First things first: you probably aren’t truly “tone deaf”!

Generally when people describe themselves (or others) as “tone deaf”, what they mean is “they can’t hear pitches well” or simply “they can’t sing in tune”.

Often this is assumed to be an inherent trait of a person, going hand-in-hand with whether they “are musical”. However, it is only a very tiny proportion of the population (about 4%) who actually have a clinical condition (amusia) preventing them from appreciating differences in pitch. You can take an online tone deaf test to see if you might have this clinical condition.

Only 4% of people are truly tone deaf

In the vast majority of cases, struggling to hear pitch or stay in tune actually boils down to lack of training. Most often, a bad childhood experience of music education (e.g. being told they “can’t sing”) leads to them not engaging with music learning, not practising, and simply assuming they “aren’t musical” forever more.

What a tragedy! And such an unnecessary one.

How to cure tone deafness

The truth is that (excepting the clinical cases above), anybody can improve their appreciation of pitch. For example, our RelativePitch app begins from the simplest exercise: “Are these two notes the same or different?” and we have yet to encounter somebody who cannot (with some concentration and practice) succeed at this challenge!

In fact, here are a few excerpts from our app reviews:

Not a musician! But, I am finding that I am not as tone deaf as I thought. Great learning tool!

NurseDanger, United States, 2009

Great for learning intervals. Finally I have my tone deaf wife telling the difference between unison and tone.

todala, United States, 2009

Great! This is an awesome program. I tried a cheaper app and it just moved too quickly. My ear is fairly tone deaf, so I need something with training wheels on it!

warriorsings, United States, 2010

Excellent. don’t go through life tone-deaf, people

Sarthanifleon, United States, 2009

Listen and Sing

Singing out of tune is often the prominent sign people take to indicate someone is “tone deaf” – but by developing some pitch appreciation (with ear training) and doing some singing practice to connect the improved inner ear with vocal chord control, there is no reason these people cannot escape the unnecessary and unhelpful label of being “tone deaf”.

Don’t accept that you are not musical

If you are someone who has been told you are “tone deaf” or somebody has had the narrow-minded cheek to suggest you “can’t sing” – take heart! They are most probably wrong.

You need only spend a bit of time developing your ear and your voice, and there’s no reason you can’t become just as musical as you want to be.

Similar questions answered on this page:

  • Can someone who is tone deaf be a musician?
  • Is there such a thing as “tone deaf”?
  • What does it mean to be “tone deaf”?
  • Is there a point in learning music if I’m tone deaf?