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  • Derek Carlson

A Gift from God? Or Good Old Fashioned Elbow Grease?

Updated: Oct 13



Everyone seems to have certain natural talents. Are they a fluke of nature, a random outcome from a random mixing of parents' genes?


Or are they gifts from God, as they are often referred to as?


"She was born with a gift."


Some people are born natural singers and musicians. They show amazing potential when only a few years old. Surely that must be a God-given talent, right?


I'm not sure this is the most accurate way to refer to this phenomenon of natural talent.


I was reading Yanni's autobiography a while ago. His music is amazing. He reflected on how people often comment on his natural talent and gifts. His reply was something like, "Do you have any idea how many 8-12 hour days over decades that I have put into getting good at this?!?"


That made me think of desire, effort, and practice, and how much those can transform a person's abilities over the long haul. Then I thought, "Well, why can't this normal phenomenon carry across subsequent lifetimes?"


Thus far this lifetime, I was born with not much music in me. I mean, like all teenagers, I liked rockin' out to tunes as much as the next person, but that was about it. We had an organ at home but I never touched it and had no interest in it or in making music. Mom got me guitar lessons in third grade and I thought they were dumb and only went to two or three. It just wasn't in me.


Then around age 30 I stumbled upon a huge drum circle on Venice Beach, CA, and it just blew me away! Totally mesmerized me! So I went and bought a djembe drum and went to the drum circle and also took drumming lessons.


Turns out I had very little rhythm in me. I pretty much sucked. Even when I did it a lot, I never had the rhythm come through me and take me over. It was always in the head and mechanical.


Then a few years later I became interested in strumming a guitar like Jack Johnson. I wanted to sing his songs. So I picked up a guitar and it didn't come naturally. Eventually, after God-knows how many hours, I locked into Jack's strumming pattern on the song "Upside Down." I mean, after fumbling with it forever and having it sound nothing like the actual song, it just clicked! I was able to embody and own that strumming rhythm almost anytime I picked up the guitar.


But I couldn't do any others. For a long time.


Anyway, flash forward 20 years and thousands of hours practicing, and only this past year have I made it to the point where can I hear almost any simple popular song on YouTube (Ed Sheeran, Jack Johnson, etc.) and within 5 minutes strum it authentically. I can lock into the rhythm and just jam along with zero conscious intervention. It feels like second nature. It's amazing to get to this point! 20 years and thousands of hours of practice! (I'm a sloooowwww learner when it comes to music!)


Same thing for singing. I became interested in that 15 years ago, and I've been taking lessons and singing scales on and off and sounding just horrible. Beyond horrible. 14 years in and thousands of hours of practice and it was still like nails on a chalkboard. But something happened this past year and all of a sudden I'm starting to sound, well, not cringe-worthy. Sometimes bits of what I sing even sound good. I am a ways from just being able to sing a random song and have it sound decent, but I feel like I'm going to get there in the next year or two.


Given all this, I can imagine being born with some musical talent next lifetime. Sure, one can argue that it's about neurobiology and muscle conditioning, all of this practice and training, but I can tell you one thing... I had never been able to truly feel and embody the energy of music, even if I wasn't singing or playing guitar. What's changed is that I can now channel music in my mind. And even if I have to retrain my muscles next lifetime, I suspect this ability to channel music is a function of my soul or psyche and not the cells in my brain.


So flash forward to age 5, my next lifetime, and this little kid just picks up guitar and singing like it's old hat. People say he's got a God-given gift. (Oddly, he isn't "gifted" at piano. But turns out that in his past life as Derek he didn't practice piano.)


But perhaps it's not a gift from God. Perhaps he just worked his ass off in a past life to develop the talent.


Some things are not as mysterious as they seem.

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