Musical Talent in Beethoven’s Genes

The recent surprising genetic findings from the Max Planck Institute

Are we born with our talents? Can specific genes contribute to our success in an area?  These are questions that have recently occupied scientists’ minds, specifically regarding musical talent. In March 2024, a group of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics researched this enigma by analyzing Ludwig Van Beethoven’s musical genes (1). One of the great Viennese classical composers, Beethoven is famous for composing many tunes still popular today, like “Ode to Joy” and “Für Elise” (2).

A depiction of Beethoven, often considered one of the greatest classical music of all time (Source Credit:

The Planck Institute’s studies span a wide variety of disciplines, including psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics. This specific study on Beethoven’s genes emerges from a renewed interest in how genetics influenced the famed classical composer’s successes and failures. Just last year, for instance, Tristan Begg, a Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge, researched the link between Beethoven’s genetics and his hearing difficulties, as reported by NPR (3). While Begg focused on the science behind Beethoven’s disabilities, the Planck Institute focused on another factor that may have driven his success: genetics (1). 

To conduct their study, the researchers examined a specific biological trait correlated with musical abilities like beat synchronization. Beat synchronization is a musical trait that allows one to play rhythms precisely as notated in a musical score. The team then used the genome-wide association study (GWAS) methodology to analyze their data, which aims to associate genetic variants in the human genome with certain traits (4). The researchers obtained all of the necessary genetic material from a sample of Beethoven’s hair. The scientists used their tests on Beethoven to assign him a polygenic score, a numerical indicator of an individual’s predisposition for certain traits (1). Then, the results were compared to a normal modern population sample. Contrary to their expectations, the researchers calculated Beethoven’s polygenic score to be shockingly low. In comparison with the modern population sample, Beethoven’s relative score was between the 9th and 11th percentile (4). 

However, scientists on the team caution against excessive interpretation of the results. Simon Fisher, a senior co-author of the paper who was present in the lab, emphasizes, “It would be wrong to conclude from Beethoven’s low polygenic score that his musical abilities were unexceptional.” (1) By extension, Fisher claims that one should be skeptical of how accurately genetic tests can predict people’s future capabilities (1, 4). 

At the same time, these doubts do not completely invalidate the accuracy and usefulness of genetic tests. The institute notes how prior studies have found an average 42% heritability rate—the extent to which a trait can be linked to genetics—for musicality (1). Thus, as is often the case with the complex science of genetics, the questions of “musical impulse” and “natural talent” will only provoke further investigation in the years to come.


  1. Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. (2024, March 25). Music and Genomes: Beethoven’s Gene Put to the Test. Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. Retrieved from
  2. Knapp, Raymond L., Budden, Julian Medforth. (2024, March 23). Ludwig van Beethoven. Britannica Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
  3. Daniel, Ari. (2023, March 22). Scientists sequence Beethoven’s genomes for clues into his painful past. NPR. Retrieved  from
  4. Lopez, John. (2024, March 26). Researchers Tested Beethoven’s DNA, Here’s What They Found Out. Tech Times. Retrieved from