Researchers now report that personality and openness to new ideas also play a key role in musical ability even for those who do not play an instrument.
Psychologists from the University of Cambridge and Goldsmiths University found people who score highly on openness are imaginative, have a wide range of interests, and are open to new ways of thinking and changes in their environment.
Advertisement"These results are particularly important for teachers and educators who can use information about their student's personality to see who might be most successful in varied musical activities," said doctoral researcher David Greenberg from University of Cambridge.
For the results, the researchers teamed with BBC to recruit over 7,000 volunteers. The team tested the participants on various musical abilities including melodic memory and rhythm perception.
Performance on these tests was then linked to their scores on the "Big Five" personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism (OCEAN). They found that aside from musical experience, the next best predictor of musical ability was personality and specifically, Openness.
While people who are high on openness are open to new ways of thinking, people who score low on openness (or who are "closed") are more set in their ways, prefer routine and the familiar, and tend to have more conventional values.
In addition to openness, the researchers also found that Extraversion was linked to higher self-reported singing abilities.
Importantly, the researchers found that the links between personality and performance on the musical tasks were present even for people who indicated that they did not play a musical instrument.
This means that there are individuals who have a potential for musical talent, but are entirely unaware of it. "One day science may be able to identify the personality, cognitive, and neurobiological factors that lead to musical genius," Greenberg noted.
"The idea that there are people out there who may be primed to be musical but who have never played an instrument, is a topic that the educational and political spheres should begin to take into consideration," stressed Dr Daniel Müllensiefen, team member from Goldsmiths, University of London.
The paper was published in the Journal of Research in Personality.