Tone Deaf Genetics

The shaming of amusiacs for being weak-willed individuals who can't sing in tune because they don't try hard enough is - I am sad to say - still a thing. Yet there is plenty of evidence that the condition has a genetic component.

Consider this article out of the Department of Genetics at Stanford School of Medicine: "With some number crunching the researchers concluded that between 71 and 80% of tone deafness can be explained by genetics" Understanding Genetics Tone Deaf Genetics.

It was 60 years ago this month that my primary school teacher called me out in class and told me - and the rest of the class - that I had a 'tin ear.' She then ordered me to 'pretend to sing' when our class went on stage to sing carols during the school Christmas concert. The year after that I was told to not only mouth the words to the carols. but also pretend to play my recorder (a traditional English flute that I could never learn to play).

Growing up in England, I was obliged to sing or not sing for six days of the week for the next 10 years. (We sang hymns every day at school, and in church on Sunday, in addition to mandatory music classes for most of those years.)

Finding out, after six decades, that I was born with a condition that rendered singing in tune and learning a musical instrument non-starters, was quite an emotional discovery. But I decided to adopt a positive perspective and work to spread awareness of this condition to prevent children being stigmatized and castigated for their "tin ears."


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