Stephen F. AustinState University



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Few people know therange of the different types of tone deafness. However, many peoplethink they have it. Tone deafness is does not refer to a problem withthe ears, but to a lack of training. Tone deafness is easy to fix bytraining the ears and the vocal muscles. Lancet is a music professorin Boston who is tone-deaf (Lancet 2001). Lancet express, "tonedeafness is a term that tends to be applied indiscriminately to aconstellation of music processing, perceptual, and productiondeficits" (Lancet 2001). This paper will examine the tone-deafnessreal-life terms, the past and current research, and current directionwhich all contribute to its need for exploration.

Tone-deaf people livefrom early in life with tone-deaf. The ability to hear a pitch andsing it back is similar to hand-eye coordination. Lancet states, "itis voice-ear coordination" (p.779). Neither one of these abilitiesare born into us, we have to learn them. Babies do not have hand-eyecoordination. If a person holds a toy in front of an infant, he orshe can see in the baby's eyes that she wants the toy. For example,my ten-month-old cousin cannot determine the distance where theobject is located. His hands flail around randomly, missing thetarget. He has not yet learned to coordinate his hands and eyes. Ifhe does this often enough, however, he will eventually learn. Lancetexplains, "the human brain is very good at remembering which of theseincredibly complex muscle contractions results in a score" (Lancet2001). So next time he reaches for something, it does not take quiteas long. My cousin continues to have a one in three chance whenreaching for an object (p. 784). By the time, he is a toddler, itwould be inconceivable that he could reach for something and miss. Hehas hand-eye coordination. However, we all have it. Why cannoteveryone sing? Singing is optional. Reaching for things is not. Weall develop hand-eye coordination as a part of our basic survivalskills. Nevertheless, we could go our whole lives without singing andbe fine. We want to sing, but we have to make a conscious effort tolearn. Some people make this effort as children, and we assume theywere born with it. This is not so. As with anything, it comes morenaturally to some than to others, but we all have to learn. Numerouspeople believe that tone-deafness does not exist. Many people believethat they are tone-deaf (Lancet 2001). Nevertheless, I do not believethat they are tone-deaf, in other words, people who will never beable to learn to distinguish between notes.

Many of the tone-deafpeople have been able to work on their problem, and by correctingtheir singing techniques, as well as releasing their constrictions,they have learned to sing in tune. "Tone-deaf" singers often havesevere constrictions around their vocal cords (Gandour, 2000).Usually they have had these tensions for such a long time that theyno longer feel like tensions. A person often finds psychologicalreasons for these tensions (Gandour, 2000). Gandour states,"frequently a singer has been thoroughly deprived of his or hersself-confidence regarding the voice "(2000). One can lose his or herself-confidence for many reasons. For example, I was singled out asthe one in the church choir who was spoiling the sound of the choirand by being the laughing stock of my family when singing birthdaysongs. DeBellis (2000) is a field researcher in tone-deafness, whoexpressed that, "when tone-deaf people have experienced enoughdiscouragement because of their voice, they lose confidence in bothvoice and hearing ". They no longer trust their voice or hearing.Hearing becomes disconnected with their voice and such singers ceaseto correct the way they sing by means of their hearing (DeBellis2000). From this point on, confidence can rapidly decrease. To avoidhurtful defeat and to prevent further humiliation, the singer becomesthe first to run him or herself down and declare that he or shecannot sing. When a so-called "tone deaf" person has the courage towork on his or her problem, it is worth the effort, as it is often avery difficult and time&endash;consuming process. It can be very hardfor the singer to confront all the painful defeats, which she or hehas experienced in being labeled as "tone-deaf" (DeBellis,2000).

