For musicians, practice makes perfect, but genetics play a role

AFP Relax NewsJune 27, 2014

Researchers at Michigan State University tackled the age-old question of what makes a musician great and wound up partially refuting popular theories that geniuses aren't born but rather are created.

"The nature vs. nurture debate has raged since the beginning of psychology," says Zach Hambrick, MSU professor of psychology. "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."

Hambrick and his team conducted a study on 850 sets of twins, comparing fraternal and identical twins. Fraternal twins have a genetic composition that is 50 percent similar, while identical twins share 100 percent of their genes.

Researchers managed to refine at what level genes come into play in the development of genius, noting that propensity to practice was genetically influenced.

Accomplished musicians, they noted, were those who practiced the most, yet among the high achievers genes came into play, according to researchers.

"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," says Hambrick.

The study appears online in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.