People who can learn a tune more easily have higher intelligence, new research suggests.
People with higher IQs were able to learn to play “Happy Birthday” on the piano more accurately in the study.
Whether or not people believed they could improve did not seem to matter.
Instead, pure intelligence predicted how well they did, not a ‘growth mindset’.
A growth mindset is a belief that basic abilities can be improved through hard work.
Musical aptitude was the only other factor that mattered, said Mr Alexander Burgoyne, the study’s first author:
“The strongest predictor of skill acquisition was intelligence, followed by music aptitude.
By contrast, the correlation between growth mindset and piano performance was about as close to zero as possible.”
The study included 171 people who had little or no experience playing the piano.
All were given tests of their mindset and their intelligence.
They followed a video guide that taught them to play “Happy Birthday”, which contained 25 notes.
Afterwards they were rated on their performance of the simple song.
The results showed that IQ mattered most in predicting who did well.
When IQ was taken into account, even musical aptitude paled into insignificance.
Mr Burgoyne said:
“The results were surprising, because people have claimed that mindset plays an important role when students are confronted with challenges, like trying to learn a new musical instrument.
And yet, it didn’t predict skill acquisition.”
There were also some interesting patterns in the results:
- Some learned quickly within six minutes.
- Some were poor at first, but soon improved.
- Some faded away as they lost motivation.
- The rest could not work it out at all.
Mr Burgoyne said:
“Our study examined one of the earliest stages of skill acquisition.
Early experiences can be formative, but I would caution against drawing conclusions about skilled musicians based on our study of beginners.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Intelligence (Burgoyne et al., 2019).