Talent vs Knowledge: Which is More Valuable?

by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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Talent – the word refers to a natural ability; to describe someone as talented is to say that they have an innate understanding of the intricacies of their field, and can produce something impressive, even if they lack an ability at times to explain it. Knowledge, conversely, is an understanding that is acquired through study and experience. In the songwriting field, both are usually necessary.

The most prevalent misconception regarding the disparate concepts of talent and knowledge is that knowledge can obliterate talent. This opinion, sadly, this is probably the cause of many fine musicians refusing to seek out the kind of instruction that would make them better at what they do. I hear, far too often, people expressing a fear that studying music theory will quash creativity.

Those in the sports world also use this term talent to describe naturally gifted athletes. But it seems that there is more of an understanding (and I believe, a correct one) that one can be talented but lack an understanding of how to put that talent to proper use. Sports people, it seems, are more likely to talk about the concept of discipline as a necessary addition to talent, with that discipline developing from a melding of talent, knowledge and experience.

In songwriting, my observation has been that more people suffer from a lack of knowledge than they do from a lack of talent. I truly believe that for most of you reading this, if you are frustrated with your songwriting lately, you are probably experiencing something that can be fixed with a bit of understanding. And that’s good news, because I believe that talent can be enhanced by understanding.

So what are the things that songwriters can and should be doing?

  1. Read about songwriting – educate yourself! Learn about how good songs work, and discover ways to incorporate those things in your own music.
  2. Talk to other songwriters about how they learned to write. Take advantage of their own personal journey in the songwriting world, and learn the lessons they’ve spent years learning for themselves.
  3. Play your music for others and get their opinions. Be open-minded, and don’t feel offended if a listener tells you that they didn’t like your song. If they didn’t like it, chances are others didn’t either. (This isn’t an indication, by the way, that the song has problems, since not all songs are liked by everyone. But it is a great starting point for looking at your songs honestly, and for beginning the fixing process.)
  4. Discipline yourself as a songwriter, and set a regular time every day, or almost every day, for writing. Keep a journal of your efforts, and keep every song fragment that you write.

The point here is that while adding to your talent is a difficult thing to do, your only real hope in achieving that is by increasing your knowledge. Talent is, of course, valuable, and we’ve all got varying amounts of that commodity. But knowledge is something to which we can keep adding. Learn to see each new day as a day to become more knowledgeable, and, over time, more talented.

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Posted in Songwriting Opinion and tagged , , , , , .

6 Comments

  1. yes i wanna learn also which is which? is it knowledge better that talent or Talent better that knowledge… as I read the opinion it was concluded that knowledge is the same as talent. thanks

    • If my conclusion was that knowledge is the same as talent, I doubt I would have said, “more people suffer from a lack of knowledge than they do from a lack of talent.”

  2. Hi Alex:

    Thanks for writing. You might have misunderstood my point, though, as I think we might both be saying the same thing. Good music comes from a blend of talent and knowledge. Having all one without the other causes music with problems. Music that is based purely on theory is going to be music I don’t want to hear! But in my experience, when people have problems getting their music to work, those problems are usually fixable if the person increases their knowledge base with respect to the *craft* of songwriting.

    It’s worth noting that some of the western world’s most famous composers were also *theorists* whose music is studied as if it were a theory lesson. Those composers, in my opinion, show a perfect balance of talent and knowledge.

    Thanks again for writing, Alex, I appreciate your thoughts, and I am delighted that you enjoy this blog.

    -Gary

  3. HI, i dont agree. Music is mat but also is an art. If you cannot express your self ¿how much knowledge do you need? Is same like writting, most people know how writte properly but most of people suck when make some paper.
    Yes, to make a book you need to know how to write but you dont need to know all about literature…but you need a basic background. Same with music…

    So, Yes, i agree is very important have a nice background, but also there is another topic. People who make music just all about theory and non feeling. They try to use all the knowledge they have in every song. The song is correct but is borring….zzz

    The talent is more important than knowledge, but u can have some talent with practice. You can read alot or get alot of theory but without practice is nothing…and you can have alot of talent…but if you dont use it is the same.

    The problem with the theory is people make complicated because there is a lot of bad teachers, and most of the people just repeate over and over the same. So, i love this page because explain very, very, very nice most of the “hard” topics and not is just copy and past or another guy just repeating without thinking.. Thanks!

    THANKS ALOT!
    Alex.
    ps: sorry for the english =)

  4. One of the best things about taking an analytical approach to some things is that allot of these things you may have thought were new were’nt new at all . The phrases “history repeats itself ” and “everything old is new again” come too mind .
    Humans before you or I have probably given some thought to some of the concepts we might wrestle with; so why not avail yourself of the legwork that they have already done . No reason to re-invent the wheel .

    Of course there is a fear of becoming to much of a mimic , thus un-orginal … Boulderdash … rubbish .

    Just make sure that you allow yourself lots of influences . Don’t allow yourself to get into a rut and take some trips outside of your comfort zone.

    Don’t even bother to worry about wheter your “talented ” . Better to just dig in and work at it … you will already be a good measure ( or is it a bar ?) ahead of most of the competiton who think they should just “wait” for inspiration . It’s more about developing the proper working habits and work ethic ; Don’t forget that virtuallt 99.9% of the “overnight” sensations worked at it a good deal more than one night !!!

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