Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Article: Mitchell, Kevin, The Neuroscience of Tone Deafness, January 18, 2011, Retrieved from:

The Neuroscience of Tone Deafness

Kevin Mitchell in his article “The neuroscience of Tone Deafness” discusses the correlation of two conditions: amusia and prospagnosia. These two conditions lie in the condition of “agnosias” which is defined as the “inability to recognize objects by use of the senses.” Mitchell explains how the brains of people with these conditions have a “lack of knowledge in certain categories.” In the case of prospagnosia, they sense the face with their vision and can understand gender, yet there is no identification process.  Both conditions are either congenital, familial, or caused by a head lesion. The result is a “structural disconnection” between the location where the brain senses the face/tone and the frontal and parietal lobes, which are the centres of consciousness.  Studies using the electroencephalography(EEG) machine show that within the brains of people who are “tone-deaf”, there still is an electrical response when a tone is played discordantly. He concludes that there are “mutations that cause these conditions” and how in the familial/congenital cases, no particular genes have yet to be found. The process of genetic variation will only benefit in decreasing the presence of conditions like amusia and prospagnosia.

I found Kevin Mitchell’s article to be thought provoking and interesting. I am currently teaching piano to two students who are sisters. I became aware of their inability to recognize tones when we did an ear training exercise to pick out “Happy Birthday” starting on G. Each student could not tell the the direction of the melody from one note to the other even when I sang it and emphasized the intervallic jumps. I concur with Mitchell’s statement “The defect lies in connecting this sensory input with some implicit knowledge of musical structure and contours.”