This article is part of the Research Topic The relationship between music and language


Front. Psychol., 14 July 2011 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00164

Disorders of pitch production in tone deafness

Simone Dalla Bella1,2*, Magdalena Berkowska1 and Jakub Sowiński1
  • 1 Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of Finance and Management, Warsaw, Poland
  • 2 International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research, Montreal, QC, Canada

Singing is as natural as speaking for the majority of people. Yet some individuals (i.e., 10–15%) are poor singers, typically performing or imitating pitches and melodies inaccurately. This condition, commonly referred to as “tone deafness,” has been observed both in the presence and absence of deficient pitch perception. In this article we review the existing literature concerning normal singing, poor-pitch singing, and, briefly, the sources of this condition. Considering that pitch plays a prominent role in the structure of both music and speech we also focus on the possibility that speech production (or imitation) is similarly impaired in poor-pitch singers. Preliminary evidence from our laboratory suggests that pitch imitation may be selectively inaccurate in the music domain without being affected in speech. This finding points to separability of mechanisms subserving pitch production in music and language.

Keywords: music cognition, pitch production, tone deafness, congenital amusia, speech production, vocal performance, poor-pitch singing, cognitive neuroscience

Citation: Dalla Bella S, Berkowska M and Sowiński J (2011) Disorders of pitch production in tone deafness. Front. Psychology 2:164. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00164

Received: 02 March 2011; Accepted: 01 July 2011;
Published online: 14 July 2011.

Edited by:

Lutz Jäncke, University of Zurich, Switzerland

Reviewed by:

Mari Tervaniemi, University of Helsinki, Finland
Katrin Schulze, UCL Institute of Child Health, UK

Copyright: © 2011 Dalla Bella, Berkowska and Sowiński. This is an open-access article subject to a non-exclusive license between the authors and Frontiers Media SA, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and other Frontiers conditions are complied with.

*Correspondence: Simone Dalla Bella, Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of Finance and Management, Ul. Pawia 55, 01-030 Warsaw, Poland. e-mail:

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