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Thread: That "tone deafness" discussion...

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    That "tone deafness" discussion...

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    Curiosity got me searching and I found this video. I thought that I'd cherry-pick a couple of points that I agree with (there are many that I don't, and I was irritated by some of the trite interruptions from the host).

    10:36+ "There is so much more to music than just pitch".

    The amusic dude makes the point that I guessed at in another thread, that there are various attributes of sound, and different people may rank them differently. While most of us may place "pitch" at the top of the list, other people may relegate pitch in favour of rhythm, timbre or some other dynamic.



    The amusic also claims that the audition piece by William Hung..

    9:55+ (above)..was analyzed and is ON KEY. Yet, many people would casually observe that he is singing OFF KEY or FLAT. I find it quite interesting how they attempt to quantify what is wrong with Hung's singing (but I was not impressed by the HUGE cultural bias in their supposedly scientific testing regime.)

    Well, I've never watched an episode of American Idol before, so I had to look up "William Hung" and I came across a talk he made 14 years later. He had since been complicit in putting himself out there for some ridicule (e.g, with an album, which seemed to deliberately showcase his limited singing skills), so I don't mind mentioning that his TEDx talk exhibits that same stilted, robotic, delivery that beset his American Idol audition.



    From his talk, it appears that he was set up to fail. Instead of ditching him at the entry stage of American Idol, they waved him through, only to tear him down live. Not cool, and another reason for me not to watch these types of show.
    Last edited by kickingtone; 08-18-2018 at 04:45.

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    I prefer rhythm, timbre, and even style/delivery over pitch. It's why I love a singer like Lou Reed.
    Most people seem to look to pitch and range over anything else. The interesting thing is that if pitch is off (within reason) our brain actually fills in the pitch the singer meant. This was in some book I read about the science of the brain and music. I can't remember the title, but it was interesting. It might have been "This Is Your Brain on Music"...I've read several so I'm not sure. It's an interesting field so dig into some books if you really like the subject.

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    If our brain somehow automatically "fills in" the correct pitch when a singer is slightly off........then how would any of us ever recognize a slightly flat or sharp vocal tone? I'm pretty sure that I do and others I've played in bands with seem to have the same ability.

    I do think that there are times, however, when a singer sort of slides into or through the correct note (while starting or ending up on an off pitch note) and we then assign it as being on pitch sometimes. As well.......if a singer is doing a cover........I think it's very possible that much of the audience may be anticipating the correct note / pitch and may not recognize or register a slightly off note.

    Just my 2 cents worth.
    Just A Song Writer..........

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mickster View Post
    If our brain somehow automatically "fills in" the correct pitch when a singer is slightly off........then how would any of us ever recognize a slightly flat or sharp vocal tone? I'm pretty sure that I do and others I've played in bands with seem to have the same ability.

    I do think that there are times, however, when a singer sort of slides into or through the correct note (while starting or ending up on an off pitch note) and we then assign it as being on pitch sometimes. As well.......if a singer is doing a cover........I think it's very possible that much of the audience may be anticipating the correct note / pitch and may not recognize or register a slightly off note.

    Just my 2 cents worth.
    I'm just relaying what research says. I doubt they were testing trained musicians.
    The average person fills in notes the singer meant. Take a song like "People" by the Silver Jews. The melody is so off (like a half step flat the entire song), but it was a big underground hit. That's because the average person heard the harmony, heard the singer going up and down in (flat) pitch, and filled in what he meant. For a more mainstream example just look to Velvet Underground.

    I haven't watched the video in the OP yet (I'll check it out now), but in that same book they said tone deafness is very rare. If the singer is going up and down with the melody and can hear that, they're not tone deaf. True tone deaf people are basically monotone -- they can't hear the up and down fluctuations, so they therefore can't sing them. Apparently this is super rare. Like as rare as perfect pitch.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nola View Post
    True tone deaf people are basically monotone -- they can't hear the up and down fluctuations, so they therefore can't sing them.
    Watch yourself. I damn near got crucified for saying that last week.
    ---------- Steenaudio Website ----------

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steenamaroo View Post
    Watch yourself. I damn near got crucified for saying that last week.
    Haha...really!?
    The internet is weird.

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    Pitch is psychoacoustic, so there is a psychological component to apprehending pitch. I still say that pitch going "up" or "down" is an approximate convention, and that isolating pitch in this fashion is not a requirement of musicality.

    I also believe that we can naturally join the dots and refit music, although we can also train ourselves out of this ability.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nola View Post
    I'm just relaying what research says. I doubt they were testing trained musicians.
    The average person fills in notes the singer meant. Take a song like "People" by the Silver Jews. The melody is so off (like a half step flat the entire song), but it was a big underground hit. That's because the average person heard the harmony, heard the singer going up and down in (flat) pitch, and filled in what he meant. For a more mainstream example just look to Velvet Underground.

    I haven't watched the video in the OP yet (I'll check it out now), but in that same book they said tone deafness is very rare. If the singer is going up and down with the melody and can hear that, they're not tone deaf. True tone deaf people are basically monotone -- they can't hear the up and down fluctuations, so they therefore can't sing them. Apparently this is super rare. Like as rare as perfect pitch.
    My little brother(who loves music) is "tone deaf". The weird part is that he hears the pitch change but his brain interprets it as a volume difference, so higher pitches to him are louder and lower pitches are quieter. He tried to learn a couple of instruments unsuccessfully and I didn't know why(I come from a musical family) until I heard him sing. Eye opening.
    To the subject of whether pitch or rhythm should be ranked higher I think it really depends on the purpose. Since the first instrument is voice, which is used to communicate, I would have to say that the two are inextricably linked. If one were to compare a sentence(in English) spoken in a monotone as opposed to using pitch change, the meaning can be completely changed due to the inflection. Not to mention tonal languages like most East Asian dialects. IOW, the emotional content is most accurately communicated when both pitch and rhythm are working together. I'm sure we've all heard stuff like Mr Hung, but to me it's even harder to listen to something with completely random tones OR arrhythmic structure. Even a conversation can lose it's sense if the spaces between words is varied randomly. I haven't researched but my guess is that our brains on average put an equal emphasis on both pitch and rhythm.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gtoboy View Post
    The weird part is that he hears the pitch change but his brain interprets it as a volume difference, so higher pitches to him are louder and lower pitches are quieter.
    I am similar. I cannot always tell you if it's a "pitch" change or a volume change, but I am able to replicate the change.

    For me, a vowel or volume change can sometimes sound like a pitch change, when there is no pitch change. It doesn't necessarily matter, because I can still sing it back correctly, although I haven't necessarily been able to analyze exactly which characteristics changed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steenamaroo View Post
    Watch yourself. I damn near got crucified for saying that last week.
    Well.......to be careful in my response.......the video pretty much says that tone deaf people have trouble hearing note / pitch changes that are relatively close together...........such as one tone or note apart. It doesn't say that all amusic people cannot hear ANY differences. Some are worse than others. I'm not 1000% sure what the true definition of "monotone" actually is.......but my perception of that term.....based on its use over the years........is that of a sort of "one note Johnny" type of singer. My wife is by no means a musician......and I do think our abilities to decern pitch issues with singers that we hear or watch together are different.....(mine being better). That said.......she pretty much hears what I hear and knows pitch issues when they occur......even if slightly off.

    What I liked about the video was the observations they made regarding Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan. I have to think that others like Johnny Cash and Lou Reed fall into the same outline.
    Just A Song Writer..........

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