Tone Deaf

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Many people claim to be
tone-deaf (technically called amusia) although it has been estimated that only
about 4% of the population actually have the condition. This disparity between
actual and claimed amusia is probably because it’s an excellent way of avoiding
singing in public – I’ve used it on many occasions. However, researchers have
found the condition to be incredibly specific.
It seems that ‘congenital
amusics’ have no problems in hearing music or other environmental sounds. They
generally have no perceptual problems and can, paradoxically, detect pitch
changes in speech that they cannot detect in music. Music seems to require a
much more fine-grained differentiation of tones than any other form of auditory
Amusia may be similar
developmentally to dyslexia. In populations that speak tonal languages like
Vietnamese and Cantonese, amusia is almost unknown – perhaps practice at a
young age makes perfect. Recent research suggests that children can be trained
to discriminate tones but adults are normally stuck with their disability.
However much practice you get
at a young age, the skill can be affected by brain damage. Neurologists at the
University of Tokyo report the case of a 62 year old professional tango singer
who lost her singing ability after a stroke that affected a tiny part of her
brain. After a period of recuperation from the stroke she experienced no other
deficits in cognitive functions, other than amusia – a cruel fate for a professional
the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD
is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from
University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about
scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book
“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.