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Music: Gift, or learned skill?

Posted at 10:25 AM on February 19, 2008 by Gillian Martin (3 Comments)

An article in yesterday's New Scientist magazine states that "Yet more evidence has emerged that musicians are made through training, not born with the gift." (See the article here.)

This assertion is based on brain scans that show that specific areas of a musician’s brain increase activity when the musician hears his/her own instrument.

“If the brain's response to the music were decided by genetics, [the researchers] argue, brain scans would be similar in all musicians listening to music, regardless of the instruments played.”

I think it is undeniable that some people are more inherently musical than others. (For example, I only recently learned that some of my friends do NOT constantly have music playing in their heads.)

I also know that less-musically inclined people can become more musical with training and repeated exposures to music. But to suggest that musicians are made ONLY through training, not “born with the gift”? Ridiculous.

What do you think?


Comments (3)

I have had an ongoing argument with a friend of mine about this very topic. I am a violinist who started music lessons (on piano) when I was three years old. I have always felt that music is something that can be taught and not something that is innate. I certainly think that some people have more of an interest in music, and, physically, some people might be more suited towards specific instruments and abilities, but, all in all, music, and the playing of an instrument, is nothing more than learning a different language.

My friend, however, who has tried for many years to become proficient at the guitar and make sense of "all of those things that look like golf clubs on the page", disagrees with me wholeheartedly.

Looks like science might be on my side this time!

Posted by Amy | February 19, 2008 2:27 PM


But Kim, I think your friend's story scores a point for my side--that some people have it, and some people don't.

(And not everybody who has it has it in equal measure--sure, I have music in my head all the time, but despite a B.A. in music and years of singing in choirs, I still can't sight read to save my life.)

Posted by Gillian Martin | February 19, 2008 4:09 PM


Being a professional musician, I have worked with musicians without any innate talent that have become proficient through hard work. I've also worked with musicians with talent, that have also worked hard to become, and remain professionals. I would say that those without talent lack a certain musical common sense that those with talent are either born with, or develop through listening and playing. The hard workers, even without talent can surpass their talented colleagues on a technical level, but will always lack musicality, which is difficult if not impossible to learn.

Posted by Michael | February 19, 2008 4:36 PM