A rock star has his left hand in the air, with a microphone in the opposite hand. Music talent has a significant genetic component.
Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

Born to Perform: How Genetics Affects Musical Ability and Potential

A new study is the first to find brain structure in infants predicting musical aptitude.

Michael Hunter, MD
Published in
5 min readMar 23

A NEW STUDY IS THE FIRST to reveal neurobiological predispositions for musical talent. Infant brain structure predicts musical aptitude. We already know that the brains of musicians and non-musicians differ by imaging. Moreover, musicians demonstrate greater neuroplasticity, with a greater ability to change and adapt to life experiences. Today we explore how genetics affects musical ability and potential.

What about the brain before any formal musical training? We need more information. The new study aims to discover if there are neurobiological predispositions for musical talent — in infancy.

“If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! It had a dying fall:
O, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more:
’Tis not so sweet now as it was before.
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou,
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there,
Of what validity and pitch soe’er,
But falls into abatement and low price,
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.”

― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

Is musical ability pre-determined?

How much of musical ability is inherited? There are strong genetic components to musical ability and inability. Let’s look at some evidence.

Photomicrograph of double-stranded DNA. The infant brain has a scaffolding that helps to determine musical aptitude.
Photo by ANIRUDH on Unsplash



Michael Hunter, MD

I have degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Penn. I am a radiation oncologist in the Seattle area. You may find me regularly posting at www.newcancerinfo.com