A study from Northwestern University suggests that singing is more accurately a skill that is practiced and learned, rather than just an innate ability. Published in the journal Music Perception, the study compared singing accuracy of three groups: kindergarteners, sixth graders, and college-aged adults. The subjects were tested on their abilities to sing back a single pitch, a sequence, and at intervals. While there was significant improvement in accuracy from kindergarten to late elementary school, the adult group was comparatively less accurate than the 6th graders.
By 8th grade only 34% of children in the US participate in music instruction according to Steven Demorest, lead researcher for the study. While he contends that singing on key is likely easier for some people than others, it is also a skill that can be taught and developed. “Our study suggests that adults who may have performed better as children, lost the ability when they stopped singing,” he says.