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Updated 09 July 2014

Nature and nurture contribute to musical expertise

The desire to devote long hours to your music may lie in your DNA, a study suggests.

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Chopin, Vivaldi and Bach may have had natural musical talent, and then some. A new study suggests accomplished musicians are genetically programmed to commit to the long hours of practice needed to become skilled musicians.

The findings add to growing evidence that both nature and nurture help develop expertise, according to the researchers.

Read: Playing an instrument boosts youngsters' brains

"The nature versus nurture debate has raged since the beginning of psychology," study leader Zach Hambrick, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, said in a university news release. "This makes it very clear that it's both. Not only in the sense that both nature and nurture contribute, but that they interact with each other."

Practice makes perfect


He and his colleagues looked at 850 sets of twins and found that accomplished musicians practiced much more than those who didn't attain the same level of musical skill, according to the study published online in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

By comparing identical twins (who share 100 percent of their genes) and fraternal twins (who share 50 percent of their genes), the researchers concluded that an inclination to practice more was driven partly by genetics.

In terms of musical achievement, they also found that genes had a larger effect on those who practiced than on those who didn't.

Read: Early musical training benefits the brain later in life

The findings challenge the widely held view that a lack of natural ability can be overcome with enough practice and/or training, according to the study authors.

"Contrary to the view that genetic effects go away as you practice more and more, we found that genes become more important in accounting for differences across people in music performance as they practice," Hambrick said.

More information

The University of Washington offers an overview of music and the brain.

Read more:

Music doesn't hurt driving performance
Mellow music may stave off road rage
Music therapy helps young cancer patients cope better

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