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Tone Deafness

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

I get asked a lot if tone deafness, the inability to match pitch, is a real condition. As in: I’d really like to sing, but I’m tone deaf!

Tone deafness, or its scientific name amusia, is a real thing for about 4% of the world’s population, who are either born with it or have acquired it as a result of injury or brain damage.

In addition to the inability to match pitch, amusia can affect one’s ability to learn and process language because it makes it difficult to recognize sequences and patterns in vocal sound.

I’m not a doctor or an audiologist, so I’ll leave the diagnosis of amusia and tone deafness to those experts. What I do know is that even people who think of themselves as tone deaf or have been told that they are tone deaf can still benefit immensely from the practice of what some people call toning: vocalizing long, held vowel sounds like AH and OH.

It’s taking a soft, relaxed approach, just holding one note on one simple sound, and it can be the gateway to (re)learning to listen to oneself.

When the challenge of trying to match a musical sequence is off the table, students can learn to approach that one note with greater ease and confidence.

And from there, as ease and confidence grows, being able to sing musical sequences may become easier and less stressful.

Toning or vocalizing those long, held vowel tones, as well as humming, is also a really great meditation to calm the mind and soothe the spirit, in addition to

strengthening the lungs and increasing one’s breathing capacity… no musical ability required.

A simple vocal meditation to start with is just singing the vowels as shown in the photo, softly, slowly, taking nice deep breaths.

Notice what thoughts appear: Do I sound good? Am I doing right? Acknowledge those thoughts and let them go.

Notice what feelings and sensations emerge: I feel relaxed and at peace, and there’s a warm sensation in my tummy. Or: my voice is cracking and my chest feels tight. Acknowledge those feelings and sensations.

Spend a few minutes with the vowels over the next few days. What changes or shifts do you notice in your sound and in your awareness? You may find that your ability to match pitch and stay in tune has improved. You have begun the process of listening to yourself with more awareness, curiosity and compassion.

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