Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Musical Aptitude

When I was a child I took piano lessons from the ages of 7 to 13. I struggled with the piano and eventually gave it up. I regret that decision.

After a quarter of a century + reprieve from playing the piano, my wife and I recently purchased a used one in the hopes that our children might show an interest in playing. It's still early days, but a few nights a week the family is drawn into the living room to hear each of us play our own "creative works". It's great fun. And I believe music is an important part of a child's (and adult's) cognitive and imaginative development. With all the lures of today's technogadets (like cell phones, video games and facebook) I think it is important for children to be exposed to the cultural richness embodied in music and musical instruments.

Sadly I let the piano, and music more generally, fade away from my life from around my late teens till my late 30's. But with a piano now in the house, I am trying to rekindle my love of music.

Besides playing a few simple notes that are a hit with the kids (like the theme to Star Wars and Indiana Jones), I have, with the help of this guy, been able to learn one of my favourite songs ("100 Years") in just a week or so of practice. To amuse, rather than inspire!, my children I have recorded my own amateur efforts below and made this video (please refrain from laughing, I need encouragement and support not ridicule :))

Hopefully over time I can improve, learn some new songs and see if I can learn to read music (again).

Based on my own personal experience I think it is obvious that I do not possess a natural aptitude for music. But some people do. And this study in the latest issue of PLOS One found that there is a genetic association between musical aptitude and intrinsic attachment behavior. The study focused on 19 Finnish families (343 members) with professional musicians and/or active amateurs. "Creativity in music" is defined as composing, improvising and arranging music at high-level creative functions (which obviously excludes me!). The researchers discovered that creative functions in music have a strong genetic component (apologies to my kids, but there may be hope with my wife's genes!).

Here is the abstract of the article:

Artistic creativity forms the basis of music culture and music industry. Composing, improvising and arranging music are complex creative functions of the human brain, which biological value remains unknown. We hypothesized that practicing music is social communication that needs musical aptitude and even creativity in music. In order to understand the neurobiological basis of music in human evolution and communication we analyzed polymorphisms of the arginine vasopressin receptor 1A (AVPR1A), serotonin transporter (SLC6A4), catecol-O-methyltranferase (COMT), dopamin receptor D2 (DRD2) and tyrosine hydroxylase 1 (TPH1), genes associated with social bonding and cognitive functions in 19 Finnish families (n = 343 members) with professional musicians and/or active amateurs. All family members were tested for musical aptitude using the auditory structuring ability test (Karma Music test; KMT) and Carl Seashores tests for pitch (SP) and for time (ST). Data on creativity in music (composing, improvising and/or arranging music) was surveyed using a web-based questionnaire. Here we show for the first time that creative functions in music have a strong genetic component (h2 = .84; composing h2 = .40; arranging h2 = .46; improvising h2 = .62) in Finnish multigenerational families. We also show that high music test scores are significantly associated with creative functions in music (p<.0001). We discovered an overall haplotype association with AVPR1A gene (markers RS1 and RS3) and KMT (p = 0.0008; corrected p = 0.00002), SP (p = 0.0261; corrected p = 0.0072) and combined music test scores (COMB) (p = 0.0056; corrected p = 0.0006). AVPR1A haplotype AVR+RS1 further suggested a positive association with ST (p = 0.0038; corrected p = 0.00184) and COMB (p = 0.0083; corrected p = 0.0040) using haplotype-based association test HBAT. The results suggest that the neurobiology of music perception and production is likely to be related to the pathways affecting intrinsic attachment behavior.