Why are some people tone deaf?

QUESTION

Why are some people tone deaf?

ANSWER

The technical term for tone deafness is amusia, and one in twenty people have it. Tone deafness is the inability to distinguish between musical notes. To clarify definitions: tone, pitch, and frequency all mean the same thing. There is not much correlation between a good singing voice and ability to hear tones accurately. Some people who have bad singing voices hear music just fine.

The inability to keep time with music, or lack of rhythm, or the inability to recognize common songs are indications of tone deafness.

There has been some recent and intriguing research on this subject. New brain imaging techniques can measure the density of the white matter, consisting of nerve fibers, that provides paths between the right frontal lobe and the right temporal lobe.

The right frontal lobe is where higher thinking occurs. The right temporal lobe is where sound processing takes place. On tone deaf people (amusics) the white matter is thinner, making a weaker connection. Findings also indicate the thinner the white matter, the worse the tone deafness. For a tone-deaf person, the neural highway is a dirt road and not a four-lane interstate!

There is a line of belief that says there is an overlap between how the brain handles music and how it handles speech. Other researchers believe that musical perception and thinking occur separately from other functions. Most indicate there is a strong genetic component to tone deafness.

You can go online and check your ability to perceive tones. Go to http://www.delosis.com/listening. This British site presents 2 sets of 30 musical tones that you try to match. They give you a score when you are done.

Charles Darwin, General Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Butler Yates were all tone deaf. On the scale of mental and physical maladies that people have, tone deafness is way down there at the bottom.

References: http://www.sciencedaily.com

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