Practice Does Not Make Perfect – No Causal Effect of Music Practice on Music Ability

Table of Contents


The relative importance of nature and nurture for various forms of expertise has been intensely debated. Music proficiency is viewed as a general model for expertise, and associations between deliberate practice and music proficiency have been interpreted as supporting the prevailing idea that long-term deliberate practice inevitably results in increased music ability. Here, we examined the associations (rs = .18-.36) between music practice and music ability (rhythm, melody, and pitch discrimination) in 10,500 Swedish twins. We found that music practice was substantially heritable (40%򐮂%). Associations between music practice and music ability were predominantly genetic, and, contrary to the causal hypothesis, nonshared environmental influences did not contribute. There was no difference in ability within monozygotic twin pairs differing in their amount of practice, so that when genetic predisposition was controlled for, more practice was no longer associated with better music skills. These findings suggest that music practice may not causally influence music ability and that genetic variation among individuals affects both ability and inclination to practice.



Miriam A. Mosing1
Guy Madison2
Nancy L. Pedersen3
Ralf Kuja-Halkola3
Fredrik Ullén1
1Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet
2Department of Psychology, Umeå University
3Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet
Miriam A. Mosing, Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Retzius v 8, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden E-mail:
Author Contributions M. A. Mosing developed the study concept, analyzed the data, interpreted the results, and drafted the manuscript. The study was designed and data were collected by G. Madison and F. Ullén. R. Kuja-Halkola and N. L. Pedersen provided statistical advice. All authors provided critical revisions and approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.


The assertion that “practice does not make perfect” in the context of music ability challenges the commonly held belief that intensive practice and training lead to significant improvements in musical skills and performance. This assertion is based on a study or body of research that suggests there is no causal relationship between the amount of music practice an individual engages in and their level of musical ability.

While it’s important to critically evaluate research findings and consider alternative perspectives, particularly in fields as complex as skill acquisition and expertise development, it’s also essential to recognize that the relationship between practice and skill acquisition is multifaceted and influenced by various factors:

1. **Nature vs. Nurture**: The debate over the relative contributions of innate talent versus deliberate practice to skill development is longstanding. While some individuals may have a natural predisposition or aptitude for music, the extent to which this innate talent can be realized and refined through practice remains a topic of debate.

2. **Quality of Practice**: Not all practice is created equal. The effectiveness of practice depends on factors such as the quality of instruction, the specificity of practice tasks, the level of engagement and motivation, and the presence of feedback and guidance. Deliberate practice, characterized by focused and structured training with clear goals and feedback, is often cited as essential for skill improvement.

3. **Individual Differences**: People vary widely in their response to practice and their rate of skill acquisition. Factors such as age, cognitive abilities, personality traits, and prior musical experience can all influence how individuals learn and progress in music.

4. **Longitudinal Studies**: Longitudinal studies tracking individuals over extended periods can provide valuable insights into the relationship between practice and skill development. By examining how practice patterns correlate with changes in musical ability over time, researchers can better understand the dynamics of skill acquisition and expertise development.

5. **Contextual Factors**: The social, cultural, and educational contexts in which individuals engage in music practice can also shape their development as musicians. Access to resources, opportunities for performance and collaboration, and the support of peers and mentors all play a role in fostering musical growth.

In summary, while the assertion that “practice does not make perfect” challenges conventional wisdom, it’s essential to consider the nuances of skill acquisition and expertise development in music. Further research, including rigorous experimental studies and longitudinal investigations, can help shed light on the complex interplay between practice, talent, and musical ability.

Leave a Comment