Find out all there is to know about Amusia.
If you watch television, it would be easy to believe that everyone sings very well. If we thought art mimicked life, we’d think that people frequently break into song and the people around them sing along on key. In fact, the number of people who sing well is low. Typically, when people are asked to sing in public, such as in church or at a sporting event to the National Anthem, a lot of us simply move our mouths as though we were singing, when in fact we’re not emitting any sound at all. Chances are the only time the average person feels comfortable singing is in the shower or alone in the car – of course, with the windows closed. There are a lot of us and we call ourselves tone deaf. The tone deaf make up around one out of every seven individuals.
Tone deafness is usually thought to be linked with being unable to sing well, however many people with horrible singing abilities are able to hear music well and love to listen to it. When the actual meaning of tone deaf is used, which is just for those who are not able to understand music, the number of people who are actually tone deaf is decreased. In some studies, it has been discovered that approximately only 1 out of every 20 people actually suffers from tone deafness. Folks who are actually tone deaf cannot discern disparity in pitch. They can’t hear whether a pitch is low or high. Thus, they cannot follow even an easy melody or tune no matter how hard they work.
The true clinical term for being tone deaf is called amusia. Some people become more tone deaf as they grow older, but others are born with the disability, which is then referred to as congenital amusia. Those lacking in the ability to perceive music can be tested as to just where their deficit lies with the Montreal Battery for the Evaluation of Amusia, a series of tests developed by researchers. Plus, researchers can now compare the brains of musicians against people who possess typical musical abilities, using sophisticated imaging tests.
Our fascination with music and how it’s perceived and interpreted by different people has spurred on this form of research. A solution for tone deafness is not one being actively pursued by researchers. However, the researchers studying amusia feel their results may be useful in studies done on other types of developmental disabilities, and if answers are found to unlock the mysteries of tone deafness, other disability-related problems may also be solved.
One example of true tone deafness is in the genre of Country Western music, which is based on semitones or half steps – like moving between an E and an E-flat or a G and a G-sharp. The majority of people are able to tell the difference between half-steps easily. Indeed, most of them can even tell the difference between a smaller interval. Yet individuals suffering from amusia generally require a much greater variance, before they are able to distinguish between various pitches.
Amusia sufferers have trouble with pitch isolation and are unable to hear either direction or contour in the pitch of a sound or note. It is the rising and falling of pitch contour that actually forms the melody. Experiments with amusics have revealed that they can’t easily distinguish changes in pitch within a particular phrase of music.
With very pronounced amusia, people cannot pick out rhythm or melody, as well as pitch. Amusics do have a sense of rhythm, but it may only be apparent for music that is played as a monotone. It’s likely that the pitch changes that occur in modern music will confuse an amusic, interfering not only with their ability to appreciate the music but to pick up the rhythm as well.