Tone Deaf Test

Singing Lessons & The Tone Deaf Test

So you think you’re tone deaf, but it breaks your heart cause you love to sing. And now you probably wanna take a Tone Deaf Test!  Hahahhaha!  Well, while I don’t have a tone deaf test, here’s some good news for you: I can practically guarantee you’re not tone deaf! Seriously, with almost 100% certainty.  No tone deaf test necessary!

See here’s the deal: tone deafness is kinda a slang term we kick around which is a short cut to trying to find a way to move forward. Often a teacher (or older sibling, parent, etc) will pronounce a kid tone deaf. Sometimes, it’s singing teachers which is a majour crime against humanity, as far as I am concerned. Right up there with packing celery in your kid’s lunch.  Abuse!!  Abuse!!! See the term “tone deaf” is more or less slang. If a singing teacher puts it out there, it usually means they dunno what to do with you. They’re out of ideas, they dunno how to help with pitch (singing “in tune”), etc. Your voice teacher or your mom or your sibling who was 7 at the time – none of these people have a medical degree!  They just put this blanket statement out there that means they just don’t wanna deal with you anymore.  Or maybe if it’s a teacher, they don’t wanna problem solve or they don’t understand what’s happening. After all, there is no substitute for spending time with a kid in play and work to help create an adult who can sing.  It’s too much work for some people, but time investment is necessary to learn.  Sometimes it’s easier to label someone tone deaf than to admit that you weren’t able to do anything with them. I mean, if you tried and failed, you’d have to maybe consider the possibility that you failed through some doing of yours as a teacher, right? It’s much easier for some people to externalize that and just say there was something wrong with the student than to try to find out how to grow as a teacher.  The kid just “can’t be taught”.

What happens after a person is pronounced “tone deaf” not only doens’t help, it makes the situation worse. Usually, when people come in to my teaching studio claiming they are tone deaf, they haven’t sang in years. Sometimes decades. Because who wants to sing and hear their sibling or choir teacher get all crazy negative on them and make them feel like crap? Nobody. So people tend to not sing at all. I’ve been teaching people who think they are tone deaf for 18 years and in San Francisco, I was the teacher they’d refer clients to when they didn’t wanna deal with their pitch issues. So I did a lot of talking to these clients and hearing their stories and really some of them were heartbreaking tales of a great love for music but feeling like they can never participate because that is the depths of their suckage.  0% of these students were actually “tone deaf.” I mean, let me ask you this: you know you’re singing off key, right? Bam! Proof you’re not tone deaf. If you were tone deaf, you wouldn’t be able to tell.

You probably want some further proof that you’re not tone deaf so here it is: tone deafness is a Real Thing That Can Happen. It’s called amusia. But people with amusia (amusics) generally think music sounds super annoying and it’s basically like some annoying noise to them.  They don’t love music the way that I know you love it if you are up at 3.30am Googling “If I’m tone deaf, am I doomed to sucking?” If it’s keeping you awake nights or if your heart hurts because you’re not singing?  You are not tone deaf.

Cure for Tone Deafness

The first step in recovering from this whole chapter in your life is to start making noise. I mean it. Sing. It’s okay if you suck right now. I mean, singing isn’t just for super pro awesome singers, it is a need for many people and you should not deprive yourself just cause your skill level isn’t super high. You are entitled to sing as a human being.  It makes people happy to sing, so why should you be the only one who doesn’t get to be happy like that?  But there is another reason you should start to vocalize: most people stop singing completely after whatever giant expert on the subject (such as your 12 year old cousin) pronounced you with this profound medical opinion, you never got to experience the experimentation that kids go through. Listen to kids. Do they sound amazing at all times?  No, they sound terrible actually a lot. And occasionally awesome. If they’re lucky they go through the terrible phase without some older person telling them they suck. But if you never got the chance to use your voice and never got to experiment making weird and fun noises, then you never got that experience. And in my opinion you need to explore your voice and have the experience of making weird noises and not being concerned about making them super beautiful all the time. Do kids worry if they have super beautiful voices when they start singing? They do not and neither should you. Although I know it’s harder to let that go as an adults.  I get that it hurts.

Voice lessons (with a teacher who understands you are not tone deaf and is excited to help you) are something that can really help. It’s good to be able to sing together with the teacher and imitate them. That’s how babies learn about music and it’s very effective – and I think it’s fun, too. Sometimes a student is just super way off on pitch. What helps them a lot is if I sing the pitch they are on when they are way off back to them and then the pitch they’re trying to go to. They hear that and it helps a lot – mostly they can find their way to the correct pitch once they see how it’s done in the voice. It’s like how when you’re little you might not know how to cross a stream on whatever rocks are sticking out of the water.  But if you watch someone go across and see which foot they use and what rocks they step on, you can just imitate that and it’s much easier and you get across without a problem.

I sure hope you don’t give up on singing. I’ve met so many people who thought they were tone deaf and it made them so unhappy. I really feel strongly about this because I can see how hurtful it is to them not to feel able to sing and to feel so negatively about their voice. It hurts me a little to see this. But everyone is entitled to sing – amateurs, pro’s, everyone. In my opinion, it is a human need and I’d love to work with you to start taking your voice and self-esteem back. If you have wrongly pronounced “tone deaf”, you know what I mean – it DOES go back to your self-esteem for most people. It shouldn’t but it really does for people. But whether you take lessons here or with some other person who understands how important it is to you to sing, taking the lessons in a supportive environment is a great way to start to sing on pitch.  You’ll cry.  It’s okay, I got you.  People cry because singing means so much to us.  And being told you can’t do it – and believing it – builds up a lot of sorrow.

People speak of talent a lot. Either you are or you are not talented, end of story. But people who come into my studio with quite a deal of native skill often don’t do super well as professional singers or even as singing students because they don’t believe they need to practice. If you think you need to improve, though, and you love music, you work hard to build your skill. People who know they need to work and are motivated to work are the ones who do the best at singing, regardless of what level they started at.

I have a secret to tell you, too: my mom actually used to think I was tone deaf.  Hahahahaha!  I mean, really!  When I was a kid I guess my pitch was all over the place.  My mom used to tell me not to sing.  “I have a headache.” She’d say.  Which we DID live in LA in the 1970s and the smog was crazy and people used to get smog hedaches, so it didn’t seem that far fetched.  Put another way, my mom used to fake an illness so she wouldn’t have to listen to me sing!  Hahahhahahaa!  Well, these days I have pitch so good that it’s approaching perfect pitch – which they used to also say you either had or your didn’t, but now they say it can be learned.  So I’ll always be grateful to my mom for not sharing her thoughts on whether I was tone deaf or not because if she had, who knows if I would have even tried music?  Most people wouldn’t, so maybe I’d be like a visual artist or something.  There’s no way to know.  But boy did I love music.  And I practiced it every day, both singing and playing and I got better.  When I came home from choir the first day of school and told my mom I was selected for advanced choir, she seemed kinda quiet.  I guess she did not know what to say.  She later told me she thought “Man, this choir director must be terrible!”  But when she went to our school concert and heard me singing a solo, she finally told me ”Ellie, you used to be tone deaf!!!” I really didn’t believe her because it was so random and weird.  It didn’t make any sense because tone deaf os tone deaf and you’re stuck with that worever, right?  And I loved music so much.  But that love of music, that’s what drove me and thank God no one told me I was tone deaf.  My deep love of music carried me through what might have been very dark times, but instead they were awesome and fun.  And I admire and respect that love of music when I see it in other people.

A deep love of music. What is talent if not that?

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