Wednesday, March 19, 2008

unstrung


I don't understand music. Almost all of it -- the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift -- inhabits some region beyond my ken. It's mostly pitch that's impenetrable, since rhythm has always seemed more or less straightforward. I can hear and reproduce the duh-DUM, duh-DUM of iambs, the thud and doubled taps of dactyls. Though, of course, English is unusually dependent on stress and I've often wondered if my native language were, say, French, I'd be as deaf to beat and meter.

In second grade, Miss Petracca lined us up next to the piano and played notes, two at time, asking us which was higher. When it was my turn, I told her that I didn't know. She played another pair and then another, her fingers moving further and further apart on the keyboard, until I could finally hear that the first sound was smaller, tinnier than the second. It was the same at home. I couldn't sing, while my father and my brother knew the names of every note they heard -- A, B, C-sharp.

But there's also something more fundamental lacking, some deeper failure beyond repair. Miss Petracca put a record on the turntable and told us to listen to the music and draw the way it made us feel. The sound was full of instruments, playing fast and slow, loud and soft, with no words to give me a clue. I looked at my classmates. They all were listening, heads tilted, eyes narrowed, fingers curled, their crayons moving effortlessly across the paper, leaving in their wake, trees and houses, cars and people, rivers, flowers, hearts.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

If you want to measure your ability to distinguish pitch, try this test (it loads very slowly, so be patient). I didn't expect that I would do well and I didn't. But I did score in the 35th percentile, which suggests the improbable conclusion that a third of the population is even more profoundly unmusical than I am. Or, and much more likely, since the site comes up near the top of the list of results when you google the words "tone deaf," there's a significant selection bias.

32 comments:

Magpie said...

I think that Niobe is very
happy and upbeat and merry.
Oh wait, that's not right.
She's dark as the night,
and tone deaf in case that's your query.

[I was going limerick you in congratulations on your limerick win, but I amended it when I found you'd closed comments on that post...]

Christine said...

um, i did the whole test then i accidentally messed something up and it disappeared before i got my score.

basically i think i suck.




Running on empty

LAS said...

I am totally going to try this later when I have more time! And I do love that song! I play the piano. I bet I still fail at this, but we'll see!

Patti said...

"the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift...the baffled king composing hallelujah"

Leonard Cohen rocks.

He admits he can't sing and his music is simple, but the man is a true poet. I love his work and now I'll be singing Hallelujah all day.

As for noticing pitch and tone, I can do it. I played piano and cello for years. Well, I should say I tinkered. A musician I never was. However, my husband is gifted musically. He can sing and play almost any instrument you put in front of him.

I am, secretly, jealous of his abilities.

slouching mom said...

81%.

That was a very, very cool test. I'm going to have to e-mail that around to my family.

Thanks!

Lori said...

I *heart* Leonard Cohen.

I got a 77.8%. Wonder what effect my 3 ringing phones had on my performance.

And why did everyone have to call during THIS 6 minutes??

Nice photo, too. I would love to watch you take photos someday.

Anonymous said...

Cool test. I don't play any instruments or sing (except alone in the car w/LOUD music) but I got an 80.6% on that test. I suppose that comes in handy when I have to tune my daughter's harp

Angela

slouching mom said...

oh, and congrats., you saucy limerick chick!

Clementine said...

I had the same test you did in elementary school and I'm as bad as you are! When they finally let me into the school choir (they were down a few people and felt sorry for me), the music teacher told me to sing v. quietly or to just mouth the words. Awesome, huh? I was a little scarred from the experience, but I settled on percussion when it was time to choose an instrument. Petunia and I met while I was playing percussion in a community band, so I think I had the last laugh on that one. I had other laughs, too: I sang in an a capella group in college called Crapapella, for women who love to sing but really can't. It was fabulous!

(Petunia is a music therapist, by the way, and she tells me that you can learn that pitch stuff. Good to know, but I'm having too much fun without it.)

I'm curious about that online test, though!

Becky said...

92.4%.

I'm shocked.

painted maypole said...

would that be one of the herd of guitars hanging out upstairs at your house?

Katie said...

80.6% though I have to say that if you have poor memory skills then that will give you some bias on that test. I've just finished work, and my brain is oozing out of my ears!

niobe said...

Painted Maypole: Yes. And because it's the only one that's not in, you know, that room, it's the only one you'll be seeing any pictures of.

Monica H said...

I got 77.2% Which is average I guess.

Artblog said...

oooh, good score Becky :)

Tash said...

I have no time to do this, and will probably forget by the time I do (sigh), but I played violin for an overwhelming portion of my life and have pitch retention (I can hum you the note a pop song starts on, but can't tell you what it is -- like, c-sharp). However, I can't sing. For the life of me. I have a 4 note range, deep in the alto region. A sight-singing prof once used me as an example of how NOT to move into your upper register. Thank you, so much.

Music classes are just chockablock with embarrassing and poor-self-esteem moments, aren't they.

Furrow said...

It's amazing to me that someone as gifted with words as you are, who has such an ear for rhythm in her prose, would be tone deaf. But if it's true that musical ability is somehow related to spatial/mathematical ability, perhaps its a case of one part of the brain being so overactive as to sort of shut down another part. So, do you get lost easily? Can you add 2+2?

I got 75% correct, which is better than I expected, but according to the survey, only "normal."

Betty M said...

The third 80.6% here. Not sure what that says about the test. I'm definitely no musician.

Maggie said...

Maybe I should be embarrassed - I only got a 61.1%...but I didn't realize what I was actually supposed to be doing until halfway through the test. So apparently I am tone deaf AND dumb!

delphi said...

For some reason, I assumed you are musical. I think it is the lyrical use of language I so often see here.

I am musical (computer won't do the test) and have good pitch retention, but I am envious of your understanding of poetry and language. I guess we all have our strengths.

Lori said...

Oh, I hated those "draw what you hear" assignments in school- and I was a very musical child. Even as a child I recognized it as a very contrived, meaningless activity (at least that is my opinion).

You are not lacking- just overly abundant in other areas.

Lori said...

I just did the test- FUN!

81.9%

I think I would have done better if I had known what I was doing the first few times (somewhat musical but not so good with directions....)

Kymberli said...

86.5% with a background in music.

meg said...

I got 86% too. Big shock for me. I cannot sing to save my life.

niobe said...

Becky: I am positively dazzled by your score. I couldn't have possibly done that well even if I had figured out a way to cheat.

Rachel said...

When I taught I was always hyper aware of being in that moment that one of my students would remember forever. It's a scary place to be.

Julia said...

I have to do this later, when I am not sitting in the waiting room at the gymnastics place.
I soooo wanted music lessons when I was a kid, and my parents had terrible memories of having to take their music lessons. So they wanted to spare me, since I had no pitch and all. But that was a defining failing of my childhood-- inability to sing on key. I learned in my twenties, after a lot of hard work. I can't always do it, but there is a surprisingly large range of songs I can do these days.

missing_one said...

87.6% not bad....hmmm..this was interesting. thanks!

wheelsonthebus said...

I am just the same way. Which makes me wonder where in the world Zach gets his intense interest from...

Rebecca said...

I like Leonard Cohen's version, but I adore Jeff Buckley's, and KD Lang did a beautiful version too ;)

Sober Briquette said...

I got zero. Zero people are worse than me? That can't be right.

Mad said...

Just seeing this now. I scored 72.something or other but swear I would have done better if a) I knew what the test was doing before the 5th pattern or so and b) I had the ability to concentrate for 6 continuous minutes. I guess I'm more attention DEAFicit than tone deaf.