10,000 Hours & Genes: Does Practice Make Perfect?

An article from the July 5th – 11th 2014 Economist:

“TO MASTER the violin takes 10,000 hours of practice. Put in that time and expertise will follow. This, at least, is what many music teachers – following Malcolm Gladwell’s prescription for achieving expertise in almost any field by applying the requisite amount of effort – tell their pupils. Psychologists are more sceptical. Some agree practice truly is the thing that separates experts from novices, but others suspect genes play a role, too, and that without the right genetic make-up even 20,000 hours of practice would be pointless.

A study just published in Psychological Science, by Miriam Mosing of the Karolinska Institute, in Sweden, suggests that the sceptics are right. Practising music without the right genes to back that practice up is indeed useless.”

Read more at: The Economist.

Original Research Paper

Psychometric Properties and Heritability of a New Online Test for Musicality, The Swedish Musical Discrimination Test.


The researchers examined, in 6881 twin individuals, the psychometric properties of a new test (the Swedish Musical Discrimination Test, SMDT) that was developed to tap auditory discrimination of musical stimuli.


The SMDT consists of three subtests measuring discrimination of melodies, rhythms, and single pitches, respectively. Mean test taking times for the subtests were 3.0–4.6 min.


Reliability and internal consistency were good with Cronbach’s alpha values and Spearman–Brown split-half reliabilities between .79 and .89. Subtests correlated positively (r values .27–.41). Criterion validity was demonstrated in three ways: individuals that had played a musical instrument scored higher than individuals that had not (Cohen’s d .38–.63); individuals that had taken music lessons scored higher than individuals that had not (Cohen’s d .35–.60); finally, total hours of musical training and SMDT scores correlated (r values .14–.28) among those participants that had played an instrument. Lastly, twin modelling revealed moderate heritability estimates for the three sub-scales.


The researchers conclude that the SMDT has good psychometric characteristics, short test taking time, and may serve as a useful complement to existing tests of musical ability.


Ullen, F., Mosing, M.A., Holm, L., Eriksson, H. & Madison, G. (2014) Psychometric Properties and Heritability of a New Online Test for Musicality, The Swedish Musical Discrimination Test. Personality and Individual Differences. 63, pp.87-93. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/260296257_Psychometric_properties_and_heritability_of_a_new_online_test_for_musicality_the_Swedish_Musical_Discrimination_Test. [Accessed: 13 July, 2014].


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