Discrepancy between musical ability and language skills in children with Williams syndrome

Yuzuki Kitamura, Yosuke Kita, Yasuko Okumura, Yoshimi Kaga, Hideyuki Okuzumi, Yuji Ishikawa, Miho Nakamura, Masumi Inagaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Children with Williams syndrome (WS) show a marked interest in music, a characteristic often explored in clinical settings. However, the actual musical abilities of patients with WS remain debatable due to some of the relevant data being derived from experimental tasks that require a verbal response, despite the known language impairments in WS. The present study aimed to examine musical ability in children with WS using a newly invented pitch discrimination task with minimal involvement of language and clarify its relationship with language skill. Methods: Eleven children with WS participated in the study. We used a novel pitch discrimination task that required minimal language use. Two piano tones were presented sequentially, and children were asked to give a non-verbal response as to whether the second tone was higher than, lower than, or the same as the first tone. Results: Pitch discrimination performance in children with WS was lower than the level predicted for their chronological age (CA), even in the non-verbal task. Pitch discrimination ability and verbal mental age (VMA) were shown to be dissociated, such that children with WS with a lower skill level for language showed an unexpectedly higher level of pitch discrimination ability and vice versa. Conclusions: Our results indicated reduced musical ability with respect to CA in children with WS. The dissociation between musical ability and language skills may indicate unique developmental relationships that differ from those in normal children. These findings provide new evidence to support the importance of assessing actual musical ability in WS prior to implementing interventional music therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)248-255
Number of pages8
JournalBrain and Development
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Mar
Externally publishedYes


  • Language skills
  • Music
  • Musical ability
  • Pitch discrimination
  • Williams syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology


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