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Williams Syndrome and Music

Updated on June 4, 2013

Researchers Explore a Williams Syndrome Music Connection

What is the connection between the neurogenetic disorder Williams Syndrome and music -- and why are scientists so intent on learning? There are several issues at stake. One reason for pursuing a connection is of course to help the patients themselves: Most people with Williams Syndrome have coordination problems and significant learning disabilities. Can a love of music aid in their education? In other words, if a person with Williams Syndrome displays a sense of rhythm in music that is absent in other areas, can this ability be tapped into and transferred? Will the person learn to tie their shoelaces more easily if the steps are taught to the rhythm of a song? Renowned neuroscientist Dan Levitin is among those seeking an answer.

Another reason to explore a Williams Syndrome music connection: to learn more about the influence of genes on brain development. People with Williams Syndrome are missing about 25 genes from their 7th chromosome; this deletion causes pervasive atypical brain development including abnormal folding and other structural anomalies. WS individuals display a mixture of ability and disability that is hard to sum up with an IQ score. The pattern of strengths and weaknesses is in some ways opposite to classic autism; while expressive language skills develop more slowly than they do in the average toddler, they ultimately 'take off' and often become an area of strength.

The more normal a person's behavior appears on the surface, the more abnormal it tends to look under brain scanning -- at least if the person has the full typical WS region deletion, and not a partial one. Brain scans reveal that people with Wiliams Syndrome process sound (as well as some other stimuli) in different areas of the brain than does the normal or typically developing population.

Williams Syndrome and Music Instruments

Some people with Williams Syndrome have striking talent. They can be at a bit of a disadvantage, though, when it comes to playing instruments. Many lack the coordination to play strings -- others do so with a grace that may contrast sharply with what they display in other areas of functioning.

This teenager is quite a talented piano player. His mother reports that he is also a guitar player... self-taught.

Music and Emotion - A Child With Williams Syndrome Sings

People with Williams Syndrome often have a deep emotional connection to music, even when no unusual ability is present. This little girl, Payton, is no exception. She's not a skilled musician, but she does love to sing. Here she sings "Jesus Loves Me" with much enthusiasm while rocking along to the music. (I think the very rigorous rocking on the chorus does indicate a certain flair for performance!)

Through videos and writings, this child's family has has done much to educate people about Williams Syndrome.

Hyperacusis in Williams Syndrome

People with Williams Syndrome process sound in different areas of the brain than other people do. Atypical sound processing leads to a heightened sensitivity to sound (termed hyperacusis). Many children with Williams Syndrome have unusual fears and fascinations associated with particular sounds -- with initial fear often turning into later fascination.

Some individuals with Williams Syndrome collect objects that make sounds and/or or pictures of them. They may, for example, speak with near reverence about the sound produced by a particular model of vacuum cleaner.

Williams Syndrome and Performance - Young Woman Sings at a Red Sox game

Many people with WS have a flair for performance.

Tori Ackley, a young woman with Williams Syndrome, calls attention to Disability Awareness Day by singing the National Anthem at a Red Sox game. Like many people with Williams Syndrome, she has a deep voice -- and a beautiful one.

Music Therapy - For Independent Living

Music can help individuals with Williams Syndrome throughout the lifespan.

Lifting Lives Music Camp

Download an application. .

Video: Berkshire Hills Music Academy

Berkshire Hills Music Academy provides a college experience to musical young adults with Williams Syndrome, autism, and other disabilities.

Gloria Lenhoff Sings - A Renowned Williams Syndrome Musician

Probably the best knows WS musician, Gloria Lenhoff is quite a talent. Although she lacks even basic mathematic skills, she can sing soprano in 25 languages. She has given many an operatic performance, often with orchestral accompaniment, and her parents can be credited with educating many people about the connection between Williams Syndrome and music.

A Child's Talent, a Father's Love - The Story of Gloria Lenhoff

The (Strangest) Song: One Father's Quest to Help His Daughter Find Her Voice
The (Strangest) Song: One Father's Quest to Help His Daughter Find Her Voice

Gloria's father didn't want to see his talented daughter dismissed as just another mentally retarded child -- he knew she was an extraordinary music talent.


Video: Singing at the Hospital

A young girl with Williams Syndrome, Brazil.

Music and Neurology

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession
This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession

Daniel Levitin has a unique background, having been a musician before earning his neuroscience PhD. In this beautifully written book, he explores various music-related neurological issues, among them the Williams Syndrome music connection.


Video: A Musical Population

Here Oliver Sachs describes the Williams Syndrome population as a "musical species". He also introduces the readers to other intriguing aspects of the disorder.

Please share.

Thoughts About Williams Syndrome and Music?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Beautiful and endearing lens (as are many of your lenses). I have pinned it.

    • javr profile image

      javr 7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Fascinating. I am lensrolling it to my Importance of Music to Children lens. This lens has been blessed by a Squid Angel.

    • KarenTBTEN profile image

      KarenTBTEN 8 years ago

      Thank you for the kind offer, AJ. I think this page (like my 'monotropism' one) is actually on such a narrow topic that not many people are even searching for it. Still the subject is near and dear to my heart, and I would like to have more people see the lens. I will post it on the Emotional Wellbeing Group page.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I had never heard of Williams Syndrome and this is a fascinating lens. I have taken over the Emotional Wellbeing Group ( from another lensmaster and have converted it into a lens and I would be pleased to feature the lens if you would like to submit it.

      Thank you for the lovely comments you left on my Keywords Research lens - I am thinking that if you apply the strategies I teach to this lens, then because it is a relatively narrow niche, you have the potential to get traffic and ranked high on Google.

    • LisaMarieGabriel profile image

      Lisa Marie Gabriel 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      An absolutely fascinating lens and a great tribute to people with William's syndrome. 5* Thank you! Happy Easter :)

    • Addy Bell profile image

      Addy Bell 8 years ago

      I've read Levitin's book and really enjoyed it. Music cognition, and how it varies, is a really fascinating subject and I wish I knew more about it.

    • SoyCandleLover profile image

      BW Duerr 8 years ago from Henrietta, New York

      What a beautiful tribute to the talent of these wonderful people. Thank you for sharing.