Very, very few people are tone deaf. Tone deafness is an abnormality of the brain which can also affect the understanding of language and certain spatial abilities. So unless you are one of those rare individuals who are born with amusia or have suffered a brain injury or have hearing problems, you aren’t tone deaf.
So now that’s out of the way, you can get on with singing!
When I tell people that my singing groups and workshops are open to anyone and that I believe that everyone can sing they often ask “But what about people who are tone deaf, people who just can’t hold a tune?” They just jump in and start being negative and putting obstacles in the way!
Now, what if I’d said I was starting an amateur soccer team or a beginner’s cookery class or a tennis academy for kids? Most people would probably say: “Well done, great idea! Can I join?”, not “But what about those people who can’t kick straight or those whose taste buds are under developed or those who have to wear glasses?”
Somehow singing is different. People who sing are expected to be perfect from the off, be able to “hold a tune” from the get go, to have a lovely voice without any practice, to never dare to “inflict” their horrible tuneless voice on others. They must be able to sound like Pavarotti or Britney Spears or Justin Bieber or Lesley Garrett as soon as they open their mouths.
But we don’t expect someone starting to learn soccer to be able to play for the premiere league next week, or someone to open a Michelin starred restaurant the week after they sign up for cookery classes, or new tennis players to play at Wimbledon next summer.
A person can kick a ball about in their back garden and nobody minds if they’re good or bad. Someone can practice their serve on their own until they get it right, even though the ball hits the net most of the time. A beginner cook can experiment at home to create new dishes which, at first, may be virtually inedible.
But when it comes to singing, somehow expectations are different.
“No, no, no,” you cry, “I don’t mind if someone sings in the bath or around the house, as long as they don’t do it in public or inflict it on others”.
So let’s take our new footballer out of her back garden and to the first practice session of the local amateur soccer team. Now it’s in public and her team mates depend on her and can also see how well or badly she can kick a ball. In the beginning her passes will be rubbish, she’ll miss easy shots at goal and she’ll run out of breath quickly.
But as the weeks go by she’ll get better and become an important part of the team. She may never get to be as good as, say, Wayne Rooney, but few do. She’ll have fun, face challenges, be better or worse than some of the other players, possibly compete with her team, get much better at soccer and become a valuable team player.
Same with singing. Ears and mouths are just like eyes and feet: it takes time to connect the two. Just as our soccer player can’t pass accurately at first and a beginner tennis player keeps serving into the net, the singer just starting out in a group might not be able to accurately reproduce with their mouths what they hear with their ears.
But be patient. Like any skill the ability to hold a tune accurately will develop in time. It’s not that you’re tone deaf, it’s just that it needs practice. And any way, most of the time in a group it’s not a big deal if you’re slightly out.
So next time someone says “I can’t sing, I’m tone deaf”, just tell them to join a choir and get practising!
Chris Rowbury's website: chrisrowbury.com