Part 2: I’m tone-deaf. What can I do about it?

(from Learn how to sight-sing from scratch)

Being tone-deaf is a reality for many, but there’s still hope. At this point, you are welcome to let out a sigh to express your disappointment—your disappointment that being tone-deaf is no longer an excuse not to pursue sight singing! Go on, literally let out a sigh… (It’s part of the exercise).

Now, imagine that there is a loud airplane passing over in the sky above. As it is passing over you and moving away, you hear the Doppler Effect in the sound of its engines (if you don’t know what the Doppler Effect is, look it up). It is time for you to be that airplane—not be in it, that will happen later—but be it. In other words, let out the sigh again, but this time, make some noise with your voice to imitate that airplane (this is a fun activity to undertake in a crowded public place, depending on your idea of fun).


We’ll take a moment to let you be that airplane…

So your voice would have started out “high” when you began the sigh, and would have ended up “low” as you completed the sigh. Or in other words, it would have started “over the table”, and ended up “under the table”, if that makes more sense.

It is now time to enter the airplane. You are in the sky. It is peaceful, and there is a gentle hum of the engines as you whisk through the air. What an interesting word: “hum”. Unlike before, when you were standing on the ground and there was a plane passing over you, now there is no longer any Doppler Effect, because the sound is happening where you are and it is not travelling away from you anymore. It is a constant sound.

Now imitate the hum of that airplane. Aim for a constant gentle hum…

You enter the cockpit of the airplane, and notice the endless array of lights, meters, and countless other controls. One of these meters shows the engine speed—or is it the air-pressure level? Never mind which one it is. All we need to know is that the needle needs to be in the middle of the screen. So visit the following link in order to get a clear view of the meter (you may need to connect up a headset/microphone so that your co-pilot can hear you, depending on the model of plane you are flying (In other words, your computer/device needs a microphone)).

Have a go at making the needle reach the center of the meter by humming. It’s quite tricky, but give it a go. If the needle is too far over to the left, hum very slightly “higher”. If it is too far over to the right, hum very slightly “lower”.

I’ll give you a few minutes to have fun with this. Don’t worry about the plane; the co-pilot has got things under control.

Sorry to disturb you, but we’ve just been asked to set the meter temporarily so that it says “C” in the circle in the middle. No big deal; by this time you would have become familiar enough with the meter to notice that it likes to change letters quite frequently. So, use your airplane hum—moving it higher or lower—to find the “C”. If you know your alphabet, it shouldn’t be too hard to find, but moving the hum up or down may be tricky.

Let’s have a few minutes to find this “C” and hum with it for a bit.

So, how does it feel? Did you manage to stay on the C? The plane seems to be flying smoothly, and the air pressure in the cabin is good, so things seem in control. And how does your voice feel? You will have noticed that the “C” feels a certain way—different from those other letters. You can feel your larynx muscles respond in a certain way in order to reach and hold that “C”.

And what about the sound? Do you think you are still tone deaf? Perhaps not so much anymore; you were humming for your computer/device which has ears too—it calls them “microphones”. But computers don’t have feelings—they can’t find the enjoyment of humming the “C”. You certainly can enjoy your own humming though, and so can others (if not now, then in the near future).

Let’s try it out. Perform a Web search for videos using the words “in C major”. Listen to a few of these videos, whilst humming that “C” that you have been practicing. You may be pleased with the way you sound!

If you want more, go back to the tuner and try a different letter, like “D” or “G”. Then search for “in D major” or “in G major”, and hum along with these new letters. With enough practice, you’ll be pleased with what you hear and what you can do.

If that’s still not enough for you, try viewing related videos, and finding the note that matches the music. It should feel as pleasant as the “C” did, and as the other letters did also. But it doesn’t always work with every piece of music, so don’t be disappointed.

When you feel that you might be ready, be sure to check out Part 3 of Learn how to sight-sing from scratch.

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