Clara Schumann: Five ingredients for a child prodigy (+video)

2. Attention to detail

Johnny Green/AP
German violin prodigy Maria Elizabeth Lott, 14, serenades auction-goers in 2001 with a performance on a Stradivarius violin.

Clara Schumann was legendary for being a stickler for the small stuff. In her biography, Nancy Reich quotes Schumann's daughter, Eugenie, as saying that her mother never allowed "the smallest inexactitude to pass."

"Do you think Beethoven would have taken the trouble to write all this notation, dots, ties, crochets here, quavers there, if he had meant it to be otherwise?" Schumann asked Eugenie.

Reich quotes another of Schumann's students, Adelina de Lara, who said of her teacher, "Her vigilance never relaxed in matters of tone-quality, rhythm and phrasing; in short, she treated the pianoforte as an orchestra and required her pupils to consider every minute phrase and to express it as though it were given to a separate instrument."

This punctiliousness is typical of child prodigies of all domains. The same researchers who discovered that the child prodigies had extraordinary working memories also noticed that the prodigies had an unusually high number of close relatives that had been diagnosed with autism. When the researchers tested the prodigies for traits associated with an autism diagnosis, they found extremely high levels of a single trait: attention to detail.

The researchers write: "The prodigies did not, however, display many of the other traits typically associated with autism. This result raises the possibility of a moderated autism that actually enables the prodigies' extraordinary talent."

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