Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the famous pianist and composer said, “If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it.” Paderewski was certainly serious when he said this since he was known to practice for hours, and so did Chopin, who used to shut himself up in a room before concerts to fine-tune his skill.

Several such examples of hard-working famous musicians brings up the age-old question of whether environment or genetics help people become proficient in their field. Well, according to new research, while nurture will help you along the way, it's nature that pushes you to your goal. This conclusion was arrived upon after Zach Hambrick, professor of psychology at Michigan State University (MSU), conducted a study of 850 sets of twins. According to him, the combined effect of both genetics and environment influenced expertise in people.

"The nature vs. nurture debate has raged since the beginning of psychology," Hambrick said  in a press release. "This makes it very clear that it's both. Not only in the sense that both nature and nurture contribute, but that they interact with each other."

But the specific role of genetics was confirmed by the study with the following theories:

  • Talented musicians spent significantly more time perfecting their skill than their less talented counterparts.
  • That propensity to practice was fueled partly by genetics, which the researchers were able to establish by comparing identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, with fraternal twins, who share 50 percent of their genes. The findings suggest genetics influence the sorts of activities we pursue.
  • When it came to musical talent, genes had a bigger influence on those who practiced than those who didn’t.           

This research challenges previous studies, such as the 10,000 hours rule, which according to author Malcolm Gladwell, is “the magic number of greatness,” regardless of a person’s natural aptitude and will help a person to become accomplished in any field, even music and the theory put forth by K.Ercisson that many innate talents displayed by artists are a result of intense practice.

But this research states that musicians who practiced and became successful were blessed with genes that pushed them to do so. For those who didn’t practice, there was no genetic contribution. "Contrary to the view that genetic effects go away as you practice more and more," Hambrick said, "we found that genes become more important in accounting for differences across people in music performance as they practice."

 

Source: Hambrick D, Elliot M. The genetics of music accomplishment: Evidence for gene–environment correlation and interaction, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 2014.