The myth of natural talent

We love to think stars are born not made but the truth, writes AMY BOX, is that “natural talent” alone won’t get you to the top. It takes hard work and dedication to succeed in the music business – and it’s time we recognised it.

“You’re so lucky, being born with that voice!” Well-intentioned comments like this could be doing more damage than you think….

Telling an accomplished singer that they’re “lucky” undermines all the hard work they’ve put into developing their craft. There’s no luck about it. This singer has spent hours with their vocal coach and in the practise room. They’ve spent years developing technique and have travelled miles to see specialist teachers. They have worked hard. And they deserve to be recognised for it.


Before you shout me down, I know some people are born with more musical ability. In other words, singing comes more naturally to them which means they’ll find learning easier and will develop their skill faster.

But is this different to being born with a more mathematical brain, or finding sports easy and fun, or being drawn towards crafting or woodwork? Does that mean people without these abilities can’t do any of these things? Of course not!

The problem with believing a person is “born” with a natural talent which turns them into Ed Sheeran, is it just isn’t true.

Think of it this way – would you ever look at an athlete and comment on their natural ability to complete a 200m sprint in record time, or how lucky they are to be able to throw a javelin so effortlessly? I’m guessing not. But we all seem to think we can talk about singers this way.

Singing has become something we view as a talent, rather than a skill. Most people I speak to view singing as something that a select few are born with; the rest of us either cope with what little skill we have, or we don’t try at all. We’re defeated before we even begin. I believe it’s our job as singers, teachers and voice enthusiasts to change this view.

The voice is a muscle. It’s supported by surrounding nerves, cartilages, bone and tissue, but it’s still a muscle nonetheless. While the vocal muscle (or vocal cords), don’t technically strengthen the way other muscles in the body do – I find it useful to draw this comparison anyway. You wouldn’t expect to go to a gym for the first time and lift 100kg weights with no training. It takes time for the body to build the muscle for that job. The body strengthens over time; it develops; it builds stamina. The same can be said for the voice. It takes time, persistence, a whole lot of patience and the right sort of exercises to develop the vocal muscle – there is no quick fix.

Now think of your favourite artist. Got a little more respect for them with this in mind? I sure hope so.

This is a subject which comes up in conversation with students regularly. While it’s important to respect those vocal athletes who have trained hard to get their voices to that level – this way of thinking about the voice has a profoundly positive effect on the student too. When you know great results can be achieved through hard work, determination and the right training, (not by a magical gift given to a rare few), you can start to see the potential of your own voice in a new light.

So, next time you’re moved by a performance, please find another way of telling them you appreciate their hard work. Good alternatives are:

  • “That was incredible – I admire your skill!”
  • “Your (insert favourite part here) was just amazing”
  • or how about a simple yet effective; “I loved that!”.

And never, EVER, think you can’t, just because someone else was “born with a natural talent” and you find it more difficult. Singers who work hard often overtake singers with more “natural abilities” because, as the saying by Tim Notke goes, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”.

Amy Box is a professional singer, vocal coach and the founder of Business Choir. She is passionate about getting more people to sing whatever their ability, something which inspired the birth of Business Choir ( and continues to impact her teaching practice. Amy has a BA Honours Musical Theatre degree from Bath Spa University and is a qualified voice practitioner from The Voice College. She loves crisps and cats (but not at the same time).