Musical ability - Nature or Nurture?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by vonny, Jun 15, 2005.

  1. vonny

    vonny Member

    I am particulary interested in the area of the nature, nurture debate. As part of my psychology degree i decided to conduct my final year project research on 'musical ability and the family link'.

    I learned to play the cornet from an early age, i remember that none of my brothers nor sisters were musicially inclined, which i put down to, 'i was interested' and they wasn't!
    I excelled and within my first 18 months i did my first graded exam - grade 3 practical. Myself and my family were very proud of my achievements so far. From the ages of 11 until 14 i played in the yp Salvation Army band which i enjoyed imensley. However, soon after my 14th birthday i left the army, and my music...
    Many years later i decided to go back into playing again, and joined a brass band. I remember at the first rehearsal being particulary nervous because i hadn't played in such a long time. However, i picked up a cornet and began to blow... and to my amazement i was able to produce an excellent sound, and even play a little tune. During the passing weeks, i found myself becoming more and more interested in playing and decided to continue in banding (which almost a year and a half later i am still).

    I would be interested to know what other people feel about the nature, nurture detabe, in-particular whether musical ability is socially contructed (nature) or innately constructed (nurture)??
    I believe, and through experience, that musical ability is predominantly innate, and that social influence builds upon what already exists.

    Yvonne :)
  2. meandmycornet

    meandmycornet Active Member

    Haven't you got them the wrong way round? surely if your musical because you've been brought up with music and had the opportunity to learn an instrument thats nuture? and if you born with musical ability then thats nature? probably just a typo or me getting confused :confused:
  3. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    As you have probably found out from your studies, it is an impossible question to answer, just like theories about the basis of intelligence (remember Burt's contraversal research?). Only thing I can think where music applies from an evolutionary perspective is our ability to imitate the sounds of nature, whether it stems from attracting prey or for our survival (i.e., defence). Artistic pursuits has often been associated with abstract social behaviour, such as attracting mates to outrival competition. However, my personal view is that individuals like to be in control of certain things in their life and if the physical attributes help pursuing that goal, it is self-reinforcing. Any limits to that learning curve (and it might be found at any point) may stop any progress and halt the enthusiasm and activity. This applies to most things and not just music. Not enough is known about genetic constraints for complex temporal/physical things like music-making, and it is generally based on hypothetical and narrow-field experimental tests.
  4. vonny

    vonny Member

    I certainly have got them the wrong way around, thank you very much for pointing that out! I am actually sat here writing messages whilst at work so not fully concentrating. Ooops and also, i know now why i had to resit my personality and developmental exam :)

  5. meandmycornet

    meandmycornet Active Member

    wow does that mean i learnt something in psychology lessons? I am impressed with myself :D
  6. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Basically the question asked is if musicians are born with a sort of hard-wired musical ability (nature, genetic, inherent etc.) or whether it has to be learned and influenced by our environment or upbringing (nurture, developmental, cognitive/operant learning etc.)?
  7. flower girl

    flower girl Member

    i think its nurture, mainly because none of my blood relatives can play musical instruments, however, i believe that how creative or academic you are is down to nature.
  8. tubafran

    tubafran Active Member

    Just to add a specific example of one of the reasons nature might be seen to be the reason people play but in fact it is probably more likely to be nurture.

    On Sunday we held a Young Persons' Brass Workshop and invited school children who currently play and those that might be interested. What was obvious was that just about every parent of those that came along had played instruments themselves (even violins and clarinets)

    So here we have a defined link between people that were already playing or thinking about playing back to parents that used to play. So what's that then nature or nurture?
  9. andyp

    andyp Active Member

    I think it's a combination of both. Not many people are completely without musical ability (although they seem to be able to find them unerringly for TV reality shows!), but if they haven't much no amount of nurturing will make them good at music. How many "celebrites" have professional voice coaching and still sound dire?
    The number of families in bands is some proof that it "runs in the family", mind you some of that is down to "if you can't beat them join them"! I was the first in our family to start brass, but my parents both played the piano/organ before that. My brother joined the band, then my dad started because he was there anyway and fancied a go. Only my mum resisted the temptation!
    It does depend which branch of music you go into, though. I can't sing for toffee, my 2 year old daughter is far better than me (gets it from her mother, obviously), and judging by the amount of banging around she does, her little sister's going to be a percussionist..........!
  10. lynchie

    lynchie Active Member

    Well there's never been a brass player in my family as far as I know, and in the last 3 generations there's been a total of 2 pianists, so I'm hoping it's nurture! I think it helps to have a parent who is a player because they can give you help when you're learning, and you can go and watch them and be inspired. Also, for a long time I didn't know what a brass band was, but I guess that's more down to music teachers at school not wanting to get me into that sort of thing...
  11. vonny

    vonny Member

    I would have a tendency to lean against that theory that it's probably a combination of both nature and nurture that constructs musical ability

