| News

The Genetics of Music Aptitude

Multiple regions in the human genome are reported to be linked to musical aptitude

A picture of a dj by Vicktor Hanacek

Sorry mate, it’s not that I don’t want to listen to your ‘banging, but, like, really groundbreaking’, beats mixtape.

It’s jut that I have a genetic condition that means I can’t appreciate it anyway.


Multiple regions in the human genome are reported to be linked to musical aptitude, according to a study published this week in Molecular Psychiatry. The function of the candidate genes implicated in the study ranges from inner-ear development to auditory neurocognitive processes, suggesting that musical aptitude is affected by a combination of genes involved in the auditory pathway. The research was funded by the Academy of Finland.

Specialised hair cells

The perception of music starts with specialised hair cells in the inner ear, which transmit sounds as electronic signals through the auditory pathway to the auditory cortex, where sounds are primarily recognised. In addition to simple sensory perception, the processing of music has been shown to affect multiple other regions of the brain that play a role in emotion, learning and memory.

The genomes of 767 people, belonging to 76 families characterised by the ability to discriminate pitch, duration and sound patterns, were analysed for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP). The best association was found at chromosome 3 close to the GATA2 gene that regulates the development of cochlear hair cells and the inferior colliculus (IC) in the auditory pathway.

Pitch perception accuracyA picture of a dj by Vicktor Hanacek

The best linkage results were obtained on chromosome 4, which contains five genes, PCHD7, PDGFRA, KCTD8, CHRNA9 and PHOX2B, that all affect inner-ear development and are expressed in amydala or hippocampus. The highest probability of linkage was obtained for pitch perception accuracy next to the protocadherin 7 gene, PCDH7, known to be expressed in cochlear and amygdaloid complexes. Amygdala is the emotional center of the human brain and is reported to be affected by music.

The researchers note that musical aptitude is a complex behavioural trait not fully captured by the sound perception tests used in this study, and that environmental factors, such as culture and music education, likely play an important role here. The findings provide a valuable background for molecular studies and research on the interplay of genes and the environment with respect to musical ability.

Source: Academy of FinlandImage: Vicktor Hanacek

Comments are closed.

Our weekly newsletter

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.