Let's talk aboutMusical Pitch & Genetics

While the ability to hear a musical note and sing it back comes naturally for some, it’s almost impossible for others. When it comes to matching a song note for note, genetics may play a role.

How it works

Let’s say you’re driving and your favorite song comes on the radio. You hear the opening notes and sing along. It may seem simple, but matching a musical pitch is actually quite complicated. After you hear a note, your brain identifies (or attempts to identify) the pitch and decides which vocal muscles are needed to produce a similar sound. As you sing, your brain identifies the new pitch, determines if it matches, and adjusts the vocal muscles if needed. Keep in mind that this coordinated dance between your brain and vocal cords happens while you may be doing another activity at the same time. Sounds impressive, right?

The genetic link

Why do some people have musical aptitude, such as the ability to match pitch, and other people don’t? In a recent study, 23andMe researchers found 529 genetic markers associated with the ability to match pitch. While these scientists aren’t quite sure which genes are involved, they hope to find more clues.

music notes

Did you know?

The ability to match musical pitch probably depends on both nature and nurture. Early exposure to music, as well as training, can bring out the best of someone’s natural ability to carry a tune.

Explore more

Can you belt out with the best of them or do you limit your singing skills to the shower? Don’t let your genetics hold you back from singing if that’s your jam. But if you’re curious, 23andMe’s Health + Ancestry Service can help you find out what your genes have to say about your ability to match musical pitch.

Health + Ancestry Service Kit

Health + Ancestry Service

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23andMe Blog (2012, September 11). “Ancestral Traits.” Retrieved November 1, 2018, from https://blog.23andme.com/23andme-and-you/12207/.

Furlotte NA et al. (2015). “23andMe White Paper 23-12: Estimating complex phenotype prevalence using predictive models.” 23andMe White Paper 23-12.

Hall DA et al. (2009). “Pitch processing sites in the human auditory brain.” Cereb Cortex. 19(3):576-85.

Hutchins S et al. (2011). “Perception and action in singing.” Prog Brain Res. 191:103-18.