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Nature or Nurture

Posted on | August 9, 2008 | 3 Comments

Was Vanessa Mae born a violin prodigy or did she become one through blood, sweat, tears and hours upon hours of practice?

By all accounts, it appears that her mother was a major force in driving her success. From the age of 4 when Vanessa began learning to play the violin, her mother urged her to strive for perfection by telling her daughter that her love was conditional on how well Vanessa played. Thus ensued an extraordinary childhood and adolescence where the violin was the most important focus.

During this programme Vanessa underwent a brain scan, personality tests, hearing exams and more. The results showed that her brain had honed the areas used when she played the violin with her normal hand but when she changed hands it was comparable to any other novice beginning to learn the instrument.

She calculated the number of hours spent practising from 4 to 16 years old and came up with a number greater than 7,000. This was expected from the expert who had studied gifted musicans and noted that they all had spent from 5,000 to 10,000 hours of practice in their youth.

So far it was looking like her talent was in the majority down to her hard work and diligence.

Then the psychologist entered. He subjected her to a range of personality tests. The conclusions drawn were that she’s an extrovert with above normal risk taking, perfectionismand thrill seeking characteristics. Her hearing was also determined to be excellent and well above average. It was discovered that her mother had the same personality characteristics as she agreed to undergo the same tests. These personality traits are apparently conducive to becoming an exceptional musican.

So it would seem that yes, her genes went a long way to making her what she is today but the hard work and dedication was also required. She ended the programme saying she thought it was probably 50/50 in the nature/nurture split of contributing to her success. She did seem saddened that her relationship with her mother wasn’t more conventional. She acknowledged the fact that she knew her mother did love her and that her drive had a huge impact on getting her to where she is careerwise, she just wished it could have been done differently.

I found the programme very interesting. As a parent, it is often difficult to know what to do for the best for your kids. Should they be encouraged and pushed towards developing a talent or should they just meander along at their own pace? It would have be very interesting if Vanessa’s estranged mother had taken part in the programme. Unfortunately she declined to do so.

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3 Responses to “Nature or Nurture”

  1. Deborah
    August 10th, 2008 @ 8:41 am

    Oh that would have been interesting to watch. Paul was a piano prodigy and he and his sister have been playing since they were three. Both forced into it and both were excellent, but he had the edge. An inherent talent that she couldn’t quite match. He finally copped on and realised he had been forced into it and felt like he was brought up a trained monkey. I was sort of similar with the singing but to a lesser extreme. The obvious difference being you can learn an instrument, but you can either sing or can’t.

    It’s a tough call with the kids given our background. I think music is great for them, but where do you draw the line? You don’t throw in the towel when they don’t want to practice or do you? Ella is starting ballet next month, but she’s been begging to do it forever, so we’ll see how it goes. This parenting lark is hard, I tell ya, don’t know how you do it with 5!

  2. Manic Mammy
    August 10th, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

    Hey Deborah, thats really interesting about you and Paul. Do either of you play/sing anymore?

    I’m totally with you on wanting the kids to play some musical instrument. I regret now giving up the piano in my teens. Usual teenage rebellion on my part. I was never in the child prodigy league but I was good at it and did enjoy playing.

    Oscar is now learning the piano aged 9. Its a total chore to get him to practice and he moans about going to each lesson but I see him coming out of each time buzzing, delighted with himself.

    I’m usually fairly easygoing with the kids. I’m as happy for them to hang out with their friends, play, run around and use their imaginations as to go to structured activities. The older boys have tried and given up going to GAA, Tae Kwon-do, soccer, athletics, badminton. SibĂ©al is also hopefully starting ballet in September, something she too has been requesting for an eternity or so it seems!

    Its really hard to know and very easy to concede to your child when they’re moaning and whinging, I guess I’m more strict this time with the piano and Oscar sticking to it as I can see it is something that he does have a talent for and does enjoy despite himself.
    Or maybe its just wishful thinking and my living vicariously through my children! Who knows?

  3. Deborah
    August 12th, 2008 @ 11:32 am

    Heh. Well we sold his Steinway grand piano to move here, so he doesn’t play. As for singing, I get the occasional church gig from family and friends, but I’m not too into it any more. But I love karaoke! :)

    Yeah, it’s a really tough call. Sounds like you have the right approach.

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