Researchers associate general intelligence with musical skill acquisition

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At Michigan State University (MSU), new research determined that general intelligence could be a major factor in how quickly people learn to play music. The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Intelligence.

“The study may be the first to examine the relationship between intelligence, music aptitude and growth mindset in beginner pianists,” according to an MSU news release. “Growth mindset refers to whether students believe they can improve basic abilities, like piano ability.”

The primary aim of the study was to establish why some people learn music more faster than others. To reach a conclusion, 171 undergraduate students enlisted to take part in a number of experiments involving the piano.

At the start of the study, the participants had little to no experience playing the piano. They were instructed to learn a piece of piano music by watching a video-guide then practicing what was learned from it.

The end result was to identify which participants were able to perform the piece from memory.

Researchers examined the melodic and rhythmic accuracy of their performances, while also testing working memory capacity, general intelligence, and music aptitude.

Based on the results, “Measures of general intelligence and music aptitude correlated significantly with skill acquisition, but mindset did not,” wrote Lauren Harris, the study’s co-author. “Structural equation modeling revealed that general intelligence, music aptitude, and mindset together accounted for 22.4% of the variance in skill acquisition.”

The findings indicated that mindset did not predict skill acquisition, a surprising revelation for researchers.

“We also found that openness to experience did not significantly predict skill acquisition or music aptitude,” Harris added. “Overall, the results suggest that after accounting for individual differences in general intelligence, music aptitude and mindset do not predict piano skill acquisition in beginners.”