    Although my parents and brothers sisters are not musical my two daughters are


    Eccles Borough Band
  12. meandmycornet

    meandmycornet Active Member

    It definately a mixture of both, cos my mum is musical and my dad doesn't have a musical bone in his body! My brother and I were encouraged musically from an early age by both parents but it was mum who got us into brass banding! Although I don't think I could have been born into a more brassy musical family! My great uncle Jack Clayton was a brass teacher and conductor and taught all the family to play so everyone in my family at some point in their life has played a brass instrument or played in a brass band!

    Ooooh and Vonny, how long have you played in Eccles Borough? my mum (liz loftus) used to play for them about 15/16 years ago!
  13. vonny

    vonny Member

    fiona i have been with eccles about 4 months, so i'm a newbie! Val who has been with eccles forever;) will probably know your mum - i will mention it to her at the next practice.



    Eccles Borough Band
  14. Meg

    Meg Member

    My parents aren't overly muscial, although they learnt the basics as children. My two older brothers and I were all encouraged to play from an early age, first the piano, then brass instruments. Now, the interesting part is that one of my brothers was adopted by my parents at three months old and despite having exactly the same lessons as myself and my oldest brother he really wasn't much cop! Pretty painful to listen to in fact! He took early retirement from music at the age of ten and is now a navigator on Tornados in the RAF. My oldest brother on the other hand was pretty handy on Eb bass and as for me, well, I try! This doesn't prove anything of course, but I thought it was an interesting point.
  15. sevenhelz

    sevenhelz Active Member

    my mother sings but my dad claims not to be musical. my brother and sister did play instruments years ago, in fact my brother played euphonium, saxophone and french horn. so the musicality itself could run in the family, or could be taught - but an ear for pitch etc is surely natural? also, i could never get a note out of wind instruments at all so i am naturally suited for brass! don't quite know what my point was but it's an interesting debate.
  16. Naomi McFadyen

    Naomi McFadyen New Member

    My music abilities are definatly nature based... My parents are both musical. My father playing piano/ keyboards, and then after I started banding he took up trombone... My mother playing guitar (or at least, she used to)

    My brother and I started learning piano at the same time when we were kids...
    I then ventured onto various different instruments as time went on... I won't go into all that...

    I am however, the only one in my family who has taken music on further and having it as a career. Also, I believe I'm the first in my family to be playing in a brass band, although my grandpa had a love for them when he was alive...
  17. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I don't know whether that is necessarily a true conclusion to draw: as the family were musical, presumably there was lots of music played and heard, and various instruments around to tinker around with, and it could be that someone placed in that environment from an early age, such as by adoption or fostering, could have picked up music in the same way, regardless of any inbred talent.
  18. vonny

    vonny Member

    hi peter!

    I found your post interesting to read, and i believe that if you place an individual into a particular situation from an early age they may prosper.... However, i remember that one of my sisters 'attempted' to learn the cornet from an early age, but she didn't improve, even though she had many, many lessons like me. I guess, there will never be a clear cut answer, but it certainly gives us 'pause for thought'...


    Eccles Borough Band
  19. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    Can individuals be genetically modified to become super-musicians? Does a person's ethnic background produce variants in musical ability across cultures? That retarded children tend to appreciate music more than anything else suggest musicians are the same? Is there a gene that causes individuals to play one type of instrument rather than another? Is the number '42' the answer to 'Life, the Universe & Everything'? Hmmmm!
  20. Sonny Barker

    Sonny Barker Member

    Nurture - definately.

    Exposing the developing infants brain to musical stimuli lays down the neurological pathways that make music-making 'easy' in later life. This 'later-life' musical ability may seem inspired and come from nowhere (often described as a 'gift'), but it is the early exposure to music that makes it possible.

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