Musicality test reveals UK's 'untapped talent'

Adele singing at the Grammys Adele studied at the Brit School of performing arts

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You might have more musical talent than you realise.

Results from a BBC experiment that tests musical skill suggest that many people who have not had formal training still have musical ability.

And talent is not influenced by age, sex or occupation either. The test indicated people from all walks of life underestimate their music potential.

Dr Daniel Mullensiefen of Goldsmiths College, who led the study, said some of the findings were surprising.

'Utterly musical'

How musical are you?

Jessie J singing
  • Takes 25 minutes on a computer with sound
  • Test your rhythm, music memory and knowledge

"Many people seem to over or underestimate their musical abilities," he explained.

"In addition to that, there doesn't seem to be a very good correlation between people who make money from music and their musicality. There might be people out there who are utterly musical, but don't do anything with that skill or haven't fully developed it."

BBC Lab UK's experiment, called How Musical Are You?, was launched in January 2011 and has been taken by more than 150,000 people, making it the largest ever investigation into the musical profile of an entire nation.

The results suggest those who had undertaken a lot of musical training were better at remembering melodies and tapping out a beat in time than those without musical training, but they were not better when it came to detecting subtle differences in sound.

There are cases of people whose hidden talent was spotted by accident and then went on to have successful careers in music.

A recent example is the singer-songwriter Ester Dean, who has written hit songs for the likes of Rihanna and Katy Perry, and was discovered when she was in the crowd at a concert and a producer overheard her singing along with the band which was on stage.

Adele and Jessie J

Harnessing natural musical talent can be done by spending "quality time" experiencing music in as many different ways as possible, Dr Mullensiefen said.

"It doesn't have to be classical piano training where you lock yourself in a room and spend hours not talking to anyone else.

"It can also be getting together with friends and making music, singing or jamming. Or if you're not even playing, putting on records together with friends and exchanging ideas about music and exploring new music."

That style of collaboration and being open to different types of music is a philosophy already used at the Brit School of performing arts and technology in Croydon, south London, whose former students include the likes of Amy Winehouse, Adele and Jessie J.

"We don't create talent, we pass on industry knowledge and skills to enhance their own talent," said Arthur Boulton, a teacher at the Brit School.

"We get the students to attend auditions, work with other people, get out performing and listening to different types of music."

Musical sophistication

Start Quote

There might be people out there who are utterly musical, but don't do anything with that skill or haven't fully developed it”

End Quote Dr Daniel Mullensiefen Goldsmiths College

An all around appreciation of music - or "musical sophistication" - is the definition of musicality, according to Dr Mullensiefen.

"There are many facets of music ability that are highly relevant that aren't covered by traditional musical training," he said.

"So if you think, for example, about a DJ or people working at an advertising agency working with music they need to have a good understanding of the mood and the feel and the texture of the music and how it fits to a certain situation.

"All of these skills can be highly relevant and you can get better at them, yet musical training in the traditional sense doesn't equip you at all in dealing with music that way."

'Everybody's a musician'

But some of the negatives associated with traditional music learning have been addressed with the modern approach teaching music in schools, which is more informal and collaborative, said Dr James Garnett, who is the chair of the National Association of Music Educators.

"School is the one place where all people are given an opportunity to learn music," he said. "Now schools are trying to capture why teenagers learn instruments and join bands."

Garnett believes that this approach ties in strongly with the Dr. Mullensiefen's findings.

"The philosophy behind music teaching is that everybody is a musician."

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