Everyone knows him – the child in the grade school choir who is asked to mime along when the class is singing. Or perhaps you are him and you know that you really are a good singer deep down but for some reason others seem not to agree. The author of Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music is author and journalist Tim Falconer, and is both of these. He loves music but has to admit to being a “bad singer” and so he embarked on a journey through the worlds of music and medical science to first get a confirmation that he truly was bad, and then to find out if there was hope to get re-trained and improve. Unfortunately, he turned out to be one of the 2.5 percent of the population that has amusia – he is scientifically tone-deaf. Fortunately for us, he is a great writer and investigator and he is able to take the reader through his personal odyssey to learn what that means, and what there is to know about this phenomena.
It turns out that there is much more to tone-deafness than simply not being able to hit the exact pitch. There is rhythm, timbre, tone, the arch of the melody and other intangibles that he tries to identify through the scientists and music experts he sees. Musicality is not just a function of the voice, or the throat or the ear – it is truly experienced and translated in the brain and it is the brain at fault for the author and others’ inability to reproduce sounds in pitch or to hear when there is a difference.
It is a fascinating book and one comes to really root for Falconer who is so determined to understand his weakness and to become a more proficient singer and ultimately, to sing on stage for an audience. I won’t ruin the ending for you but I will highly recommend this informative and highly entertaining book which can lead one to a better understanding of why some can sing arias on the stage and others can sing their hearts out (but perhaps only should when they are in the shower.)
To find out if you might have amusia, look for the web-based sites he lists for self-testing.
Thunder Bay Public Library