Musical abilities are not determined solely by genes – according to researchers, this can also be seen in the example of Ludwig van Beethoven. When it comes to musicality, its genes did not differ from other population samples, as the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics announced on Tuesday in Frankfurt am Main.

An international team of researchers analyzed DNA sequences obtained from strands of the composer’s hair for a study published in 2023. From this they calculated an indicator of the genetic predisposition to time synchronization – an ability that is closely linked to musicality.

Beethoven, one of the most famous musicians in history, had an unremarkable genetic indicator of musicality compared to population samples from the Swedish Karolinska Institute and the US Vanderbilt University. At the same time, the researchers pointed out the limited informative value of such a so-called polygenic score. In addition, an indicator of the ability to synchronize time does not directly indicate Beethoven’s compositional skills, i.e. his musical creativity.

“It would of course be wrong to conclude from Beethoven’s low polygenic score that his musical abilities were not exceptional,” explained MPI study co-author Simon Fisher. The huge discrepancy between this DNA-based prediction and Beethoven’s musical genius is “a valuable lesson.” For example, if someone claims that a genetic test can reliably determine whether a child will be particularly talented in music or in another area, skepticism is appropriate.

The researchers emphasized that their study was in no way intended to question the influence of DNA on a person’s musical talent. Previous studies have shown that on average 42 percent of musicality is inherited. However, using DNA data to predict the abilities or behavior of individuals remains inaccurate.