Music is an arrangement of sound that fits into a particular harmony, rhythm, and beat.
Music is universal, and the world has seen exceptional musical talents over time.
How do some people create music, sing, or play an instrument like it is their second nature while others find themselves musically challenged?
While the environment the person grows up in and their practice play a major role in developing their musical talent, recent research suggests that musical ability could depend on genes.
This means that children could be born with the inherent talent to identify tunes or play an instrument early on, giving them an edge over the others as they grow up.
Learn more about how genes affect your personality and behavioral traits
The Music Is In Your Genes
Studies claim that genes may determine about 40-50% of a person’s musical abilities.
There could be many genes that control musical abilities.
However, not all of them have been identified.
One particular gene associated with musical ability based on a genome-wide study was UDP Glycosyltransferase 8 (UGT8).
DNA Underlying The Great Musicians
The UTG8 and Music Ability
The UGT8 gene controls the production of the 2-hydroxyacylsphingosine 1-beta-galactosyltransferase enzyme.
This enzyme helps produce galactosylceramides.
Galactosylceramides are lipids that cover the myelin of the nerves in the central nervous system.
The myelin layer is responsible for transmitting signals between nerves.
A particular study analyzed the relationship between UGT8 gene variations and musical ability in the Mongolian population.
1008 individuals from 73 families were picked up for the study.
A pitch-production accuracy test was conducted to analyze their musical abilities.
A Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) in this gene, rs4148254, was found to be highly associated with musical ability.
A similar study was conducted amongst 234 people from 15 Finnish families.
The individuals were a mix of professional musicians, amateurs, and those who weren’t musically trained.
Three tests were used to measure auditory aptitude.
Here are the results of the test.
|Auditory test||Musical ability’s heritability %|
|Karma Music Test (KMT)||42%|
|Seashore Pitch test (SP)||57%|
|Seashore time discrimination test (ST)||21%|
The tests show that musical ability could be inherited by up to 57%.
Therefore, a person having an absolute pitch or someone else with amusia (the inability to process music) could result from genetic changes.
The Nature vs. Nurture of Music Ability
Natural musical ability is genetically inherited, while nurtured ability depends on the environment and other external factors.
The practice has always been a key factor associated with succeeding in something.
So will practice help overcome genetic boundaries and make a person musically exceptional?
Here is where this gets very interesting.
Practice definitely helps improve skills.
However, a person’s ability to practice consistently may also be driven by genes!
This means that specific genotypes may push a person to practice more and enjoy the process of practicing.
This, in turn, may increase the chance of the person becoming an accomplished musician.
A study by David Z. Hambrick and Elliot M. Tucker-Drob analyzed the correlation between genes and environmental impacts on music accomplishment.
The results reported that "success may not always result from determination, hard work, or practice.
A person’s genes may play a more significant role than once assumed in helping the person succeed.
These researchers identified 850 same-sex twins and questioned them on their musical abilities and their practice schedule.
Here are some of the takeaways from the study.
- Some genes may encourage people to practice more, while others prevent individuals from enjoying the process of practicing.
- Up to one-fourth of the influence of genes in determining musical ability may be related to the act of encouraging practice.
- People with the right balance of genetic traits and environmental influences seem to be the most successful. This means a person could try out an activity and be good at it, thanks to genes. However, practice and other environmental factors like social encouragement and opportunities are essential to nurture the skill and make them more successful.
- Studies claim that genes could determine 40-50% of a person’s music ability.
- While many unidentified genes could contribute to a person’s musical ability, one particular gene of interest is the UDP Glycosyltransferase 8 (UGT8).
- The UGT8 gene controls the production of the 2-hydroxyacylsphingosine 1-beta-galactosyltransferase enzyme. This enzyme produces lipids that cover the myelin sheaths of nerves in the central nervous system.
- An SNP in the UGT8 gene may affect a person's musical ability and make them musically inclined or challenged.
- Factors like family support, practice hours, and other socioeconomic elements may also influence a person’s musical ability.