The Talent Code: part 2

I started reading the next book in my pile, so it’s time I finished sharing my practical application of The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown, by Daniel Coyle. (Amazon link here:  First, I’ll share a little more about the first principle, which is deep practice. Then I’ll talk about the other two principles: ignition and master coaching.

I love that it follows closely with how I encourage my students to practice piano. When they do these things, progress is so much greater! The first rule is “chunk it up.” First you absorb the whole thing (i.e. listen to or watch the skill), then break it into chunks and slow it down. Rule two is that you repeat it and rule three is learn to feel it.

This week as I concentrated more on how I could share the principles of talent with my children and piano students, it was amazing to experience how those principles flow naturally into each other.

I spent a great deal of time last week with two of my piano students who were playing together  in a duet festival on Saturday. One was my youngest daughter, Abby, who finished vision therapy a few months ago, and the other was her friend Emily. They are both fifth graders, ages 10 and 11 and have been playing the piano for a few years but not excelling in the way I would hope. Emily had been out of town and was struggling to put the duet together.

I realized that perhaps I had not instilled the principles of deep practice sufficiently well into either of these students. So, we went back to the problem areas and did slow repetition with Emily alone, then with Abby, who had a hard time slowing down. So, Emily did it slowly with me and then with Abby. We worked through all the problem spots and got all the notes together.

“There’s something missing still,” I coached. “It needs emotion. Show what this is really about!” I went to YouTube and I pulled up a performance of their piece In the Hall of the Mountain King in it’s original form for orchestra and had them listen. They caught the excitement and enjoyed the accelerating tempo of the performance. Something finally clicked for them both and they played freely with passion. Emily’s mom and I just looked at each other in wonder.

The unintended consequence was that they also started to speed up when it got louder, which was not lost on the judge at the festival Saturday. And they got nervous so they didn’t play out like they had, but we knew what they could do and so do they!

I also took a few minutes in one of last week’s coaching sessions and played a couple of my favorite fun pieces for them, both by Jon Schmidt. This goes along with the principle of IGNITION. Many things can provide ignition, like hearing the orchestra play their duet. I asked what they really wanted to play, even if it was beyond their current capabilities. They both wanted to play music by Jon Schmidt (Waterfall  and All of Me. Here’s the link: So I played the original versions and shared simplified versions that they could learn. Both girls are so much more excited to play the piano now!

And my almost 13-year-old daughter who gave up piano some time ago overheard me teling Abby and Emily that they could learn whatever they wanted and said “What the heck! You never let me do that!” So now she’s learning Waterfall by rote (i.e. by ear) because I think that may just be the key to her learning the reading skills she needs. (I’m having her follow along with the music as I play it for her.)

The bottom line of this experience is that by providing all three of these principles this week, deep practice, ignition and master coaching, I saw big shifts in these students and renewed confidence in myself as a teacher and master coach.

And can’t you just feel the joy in musical creation when you hear Jon Schmidt play All of Me?

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