Musical genes

Published: Tuesday 15 April 1997

After studying over 500 budding musicians, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, believe that while early musical training is an important factor in the ability to recognise musical notes, genes also play a vital role. The team leader, Nelson Freimer, says that it is a classic case where nature and nurture are necessary. His team found that 50 per cent of the subjects who began their musical training before the age of six had perfect pitch, compared with just two per cent of those whose lessons did not start until after the age of six.

But the researchers found evidence that perfect pitch can be inherited. Half the people with perfect pitch knew of other family members with the same ability, compared to just five per cent in the musicians who lacked perfect pitch. The researchers were struck by the ability of the perfect pitchers to recognise musical notes accurately because of their ability to identify 29 out of 30 notes played randomly.

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