You are here: Home Artists Wilbert Sostre A Generation with Amusia

A Generation with Amusia

Contributors: Oliver Sacks, Robert Jourdain

People with absolute amusia do not "recognize tones and music is not experienced as music".

 In his book Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks described a neurological condition called Amusia. People with absolute amusia do not "recognize tones and music is not experienced as music". "For such people melodies lose their music quality, and may acquire a non-musical disagreeble character". Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia 

There are many forms of amusia, some of them acquired. Rhythm amusia or rhythm deafness is the inability to detect certain rhythm variations. People with Melody Amusia ( tune deafness or amelodia), "hear a sequence of notes but the sequence makes no musical sense". Melody Amusia is closely related to Pitch Amusia or the inability to distinguish between adjacent tones. "Without these basic elements there can be no sense of a tonal center or key, no sense of scale or melody or harmony". Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia 

Dysharmonia, another form of Amusia is the inability to integrate different voices and instruments harmonically. "Musical harmony has to do with following complex transitions among clusters of discretre tones. This skill varies greatly among individuals, so much so that many people are essentially deaf to complex harmony. Unable to detect its deeper relations, they find only a spattering of tones where a keen ear would unearth gorgeus patterns"  Music, The Brain and Ecstasy, Robert Jourdain 

People with Timbre Amusia can not distinguish the quality of sounds produced by different instruments. 

I propose this, "most people born in the last 40 years have acquired some or all of these forms of amusia". I believe, a major factor for this acquired Amusia is the music a person grew up listening to. People ears get accostumed to certain sounds and music, and as a consequence develop a false perception of what is good music. "Most people acquire their musical taste during adolescence among friends of the same age, and they carry early preferences right through the grave. Once one way of listening is established, it is applied to all kinds of music, which are accepted or rejected by how well they fit" Music, The Brain and Ecstasy, Robert Jourdain

Most people in the last 40 years grew up listening to sampling and later computerized rhythms, simplistic melodies, and an almost total lack of harmonization. The quality of popular music (R&B, Rap, Hiphop,reggaeton and even some Rock, Country, etc.)  has been decreasing more and more through the years.

The consequences of this, is a whole generation of people with the inability to recognize, pitch, timbre, harmonies, complex rhythms or even the simplest of melodies, the inability to recognized and appreciate good music. If they listen to the complex themes of Classical or Jazz, the orchestration of a symphony, the polyrhythms and improvisations of Jazz, they don't like it because their ears are not accostumed to such complexity and richness in music. It is too much for their mind to process. "Lacking long exposure to such music, many people remain unaware of the limitations of the music they listen to, and haven't a clue about what music can be. Their unskilled ears make so little sense of complex music that they only can conclude that their music must be superior"  Music, The Brain and Ecstasy, Robert Jourdain

Some people saved themselves from developing these forms of amusia through music education. When a person learns how to play an instrument, learns melody, rhythm, harmony, that learning experience allow them to get in contact with other forms of music usually not available in the media. This education provides the tools to differentiate between good and not so good music.  "Only the most basic mechanisms for recognizing individual sounds are hard wired into our nervous systems. Every other aspect of listening is partly or entirely conditioned by learning. A less well trained mind hears only music's simpler relations." Music, The Brain and Ecstasy, Robert Jourdain

Someone may ask, why is this important? Well, music, as any other art form should appeal not only to the emotions but also the intellect of people. "Recent research has given new life to the music-math nexus. It has been found that children given music lessons do better in arithmetic than a control group deprived of music education." Music, The Brain and Ecstasy, Robert Jourdain

In 1990, Isabelle Peretz developed some tests for evaluating amusia, (melody and rhythm amusia). I'm using some of these tests with my students. And it was not a surprise to find out there is a higher failed percentage in people with a music diet of pop music and almost no musical education than with those with a more diverse music taste. 

"Clearly listening is a skill in which the listener inwardly reproduces many features of a piece by anticipating them, and thereby better prepares himself to perceive them. Expert listeners perceive large musical objects. Chord progressions, rhythmic devices, conventions of style. The expert ear implicitly brings an extensive library of musical ideas to its listening" Music, The Brain and Ecstasy, Robert Jourdain

Document Actions