Williams Syndrome and Music
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.
Williams Syndrome Walk Benefits Music Camps
- Williams Syndrome Walk 2010
This story profiles a five-year-old with 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.
- Aversion, Awareness, and Attraction: Investigating Claims of Hyperacusis
A study in hyperacusis in the Williams Syndrome population.
- Hyperacusis and Hearing Loss
Is there a connection between hyperacusis and hearing loss that begins at an earlier age?
- Hyperacusis in Infants
Abnormal processing/ response to sound is mediated by psychological factors.
- Auditory Function and Hearing Loss
Auditory function -- and dysfunction -- in Williams Syndrome.
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.
Performers With Williams Syndrome
Music Therapy - For Independent Living
Music can help individuals with Williams Syndrome throughout the lifespan.
- Berkshire Hills Music
The Berkshire Hills Music Academy is a transitional living facility for young adult musicians who have Williams Syndrome or other cognitive or learning disabilities.
- Williams Syndrome Association Music Camps
Camps for children and young adults (through age 30).
- A Visit from a Performer
From time to time, attendees of Williams Syndrome musical camps enjoy the opportunity to harmonize with a pro.
Lifting Lives Music Camp
Download an application. .
- Vanderbilt Music Camp
For young adults with Williams Syndrome.
Video: Berkshire Hills Music Academy
Berkshire Hills Music Academy provides a college experience to musical young adults with Williams Syndrome, autism, and other disabilities.
An In-Depth Look - At hyperacusis, rhythm, and timbre
- Rhythm, Timbre, and Hyperacusis in Williams Syndrome
Research and discussion by Daniel Levitin
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
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.
Research on the Williams Syndrome Music Connection
- Music Perception in Williams Syndrome
This study compares musical development in Williams Syndrome with that of a control group. Typically developing children seem to develop global discrimination before local. This does not appear to be the case with the WS population.
- Williams Syndrome: A Study of Unique Musical Talents
This newsletter summarizes research in musical ability/ talent in Williams Syndrome populations.
- Williams Syndrome, the Brain, and Music
A summary of research in brain structure anomalies that may explain the Williams Syndrome music connection.
- Williams Syndrome Association
The Williams Syndrome Association answers common questions about the WS music connection.
Video: Singing at the Hospital
A young girl with Williams Syndrome, Brazil.
Music and Neurology
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.