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Tone deafness

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Title: Tone deafness  
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Subject: Beat deafness, Music psychology, Music-specific disorders, Absolute pitch, Pitch (music)
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Tone deafness

Tone deafness is the lack of relative pitch, or the inability to distinguish between musical notes that is not due to the lack of musical training or education. Tone deafness is the congenital form of amusia. It is also known as tune deafness, "tin ear", dysmelodia and dysmusia.


The ability to hear and reproduce relative pitch, as with other musical abilities, is present in all societies and in most humans. Tone deafness appears to be genetically influenced although it can also be a result from brain damage. Someone who is unable to reproduce pitches because of a lack of musical training would not be considered tone deaf in a medical sense. Tone deafness affects the ability to hear relative pitch changes produced by a musical instrument.

Tone deaf people seem to be disabled only when it comes to music as they can fully interpret the prosody or intonation of human speech. Tone deafness has a strong negative correlation with belonging to societies with tonal languages. This could be evidence that the ability to reproduce and distinguish between notes may be a learned skill; conversely, it may suggest that the genetic predisposition towards accurate pitch discrimination may influence the linguistic development of a population towards tonality. A correlation between allele frequencies and linguistic typological features has been recently discovered, supporting the latter hypothesis.[1]

Tone deafness is also associated with other musical-specific impairments such as the inability to keep time with music (the lack of rhythm), or the inability to remember or recognize a song. These disabilities can appear separately, but some research shows that they are more likely to appear in tone-deaf people.[2] Experienced musicians, such as W. A. Mathieu, have addressed tone deafness in adults as correctable with training.[3]


In nine of ten tone deaf people, the superior arcuate fasciculus in the right hemisphere could not be detected, suggesting a disconnection between the posterior superior temporal gyrus and the posterior inferior frontal gyrus. Researchers suggested the posterior superior temporal gyrus was the origin of the disorder.[4]

See also

Notable tone-deaf people


  1. ^ Dediu, Dan; D. Robert Ladd (June 2007). "Linguistic tone is related to the population frequency of the adaptive haplogroups of two brain size genes, ASPM and Microcephalin".  
  2. ^ Ayotte, Julie; Isabelle Peretz and Krista Hyde (February 2002). "Congenital amusia: a group study of adults afflicted with a music-specific disorder".  
  3. ^ Mathieu, W. A. "Tone-Deaf Choir". Retrieved 26 February 2009. 
  4. ^ Loui P, Alsop D, Schlaug S. (2009). Tone Deafness: A New Disconnection Syndrome? Journal of Neuroscience, 29(33):10215–10220 doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1701-09.2009
  5. ^ "Can't chant, can't speak English? Pope says it's because he's tone-deaf", Catholic News Service, 2 April 2013
  6. ^ LaFee, Scott (9 February 2009). "Darwin's Legacy: Natural selections".  
  7. ^ Norwich, John Julius. The Duff Cooper Diaries 1915-1951.Phoenix, 2006, ISBN 978-0-7538-2105-3. P.109.
  8. ^ Sacks, Oliver; Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain; p 108 ISBN 1-4000-3353-5
  9. ^ See Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts
  10. ^ Cox, Stephen (2004). The Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America. New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA: Transaction Publishers. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-7658-0241-5.
  11. ^ Hunter, Graeme K.; Light is a messenger: the life and science of William Lawrence Bragg; p. 158. ISBN 0-19-852921-X
  12. ^ Crow, James Franklin and Dove, William F.; Perspectives on genetics: anecdotal, historical, and critical commentaries; p. 254. ISBN 0-299-16604-X
  13. ^ Baril, Daniel (12 April 1999). "Le cerveau musical". Forum 33 (26) ( 
  14. ^ Hamilton, W. D. and Ridley, Mark; Narrow Roads of Gene Land: The Collected Papers of W. D. Hamilton Volume 3; p. 7. ISBN 0-19-856690-5
  15. ^ Zeltner, Philip N.; John Dewey's Aesthetic Philosophy; p. 93. ISBN 90-6032-029-8
  16. ^ "The Life of W. B. Yeats". The New York Times. 

External links

  • University of Newcastle: Musical Listening Test
  • BBC: Listening Displeasure
  • NPR: Test for tone deafness (requires RealAudio player)
  • MedicineNet: Amusia
  • NIH: Distorted Tunes Test
  • The Listening Book: Tone-Deaf Choir audio description by W. A. Mathieu


  • Kazez, D. (1985). The myth of tone deafness. Music Educators Journal, 71, 46-47.
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