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Re: physiological basis of tone deafness


Erv Hafter and I are just beginning a comprehensive study of
tone-deafness.  It is an interested problem, but not without some

To start with, it turns out that there is no officially agreed upon
definition in the literature.  The term "Tone deafness" seems to be
applied to people who can't recognize a song that they have heard
many times, or can't reproduce a simple melody without errors, or
can't make tonal pitch (same/different) discriminations as well as
other people.  But this hasn't been quantified.  (That is one problem
we're addressing right now.)  The parietal lobe may be implicated in
some, but not all, of these cases.

For starters, here are some references.

Bentley, A. (1968).  Monotones.  Music Education Research Papers No.
1, London: Novello.

Cox, I. (1947).  Tone deafness.  Music Educator's Journal, 34.

Joyner, D. R. (1968).  The monotone problem.  Journal of Research in
Music Education, 17(1), 115-124.

Kalmus, H., & Fry, D. B. (1980).  On tune deafness (dysmelodia):
Frequency development, genetics, and musical background.  Annals of
Human Genetics, 43, 369-382.

Welch, G. F. (1979).  Poor pitch singing:  A review of the
literature.  Psychology of Music, 7(1), 50-58.

Hope this helps.

Daniel Levitin
Dept. of Psychology 1227
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR  97403-1227