I suppose it is possible to be tone deaf, but I have my doubts as to how often this is really the case. If you are someone thinking you might be tone deaf then ask yourself this question. When you hear music does it sound like music or a random bunch of sounds that make no sense. In my way of thinking if you hear music and it sounds like “music” and you can make sense of it and be moved by it, then most likely you are not tone deaf.
My Experience with So-called Tone Deaf Students
In my many years as a teacher I’ve come across a few students that have great difficulty with ear training. Usually I find that there are a couple of disconnects that are happening. First there is a disconnect between what they hear and what they can sing. Secondly their is a disconnect when sounds are randomly played and they are asked to identify some characteristic of the sounds, such as which of two notes played is higher or lower.
Am I Tone Deaf?
If you love music, then most likely you are not tone deaf; otherwise you would just ignore it. You just need work at fixing some issues with simple exercises. An example of this would be playing two random sounds and asking whether one is higher or lower than the other. In that context we are not listening to music; we are creating a way to pinpoint a problem that you can work on correcting, depending on a set of variables.
Most of us don’t realize it, but when we hear most sounds we are actually hearing the combination of a bunch of harmonics that make up that sound. This is one of the reasons why when we hear an oboe or a piano we can tell that they sound different. They sound different because there are a different set of harmonics being played with an oboe as opposed to a piano. Without getting to deeply into the science of this subject, let just say that each note on any instrument has a fundamental pitch and a set number of harmonics that make that sound unique.
Why are Harmonics Important?
Certain instruments have a peculiar set of harmonics. For instance, any stringed instrument’s harmonic pattern emphasizes the first harmonic more than the fundamental. For someone being tested on which note is higher or lower, a stringed instrument is a poor choice with which to perform this test, because of this characteristic; the harmonics can be deceiving.
Lack of Musical Training
Another factor that is often a part of apparent tone deafness is a person’s history of listening, playing or studying music. If you have very little music in your life and no formal training on an instrument or voice, this can factor into being dubbed “tone-deaf.” We aren’t all naturally gifted with an ability to play music. It takes training to make this happen and if you lacked this training then that can be a big part of a perceived tone deafness.
How to fix Tone Deafness?
You fix apparent tone deafness with practice. It is a good idea to learn an instrument because that inherently makes you more aware of pitch. You can also do ear training exercises. In any case is is important to be consistent with practice sessions. I’ve created a course called Total Beginner Ear Training which offers ways help you become more aware of sound through some simple exercises. Let’s take a look at some of them and I’ll explain their purpose.
A few Things to Ponder.
First, before we start, it’s important to realize that you may have been told you are tone deaf. You also may have been put in an embarrassing situation as far as being made aware of your pitch problems. This can cause not just a psychological problem, but a physiological one, because you experience anxiety which triggers all kinds of disconnects when you attempt an ear training test. The first thing to remember is just because you were embarrassed or put in a dramatic situation, it’s just a bump in the road. You can learn to hear and sing correctly you just have to approach it with a positive state of mind and realize that it will take weeks or months of practice to overcome these hurdles.
The Total Beginner Ear Training Course gives you three kinds of MP3s for practicing. Each of these works on building your recognition of which note is higher or lower. Piano, Trumpet and Tenor Sax MP3s are available for a total of 76 audio files. You can test yourself below. If you are having difficulty then this course it would be a good place for you to start. It is best to start with the trumpet or tenor sax and move to the piano sound later as previously explained. Listen to the MP3s below. If you are having trouble then working with these MP3s for 5 minutes 5 times a day will really help you to increase your pitch awareness. Also, remember to be consistent! Don’t miss a day of practice. At the beginning missing one day is like missing 3 weeks of practice.
- High/Low example using Tenor Sax:
- High/low example using piano:
- Low/High example using a Trumpet:
Singing the Gettysburg Address
People with pitch discrimination issues usually have problems singing a given pitch in tune. They also frequently have a problem maintaining a pitch over time. To help fix this issue there are exercises where you sing the Gettysburg Address on one pitch. This is an extremely challenging exercise and it is best to start with only trying to sing a few sentences. This teaches a student about maintaining a single pitch without wavering and will get the student to focus in on one note. It will also instill confidence, which is important if some asks you to sing a specific note. There are 12 examples available for all 12 pitches. Below are two excerpts with words and MP3s
- Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
- Excerpt from Gettysburg Address spoken with a High B:
- Excerpt from Gettysburg Address spoken with a Low D:
Spend 10 minutes twice a day on this singing exercise. Again remain consistent with your practice it is extremely important especially in your first couple of weeks.
There are other exercises in the Total Beginner Ear Training Course that will further hone your listening and singing skills. Starting with the two exercises listed above and remaining consistent in your practice will really help you to improve
Stay in Touch
It is also important to stay in touch via email as you work on these exercises. Often you may have additional questions or just need a pep talk. So please, contact me via the links on this website.
The Historic Precedents Of This Kind Of Music Education
You might enjoy checking out the “Music Education Genealogy Chart” located on my artist’s site. You will clearly see the historic progression of pedagogy that is the basis for Muse Eek Publishing Products. Great musicians throughout history have been studying the ideas presented by Muse-eek.com which derives its content from a a lineage that stretches back to Scarlatti!