Hoffman Academy Blog

Review: The Talent Code

It is so amazing how much a person can learn to do. How do Olympic skaters learn to fly on the ice, acing moves that would probably put the rest of us in the hospital if we even tried them? What about great musicians? Painters? Artists? Where did they come from? How did they get that way? Would you like to be among them?

Want to learn how to get great at something? Here’s the book for you.

Author Daniel Coyle has traveled all around the world to solve the mystery of talent, visiting what he calls talent hotbeds: schools, studios, and sports programs that have produced an unusual number of world-class performers. What he discovered can help anyone who is trying to learn a new skill.

The secret, Coyle says, is myelin.

In case you’ve never heard of it, myelin and the cells that create it make up just about half of your brain mass. It’s called white matter, and until recently it went mostly unnoticed by researchers. But now scientists are realizing that myelin is what makes learning new skills possible.

It’s simple. When a neuron fires, myelin wraps around that neuron. The myelin acts like insulation, allowing signal to move faster the next time the neuron fires. With each firing, the myelin builds up, until the signal can travel up to 100 times faster! This is why learning something new, like a new piano song, can be very slow and difficult at first. Then, after a while, it gets so easy you hardly have to think about it. How did that happen? Myelin.

In “The Talent Code,” Daniel Coyle explores how hopeful young students, artists, and athletes acquire the skills that lead them to become world-class performers. With a fascinating glimpse into the experiences of coaches and teachers who have cracked the talent code and led an unusual number of students to greatness, Coyle makes a strong case for a program of what he calls “deep practice.” Basically, it’s how to build a brain circuit. It involves studying the successful performances of others, breaking down the new skill into small parts and learning each one slowly and individually, trying, fixing mistakes, and trying again.

The Talent Code“ makes a huge amount of sense to me as a musician, a performer, and a music teacher. It’s a great book that can help music students and their parents optimize their efforts by understanding how the brain works and how new skills are learned.

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