Tone Deaf?

Have you ever been told you were ‘tone deaf’?

When you were singing in school choir, did the teacher ever tell you to stand at the back and mouth the words?

Has anyone ever declared that you ‘can’t sing’ or that you’re a ‘non-singer’? Maybe you’ve even said as much of yourself!

In my line of work I often encounter people who would desperately like to sing, but have been told all of their lives that they cannot.

The fact of the matter is that, certain medical conditions notwithstanding, you can sing!

‘Tone Deafness’ is a very serious medical condition, and the misguided colloquial use of this term over the last sixty years has done a great deal of harm to many naturally musical people’s self-esteem.

If you were tone deaf, you would not be able to hear the two tones (low and high) in a police siren. You would struggle to differentiate a man’s voice from a woman’s on the telephone. You wouldn’t be able to hear the point at which you need to change gears in a manual transmission vehicle.

For people who are medically tone deaf, many aspects of life that we take for granted are very challenging. If you don’t recognise these symptoms, and someone in the past has told you that you are ‘tone deaf’ – they were wrong.

What they were probably trying to express was that you were having trouble matching pitch – which is a very different thing.

The ability to match pitch, that is, to hear a tone being played by an instrument or another voice and match it with your own, is something most people discover during early childhood – during that uninhibited, hyper accelerated trial-and-error learning period. If as an adult you have missed out on the opportunity to practice this skill, you might find that several decades down the track you dread singing in public, fearing that there’s no hope for you.

But there absolutely is. With patient guided practice you can learn not only how to match pitch (to sing along in the same key as the music), but also how to extend your range and enhance the quality of your sound so that what you’re singing sounds beautiful.

It breaks my heart when I hear stories of people who are too anxious about their public singing to join in with hymns at a funeral, even if they desperately want to. People who break out in a cold sweat in anticipation of Happy Birthday To You.

I encourage anyone who is interested in finding their voice to contact a local singing teacher. In New Zealand, excellent resources for finding good teachers include The New Zealand Association of Singing Teachers and The Institute of Registered Music Teachers.


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