Tone Deafness is a very misunderstood concept.

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When we say somebody is tone deaf, what we normally mean is they can't tell notes apart. They have poor pitch discrimination, so they don't know when notes are right or wrong, and will make frequent mistakes if they try to sing or play an instrument.

Often this is treated like a diagnosis of a fundamental trait which that person cannot change. However the truth is that there are only a very small number of people who suffer from true amusia: a clinical cognitive impairment which means the brain cannot process musical sounds properly to make sense of them. Researchers have found that less than 5% of people suffer from this condition.

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The vast majority of people who believe they are tone deaf in fact do have the basic pitch discrimination skills necessary to tell notes apart. They can enjoy music, recognize melodies, and have just as much musical potential as anybody. They simply lack musical training.


In particular, it is often an inability to sing in tune which leads people to think they might be tone deaf. Even musicians sometimes worry about being tone deaf for this reason. Fortunately this can be easily fixed with some simple singing practice to learn to match pitch with your voice.

To summarise, we can classify people who think they are 'tone deaf' into two groups:

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  1. People who suffer from the brain impairment amusia: a very small number of people
  2. People who have basic pitch perception skills but lack musical training, or have trouble singing in tune

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By testing your basic pitch perception skills (for example using you can discover which of these two groups you belong to.

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If you discover it is group 2 you can then train your ears and your voice and enjoy making music just as much as anybody else!