Music Child Prodigy and the Savant

Portrait of Leopold MozartImage via WikipediaI would like to distinguish between a musical prodigy, a musical savant, and a musical genius:

  • Musical Prodigy: Typically a young child with inordinate intelligence and musical talent (and usually with parents who recognize and push the child's abilities). Mozart was a musical prodigy and musical genius.
  • Musical Savant: A severe mental disorder which allows for incredible musical talent in some cases
  • Musical Genius: A person (young or old) with exceptional musical talent that may have developed as a child or taken years (or even decades) to perfect. Usually of high intelligence. The majority of serious composers that I know personally and/or professionally fall into this category. I do not consider student composers part of this group.

In the day of YouTube, it is fairly easy to find hundreds of "musical prodigies". A recent example would be the young Jackie Evancho on the reality show America's Got Talent. Videos from a few years ago showed a young girl with some musical talent. Her parents recognized this talent, gave her professional vocal lessons, and the rest is history. (BTW, most vocal experts agree that a developed voice like Jackie's at that age will most likely destroy a child's vocal chords before she reaches adulthood. Hopefully her parents will look out for her and ignore the money signs if her voice begins to suffer).

Mozart and his sister Maria both were musical prodigies, pushed on by their father Leopold. Mozart had an amazing ear like very few musicians. He could compose a symphony in his head and dictate it exactly without even having to be by a piano. He was a musical prodigy in both composition and performance.

I do differentiate between musical prodigies and musical genius because there are few musical prodigies (and even fewer that have their talents recognized at an early age) but there are millions of musical geniuses in the world.

I believe that to become a musical genius, one has to have the intelligence, creativity, obsessiveness, and diligence to succeed. I have many students who want to become amazing musicians. They might have lots of talent or little drive or they might have little talent and lots of drive, but it is perseverance and hard work that make the difference between the wannabes and the great musicians.

Hiles, D. (2002). Savant Syndrome. De Montfort University. Retrieved from
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