone.
Read on to find out if any of these signs fit your child:
1. Your Child has Rhythm
According to Wojcik (2006), gifted toddlers have a rhythmic way of moving. They are not typically clumsy, but rather methodical, precise, almost as if they already have an inner rhythm driving them on.
This is not to say that just because your kid tripped on his shoelaces last week you need to forget about music.
Observe your child. Is there a rhythm in that little body? Can he keep a beat? Can his hands move independently from his feet or even in the opposite direction at will?
Take note of his movements, and you may very well see gauges that point in the musical direction. Rhythm and precision are incredibly common indicators that your child may be musically inclined.
2. Music Is In Your Bloodline — The nature vs. nurture argument has been an interesting debate for many years. No matter which way your opinion swings, there is reason to believe that both nature and nurture are important in terms of musical talent.
In the article Musical Talent: Innate or Learned, Julliard graduate, Dianna Richardson, is penned as believing that musical ability can be attributed to both nature and nurture (2006).
Nature and nurture are both important variables to consider when recognizing a future musician.
If you have a hunch that your little one may have an inner-song brewing, then it may be time to reference the family tree. You will probably unearth some great family history as well as solidify whether you blood runs thick with melody or not. Take a look at the Williams’ kids (Hank Jr., Holly Williams, Sam Williams, Hank III) and the legacy Hank left behind. They give a prime example of how music undeniably pulses through a family’s veins.
3. Sounds Are Perceived Differently
Future musicians can often hear more sound than the average person, according to Gardner (2006). They may experience their feelings auditorily. For instance, the drone of a spring rain or the out of tune E string on a guitar has the potential to become categorized rather than heard in environmental bulk to these individuals. These sounds are connected to emotion and can be reproduced, remembered, and referenced back to on command.
Sounds become separated and compartmentalized in a gifted mind.
Does it seem to you that your child hears more than most? Can she identify discrete sounds in a multitude of auditory clutter? Most musical children can hear pitch, especially when it’s off. Does she know when an instrument or vocals are off pitch?
This particular identifier may be especially difficult to notice, because most children with auditory sensitivity often don’t know any differently.
As far as they’re concerned, everyone else hears exactly as they do. Recognizing this quality in your child might take special observation and listening skills, but it’s well worth the effort.
4. Expression Through Music
Around the world music is a standard of expression. We sing in the car while cruising down the highway. We play our guitars around campfires. We dance to monotonous beats in clubs. It’s not uncommon for an individual to depend on music as an emotional release.
The difference is that for these musically gifted personalities creating music may be their go-to channel of emotional expression.
According to Sloboda, they place incredible value on their engagement with music (2005). The connection is a higher dimension than the typical pop song head-bobber.
What does your child do when she’s feeling a strong emotion like sadness, fear, anger, or happiness? Does she turn to an instrument during these moments? If so, does the instrument portray her emotions?
This indicator is very easy to recognize. Making music is nearly an emotional crutch for these kids.
Once you hear your child perfectly couple his emotions to a musical sound you will never forget it.
5. Enjoy Alone Time
Future musicians often like to be alone with an instrument versus being the center of attention. Unsurprisingly practice requires A LOT of alone time, and this time is primarily driven by self-motivation.
It isn’t uncommon for practice itself to be a reward to musically gifted individuals rather than an unwelcome obligation. In Professor Helen Lancaster’s keynote address to the Thai National Center for the Gifted, she clearly indicates that enjoying alone time can be a quality of a gifted child (2003).
A good indicator of this is by observing your child’s reaction when handed an unfamiliar instrument.
If he curiously takes the instrument somewhere semi-private, ignores the rest of the world, and directs his attention fully to the wonderful new music-maker then you are probably looking at a gifted child.
Conversely, if your child takes the instrument, fiddles around with it while watching closely to the attention being adorned him; he’s probably more of an entertainer than a gifted musician.
This is not to say that entertainers and musicians can’t be confined to the same physical being. BUT they tend to function from different parts of the brain, and often conflict one another.
Taylor Swift is primarily an entertainer.
Jason Isbell is primarily a musician.
John Mayer is both and is tortured with the ongoing fight between the two.
On a side note — many people automatically relate any type of musical interest to fame and fortune. Many musicians have no stars in their eyes, but are labeled that way by society.
Next time you tell a budding musician to remember you when they’re rich and famous, watch the reaction closely. A socially acceptable look of hidden terror might be the expression you evoke.
Curiously enough, most musicians just want to make the music. In front of a crowd on an illuminated stage is often an uncomfortable place to be in comparison to a quiet practice room safe from the public’s hungry eyes and ears.
6. Play by Ear
Even with no formal instruction a musically gifted child can typically play music by ear according to Schroer (1993). Often these kids can simply pick up an instrument, and figure it out on their own.
Holding the instrument, touching it, making it work…these things all come very naturally to those with talent.
In addition, identifying musical instruments by sound is quite common among the gifted. Listen closely the next time your child comments on the radio song.
What exactly is he telling you about it? Is he able to identify the different instruments that make up the song as a whole or simply commenting on the music?
7. Incredibly Dedicated
An individual who takes pleasure in practicing his/her instrument for hours at a time with no expectation of reward is a unique person indeed. These are the ones who will repeat the same piece or line over and over and over until they are satisfied with the level of perfection achieved.
In short, they are extremely driven and astoundingly dedicated — almost obsessive — and have an exceptionally strong internal force of self-discipline.
According to Haroutounian (2002), if practice is a time to think and work through problems for your child then you may be dealing with a musical gift.
This quality flirts with escapism to some extent, so it’s important to be aware of the child’s emotional state.
Does your child work at her craft with a level dedication seemingly beyond her years or do you have to bribe her to practice? Is practice time used to escape life or greeted like a welcoming challenge?
8. Music is Home
For a future musician, music is the reoccurring theme in their lives. They always, always, always return back to music. This is not to say your child won’t try other activities.
Sports, academics, and art are all wonderful happenings in which to be involved. Our experiences are what create diversity within each of us, so to support those are to support diversity.
Take note to what your child is naturally drawn. Peer pressure is surely to be a challenge at some point. In those situations it’s possible a more popular activity will take precedence, but the inner calling will inevitably win in the end.
When all else fails, what does you child rely on for comfort?
According to Lancaster, Recognizing musical potential or the tendencies towards music come in many forms and are usually placed in the “too difficult to define category,” but there are a few key elements that are often undeniable (2003)
You know your little one. You know what makes him or her tick. With careful observation, you will be able to deliver a firm consensus regarding musical talent.
The earlier you recognize your child’s gift the better, because musical endeavors are in no way cheap.
When you see and hear the outcome of all the dedicated efforts…it is so very worth it.
Dyanne Harvey is a freelance writer. blogger and American singer-songwriter.
Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Haroutounian, J. (2002). Kindling the Spark: Recognizing and Developing Musical Talent. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Lancaster, H. (2003, December). Identifying the Gifted in Music. Keynote Address, Thai National Center for the Gifted, Bangkok. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from http://www.helenlancaster.com/Documents/Identifying%20the%20gifted%20in%20music.pdf
Marek-Schroer, M.; Schroer, N. (1993, September). Identify and Providing for Musically Gifted Young Children.Roeper Review, v16 n1 p33–36.
Sloboda, J. (2005). Exploring the Musical Mind: Cognition, Emotion, Ability, Function. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wojcik, J. (2006). Musical Talent: Innate or Learned. Des Moines: Drake University Talent Identification Program.