Oliver James: Blame it on the boogie

Musicality tends to run in families.

What's more, within musical families not all offspring are equally good. They have the same parents, so surely this must be genes. How else, for example, could you explain the difference between Michael Jackson and his less talented siblings?

All the Jackson children suffered under a vicious father who thought nothing of thrashing and emotionally tyrannizing them. Michael was especially marked out for humiliation.

The oddity was that this reign of terror had a well-defined purpose - Jackson Senior was training his children. The Jackson Five spent all the hours when they were not at school being literally whipped into a top-class pop act.

Mixing with other children was strictly prohibited and after school they were required to return home immediately to rehearse until bedtime. They were thrashed if they showed any sign of resistance and Michael was required to achieve the highest standards and to practise the most. This is one of the reasons he turned out to be the most talented.

For, although it is often assumed that musical ability is inherited, there is abundant evidence that this is not in fact the case. Perfect pitch, the capacity to match notes perfectly, for example, is now thought to be in all of us at birth.

Nurture also plays a critical role, as is borne out by the fact that children who are highly musical were sung to more as infants (and foetuses) and encouraged more to join in song games as toddlers than less musical ones. This was long before any innate musical ability could have been evident.

Studies of classical musicians prove that the best ones, the soloists, practised considerably more from childhood onwards than ordinary orchestral players. This was because their parents had been pestering them to put in the hours from very early ages. The best violinists at a music school, for instance, were found to have averaged twice as many hours practice by the age of 21 compared to the less good ones.

The same was true of children selected for entry to specialist music schools. Those children who were successful had parents who had actively supervised music lessons and daily practice from very early on, giving up substantial periods of their leisure time to transport their children to and from lessons, concerts and so on.

Early on in life, these children had been moulded by their parents as 'musical' and had internalised this label.

Jackson's story, albeit unusually brutal, bears this out. On top of his extra ability, Jackson also had more drive. This may have been the result of being the closest of his siblings to his mother. Just as his father picked him out for particular violence, his mother likewise regarded him as unique. 'He seemed different to me from the other children - special,' she said. She may not have realised that treating him as special may have been part of the reason he became so.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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