Some people can't hear music
Did you know that some people can’t hear music? And it has nothing to do with being deaf. We’ve all talked to people who say they are tone deaf which means they can’t seem to latch onto a tune and sing it correctly. Tone deafness is sometimes another name for the syndrome congenital amusia. A person with this syndrome simply doesn’t like music. Their brains don’t let them understand it, recognise it, sing it in tune or get pleasure from listening to it. They can’t tell if two tunes are the same and can’t tell whether it’s in a high pitch or low pitch.
Recently a researcher discovered that in addition some people can’t recognise a beat in music. This means they can’t clap in time (to the beat) or dance and they can’t tell if someone else is doing these things correctly either.
Feeling the rhythm is often due to our mothers bouncing us on their knees to the beat, singing to us while clapping our hands or dancing around the room with us in her arms. From these sensory movements we gain a sense of beat and when we hear something similar we can extrapolate that and dance or clap in time. Despite my intensive musical training as a teenager, I have no sense of rhythm and find it difficult to play in time and to develop a beat in my music. I put this down to the fact that my parents were into a religion which believed it was a ‘sin’ to dance and move your body to music – so I was never exposed to it.
If you’re into music you will probably describe it as ‘hearing the melody’ which enables you to identify the music being played or sung, but you will ‘feel the rhythm ‘ (or beat) which allows you to clap or dance. For those of us who enjoy music and have gone deaf gradually over time frequently we lost the ability to hear music, but we could still feel the beat. Indeed, people from the Deaf community often feel the beat and this, despite not hearing the music, allows them to dance.
Apparently there is a difference in the way our brains work out speech and the way we understand music. Some specialists even go so far as to suggest that music is handled in a separate part of the brain altogether - not just in an ‘understanding all sound’ area. If this part of our brain hasn’t been developed then we are more likely to have some form of amusia.
There are varying degrees of congenital amusia. Some people don’t like musica at all because it makes no sense and is unpleasant. Others can’t recognise a beat, while others simply can’t recognise a melody or sing in tune. The good news is that only 1 in ten people who can’t sing in tune have congenital amusia. The rest of us just need some musical training which, while it might not give us professional musical skills, will give us more pleasure from music.
Reference: Hearing HQ November 2014 – Beat Deafness
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