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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2005 Dec;1060:311-24.

Musical difficulties are rare: a study of "tone deafness" among university students.

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Department of Psychology, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6, Canada.


This study was concerned with self-reported "tone deafness" and its possible relationship to congenital amusia. Nearly 17% of over 2,000 first-year psychology students at Queen's University self-reported tone deafness. Two hundred students were recruited from this pool of students, comprising 100 who reported tone deafness and 100 who reported that they were not tone-deaf (NTD). The study contained two parts. In part 1, participants completed the six tests of the Montreal Battery of Evaluation of Amusia (MBEA) developed by Peretz and collaborators. In part 2, participants completed an extensive questionnaire designed to elicit details about musical experiences, abilities, training, and interests. Twenty-eight questionnaire items allowing a quantitative response were subjected to factor analysis. Four orthogonal components emerged from the analysis. The components reflected self-report of (1) vocal production, (2) music instruction, (3) listening attitudes, and (4) childhood memories of musical environment. Results for each of the MBEA tests and composite scores for all tests were regressed on participants' factor scores. The best and significant predictors of the MBEA scores were factor I and factor II, followed by factor III. Factor scores accounted for a higher percentage of the variance in MBEA composite test results (27%) than the self-report of tone deafness alone (7%). The musical difficulties revealed by the MBEA test results for some participants warrant further attention and study. However, an encouraging conclusion from the MBEA results is that many individuals who consider themselves "tone-deaf" may not, in fact, have perceptual difficulties, and these individuals should be supported in any of their efforts to proceed with music enjoyment and instruction.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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