Chapter 9: Tone Deafness

Tone deafness, an exaggeration or fact?

Many people in today’s society would not have the confidence to consider themselves to be musically talented and might go as far to say that they are even tone deaf. This is a common feeling that is often times expressed however, many which believe this have never received any type of musical training. Many adults reach adulthood without ever having the experience of expressing themselves musically and still claim that they arent musical when really they would be classified as neurologically normal, . A perspective from C. H. Congdon brings up that if music was taught in public schools in the same respect to mathematics or language, that people would be able to access a part of themselves that could indeed be musically talented or find that they really are incapable. (Congdon) To a certain extent, almost everyone has a sense of musical talent however there is a smalls group of individuals that serve as an exception and do indeed lack a characteristic associated with being musically gifted.

The group I am referring is commonly referred to as being “tone deaf.” It is defined, as a form of amusia in which there is an inability to understand or hear the difference between one tone of music and another so that it is impossible to sing or play a stringed instrument in tune. (Kazez) However, according to Pamela Bridgehouse, there are ways to potentially reverse tone deafness. Being self-aware is the first step; as far as singing goes, being able to realize when different muscles are relaxed versus when they are flexed and not relaxed is key. Through different breathing and pitch matching exercises, she states that is a person isn’t totally hearing impaired when they have the ability to match pitches and to sing in tune. For adults who have never been able exercise singing on pitch, there is a whole new area that they have yet to exercise that needs to be explored. By ignoring this part of the body, the development of a person becoming tone deaf much more likely.(Bridgehouse)

Others have gathered information regarding a different approach expressing that a truly deaf person would most likely speak in a monotone and be unaware of infection in speech. For example when reading the phrase, “You’re going to the store?” and “You’re going to the store” would be read in the same tone, therefore undistinguishable when read aloud. (Kazez) Although I have found that there are many different ways to determine what is and what isn’t considered tone deaf, I am curious as to what occurs to cause a person to end up in such a state.

I was ale to find that one out of every 50 people, or 2%, are either color blind or tone death. (Kazez) Many studies have been performed in order to further analyze the level of people that tone deafness actually affects. (Bridgehouse) At the University of Illinois, a group of 168 students ranging from the first to third grade were given a test to gauge there ability and only thirteen percent were able to tell the difference between pitches separated by less than a quartertone. (Kazez)

As far as genetics go, language capacity is coded in the human genome but does that same principle also apply to one’s musical capacity? People that are born with all of the basic biological functions that a human should posses all have the potential ability to both speak and create music. This is an obvious statement however, what isn’t so obvious is knowing wheter or not music works in the same way.

From what I have been able to find, it appears that there are two different stances that can be taken regarding tone deafness. One being that the cause is due to genetics and the other being that it is due to the lack of exposure. Although it is unclear as to which one is correct I am able to realize that the approach being taken for tone deadness is similar to other approaches used for other medical problems. For example, typically there is a diagnosis and then as a way of moving forward, different treatment plans can be taken just as suggested for tone deafness.

Kazez, D.. (1985). The Myth of Tone Deafness. Music Educators Journal71(8), 46–47. Retrieved from

CONGDON, C. H.. (1905). THE UNMUSICAL TEACHER. The Journal of Education61(10 (1520)), 261–261. Retrieved from

Bridgehouse, P. L.. (1978). Progressive Exercises for the Tone Deaf. Music Educators Journal65(3), 51–53. Retrieved from


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