Lots and Lots of Practice

I want you to insist on these things so that those who trust in God will be intent on devoting themselves to good works.  

Titus 3:8      


I once watched the Rose Bowl with a foreign exchange student – who had never seen an American football game before. He looked confused, and, after a while asked what was happening. Trying to describe what he was seeing, he said, “They line up against each other, and then they all jump into a pile, and then they line up and do it again.” I was seeing pulling guards and counters and play-actions.  

Do you think American football fans just have a genetic gift for understanding football? Yeah, right. It has nothing to do with talent.  


Since the early 1990s, scientists have learned how to scan our brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to see how various stimuli activate different parts of our brain.  

One day, a scientist said, “Hey, I wonder if we can discover whether musicians are naturally gifted?” So, they played music for both musicians and non-musicians. Sure enough, when they looked at the MRIs, the musician’s brains were lighting up all over the place compared to the non-musical participants.  


But, a music professor from the University of Arkansas, Dr. Elizabeth Margulis, was unsure about the test. She wondered: What if the musician’s brains were responding more to music – not because they had an inborn gift, but because they had learned to listen and respond to music through years of practice?  

Dr. Margulis collaborated with Patrick C. M. Wong and colleagues from Northwestern University. They used the functional MRI, but they changed the study. They took two groups of highly trained classical musicians, flute and violin players. Then they would play familiar pieces by J.S. Bach.  

Both groups of musicians listened to the classical flute music, and then listened to the same kind of music played on violin. When Margulis looked at the fMRIs she discovered that flute players brains lit up more on the flute pieces, and the violin players did the same thing on the violin pieces. Even the parts of the brain that controlled the muscles used to play the piece were lighting up – but only for the group that played that instrument.  

If those who are musically gifted are genetically hardwired that way, the two groups should have had a similar response to both types of music. But they didn’t. Margulis and her colleagues concluded that, while musicians may be naturally gifted, they learn to respond to music through practice. Lots and lots of practice.  


Once we have been inundated with the Lord’s mercy to us, the Bible teaches us to devote ourselves to doing good. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? The same way you get to a life of love and kindness. 

(copyright 2012 by Marty Kaarre)