Conference Morsel: Tone Deaf. Really?
Date: May 13, 2014
(An excerpt from the interest session “Tone Deafness and other Myths,” presented by Steven M. Demorest during the 2014 ACDA Northwestern Division Conference)
Answer: Yes, BUT.
The majority of people who think they are “tone deaf” have normal perceptual skills (Cuddy, et al., 2005 ; Sloboda, Wise & Peretz, 2005). It turns out that when people talk about being “tone deaf”, what they really mean is that they don’t sing well or accurately. Consequently, such individuals will not benefit from “ear” training per se, but more likely from singing instruction and increased singing opportunities. There problem lies with the coordination between what they hear and what they try to produce with their voice.
There is such a thing as true tone deafness – that is, people who cannot hear or remember changes in pitch information, or distinguish obvious pitch changes between two melodies. This is a neurological condition called congenital amusia that affects less than 4% of the population (Peretz, Champod & Hyde, 2003). There is an online test that can help someone determine if they have difficulty hearing pitch.