HEINER GEMBRIS & JANE W. DAVIDSON
Environmental and genetic factors affect individual development from fetus to adult, both generally and in the case of music. We consider the difference between shared and nonshared environmental influences, and different types of interaction between the individual and environment. Parents, teachers, and peers strongly influence this development. Early nonverbal interactions between child and mother or caretaker, and parental support for music activities in childhood, seem to be of particular importance. These and other influences (e.g., exposure to music through the media) occur in the more general framework of the societal, historical, and generational context. Environmental conditions for musical development may be optimized by paying more attention to shared music experiences between child and parents (e.g., parent-baby singing), and exposing the child to a wide variety of music.
The origin of human abilities has been discussed since antiquity, and the possession and development of musical skills in Western culture has intrigued educationalists and psychologists for well over a century. Theories and beliefs about the relative influence of nature and nurture have dominated the discussion. When we assess the literature on the topic, it appears that dominant cultural ideologies have had a strong influence on the development and persistence of ideas about musical ability. For instance, it appears that the notion of genius that emerged in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is responsible for the fact that up to the present day in public opinion musical ability is often still considered to be a special gift that is relatively independent from environmental influences and learning processes. Biological evidence indicates that genetic factors influence general development in three broad ways: maturational staged development, physical capacity, and mental capacity (Bee, 1992; Plomin & DeFries, 1999). Clear examples of each can be found in musical contexts. For example, there is a gradual development of hand and eye dexterity as a child grows, so an