According to Peretz(2001), a tone-deaf researcher, "the term tone-deafness and theassociated medical term amusia have unfortunately been appliedsomewhat loosely by medical practitioners, educators, laypersons andpsychologists to a board range of evident and supposed musicaldeficits". To begin with, Isabelle expresses, "the term no doubtcovers deficits in four conceptually distinct domains: musicalperception, production, memory, and the loss of symbolic manipulationskills" (Peretz, 2001). To add, the etiology of these deficits ispoorly understood, but it appears that they can result from organictrauma or some as-yet-unknown combination of genetic andenvironmental factors (Peretz, 2001). Although the term "amusia" wasapplied over a century ago (2001), various amusias have not yet beensystematically documented or classified, and no comprehensive studyof musical deficits has been undertaken. In addition, approximately3% of the general population is believed to be amusic from childhood,with no estimates of the incidence within patient populations(Peretz, 2001). DeBellis (2000) comments, "Shepard found that only38% of subjects he recruited from the Bell Laboratories could notdistinguish sine tones that differed by slightly more than asemitone" (p. 246). If such large proportions of people cannotdistinguish musical tones, which are semitones apart, what are thesepeople hearing when they listen to music? Another example with pastresearch, was conducted by the Kodaly Institute in California, wherethe first parents were taught to sing in tune so that they could sendtheir messages to the embryo by softly tapping the rhythms ofchildren's songs on the mother's belly (DeBellis, 2000). It is ashame they exaggerated the rhythms the way you are expected to do atschool! However, in recent research, researchers have found thecomponents of amusia that has become to be an important insight forneuropsychologists (p. 489). The evidence for dissociation in theproduction and perception of intonation in sentences suggests thepossibility for such dissociations in amusia as well (Wong, 2001).

Tone-deafness is aevolving and expanding issue. There are interesting discoveries inprocess today. Many are not documented or the researchers areperforming experiments on various participants. In addition, thereare many music-teaching methods, which seem to ignore these methods.All experiences suggest that in this way, even those who have alimited or poor sense of sound can acquire reliable inner hearing(Moore, 2000). That is, they are able to develop an inner image ofthe music. We sing a whole series of exercises with our children forthis purpose. Exercises were regularly done because success in thiscase depends on the patient development of a series of reflexes. Itis a difficult way, but if one has any idea of the success that canbe reached by it, he or she will be ready to take the pains. Inaddition, Italy has done a study over hearing disabilities insixty-five year olds and older adults (Kazez, 2000). Researchers haveperformed audiometric studies, mainly using pure-tone audiometry, andothers have conducted more comprehensive studies, including speechaudiometry and otoimmittance testing (2000). Nevertheless, there iscomplete agreement in the literature that hearing worsens with ageand that women perform better than men.

In conclusion,tone-deafness is an upcoming topic to explore. The people who areaffected by this are mainly persons who have low confidence inthemselves. The research explores many other avenues such as infantperception, amusia, and elderly hearing loss. The research will soonbe able to find more details in pure-tone audiometry and use it tohelp tone-deaf elderly persons. Gandour suggested, "many researcherswho have focus on the study of melody, rhythm and pitch perceptionhave noticed that some subjects simply perform simple auditory tasksthat come easily to the majority" (2000). Most of the time, societytend to discard these subjects without further study, but in doingso, we are ignoring a population that can defer important insightinto the nature of auditory processes (p.220). Perhaps accidentally,society has rejected some of the most interesting subjects. Thismeans that through life's downfalls, as a society we must spend timeon funding and exploring areas such as like tone-deafness. Manypeople's their lives will be changed after they learn how to lookpast their tone-deafness.


DeBellis, Mark. (2000). What is musical institution? Tonal theoryas cognitive science. New York Academy of Sciences, 4, 471-489.

Gandour, Jack. (2000). A Cross line Study of Tone Perception.Developmental Psychology,12, 207-220.

Kazez, Daniel. (2000). Hearing in the Elderly: A Population studyAudicion en la senectud: un estudio poblacional. Music EducatorsJournal, 71, 46.

Lancet, Mike. (2001). A good excuse to give up those musiclessons. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 357, 777-784.

Moore, Brain C. J. (2000). An Introduction to the psychology ofhearing. Academic Press, Inc, 3, 322.

Peretz, Isabelle. (2001). Brain specialization for music. Newevidence from congenital Amusia. New York Academy of Sciences, 8,243-246.

Wong, Donald. (2001). Audiology. Journal of Communication, 6,6.