The Cure for Tone Deafness!
First things first, unless you are 100% deaf, “tone deafness” is a physical impossibility.
I’ll prove it to you. Ever had this experience?
Have you ever been with a group of people singing happy birthday? Did ever notice anything sounding not quite right? (ok…yes, maybe it was you). If you did notice something sounding NQR (even if it was you) that is a very interesting thing. Just hold that thought for a moment.
Now, the next step is a short 30 second assignment. Watch this video right now…for as long as you can stand it. Come back here straight after.
Now you’ve heard some of the song, answer these questions: Did the singing sound good to you? Was the guitar in tune? Was the backup singer on key?
If you noticed anything at all that was not quite right about this performance, then that is proof that YOU ARE NOT TONE DEAF! And guess what? That also means that YOU ARE OFFICIALLY MUSICAL.
Now, I can guess what you’re thinking. You’re saying to yourself “yeah right… just because I can tell when someone’s singing badly that doesn’t mean I’m musical”. But stay with me here.…
This principle can be summed up in one short phrase. “If you can hear it, you can play it.” One small caveat on this point is that I’m talking about simple tunes and not Mozart Sonatas, although after some training…why not?
If you can hear a tone from another voice and recognise it, it is a very small step to being able to reproduce it, either with your voice or on an instrument. If you’re someone who feels that they sing off key (that is, if you even get to the stage of trying), it’s relatively simple to train ourselves to develop the ability to sing in tune. An experienced teacher can sit down with you and help you to reproduce what you’re hearing. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll sound like Stevie Wonder or Beyonce straight away…but for now we’re just talking about holding a tune.
Many of us think that so-called “tone-deafness” is something we’ve been born with. I have heard many people say “I was just born that way” or “ the musical genes skipped me”. In reality, what has occurred is really a disconnection between what we hear and the sound we produce when we try to vocalise. I have helped many so-called “tone deaf” people learn to sing in tune.
My belief is that this phenomenon is more an issue of lack of opportunity to practise. People who become musical made the connection early on between what they heard and the sound they produced. Then, they practised this connection over and over every time they sang. When someone has a negative musical experience…for example, if you were told to stop singing because someone thought it sounded bad, or told that you were “tone deaf” or in anyway shamed about your musical expression, this usually leads to a loss of confidence and the person doesn’t even try to sing or express themselves musically again.
Therefore, the practice needed to hone and develop the connection I mentioned above, is lacking.
I know about this because of an experience with someone I knew. This person absolutely loved music but somewhere along line, someone told her she was “tone deaf” (could have been me…but hey I was just a kid!).
This then became a belief in our family. We “knew” that my sister was tone deaf. That is, until at the age of about 13 when we were all astonished, as suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, this beautiful singing voice poured forth from my kid sister! We were blown away! From that point on she could sing and even went on to study music at a tertiary level.
Problem 1 – The connection factor
So what happened?
Here’s my theory: To sing in tune, we need to make the connection between what is heard and the pitch we produce. This happens through experimentation, playing around and having fun with our voices, the pitch and the tone as a means of expression.
My guess is that my sister was probably playing around and trying to discover this connection (even the most musically gifted people still have to “find” it as children). But before she had time to find it and then develop it, someone said something which stopped her in her tracks and brought self-consciousness to her voice.
Perhaps after that experience, she didn’t feel safe to express herself because of the negative response she received, so she stopped (admittedly, this depends on the temperament of the child, some might make more noise in spite of the criticism).
Therefore the connection didn’t have time to develop. But then, maybe as an adolescent she found her confidence again and started to try again. Perhaps she changed her belief about her singing voice.
Another thing we discovered was that my sister had problems with her hearing early on.
Problem 2 – The belief factor
Female teacher, male student. If you were a boy and you had a female teacher, it is possible that when the teacher was singing, she was singing in a “register” that was too high for your voice.
The reverse is also possible. If you were a girl and the teacher a male…they may have been singing in too low a register. When this happens, it is very difficult for the child (it happens with adults too) to find the note that they are supposed to be imitating.
Then because of this, just like in the above example, the connection isn’t made between the notes being heard and the notes we are singing. This is another case, where another child or perhaps the teacher tells you that you can’t sing.
This then becomes your belief and you stop even trying because you believe it is impossible for you to sing.
This is the power of our beliefs. A great example of this concept came from a study by Robert Rosenthal of Harvard did an experiment at a school near San Francisco.
The researchers chose several children at random and led the teacher to believe that these children were intellectually gifted. As he followed the development of these children over the next two years, he found that the teacher’s expectation really did affect the student.
His conclusion was that “If teachers had been led to expect greater gains in IQ, then increasingly, those kids gained more IQ,”.
The way the teacher responded to each child, based on his/her beliefs about the child had a massive impact on the child’s development. In general, the beliefs of the authority figure become the beliefs of the child. And then when the child believes something, for example, “I can’t sing” then that becomes “true” for them. And they don’t even try because they believe it is impossible.
First of all, you need to change your belief. That was the purpose of everything I’ve written so far! How did I do?
Do you still believe you are “tone deaf”? Do you think it’s impossible for you to be musical? Is that true?
Or are you just frightened? If you’re frightened that is totally ok, and a very normal response. But look at what it’s costing you to stay in your comfort zone!
If you’re reading this, you must be someone who would really love to be able to make music in some way. The feeling that comes with being able to play music is like nothing else. It is one of life’s true joys!
If you really want to experience this joy, I would ask you to question your beliefs and then simply “have a go”! Get on the phone to someone musical, book a singing lesson, go to an amateur choir and ask to join….or email me and we can arrange a Skype session!
Now all you need to do to discover your musical ears is to sit down with someone who can sing. Preferably someone of the same gender, so that you’re voice ranges match.
Make sure it’s someone you can trust, who you feel comfortable with, and tell them to promise that no matter what you sound like, they won’t laugh, say anything negative or mock you.
Then you get the person to sing a note that is in the same range as your normal everyday speaking voice (if you don’t know what this means, show them this article and they’ll understand).
To help you to feel more comfortable don’t even try to sing. Even just a groan will do! Or you could pretend you’re calling to someone in the distance! Anything to take the fear away. As long as you’re making some sort of sound and the pitch isn’t moving around too much e.g. copy the sound of a car horn, but not an ambulance!
Then your singing person just needs to match the “note” you’re singing. Now, get used to focusing on their voice. Then focus on your voice again. All the while making your noise. Then have your “teacher” start to move the pitch around but only up or down a tone (sometimes called a “whole tone”, or “whole step”).
Then after you’ve got used to that, you can try it on your own.
That’s probably enough for one session. Then it is a matter of practising regularly. A couple of minutes each day is best.
Another great thing to do is to join an amateur choir. There’s something about singing with other people that lifts you and your singing voice to new heights. Even if it doesn’t happen straight away…eventually, you will start to feel that you can match the sounds that are going on around you. It’s important that you find a nurturing group, but most amateur choir groups are!
So I hope this gave you something to think about and helped to rock the foundation of the “tone deaf” belief.