I think Penny is wise to emphasize that a lot of self-deprecating
"tone-deafness" is mostly a question of attitude, self-esteem,
experience and what-not. Like the people who think they don't have a
'green thumb.' I've always said I couldn't sing notes from a score (I
guess that would have been called sight-singing) or even carry a
tune, but now that i'm doing it in the privacy of my own space for
practical reasons (to help me learn the continuo for some Italian
baroque opera arias and recits), I'm discovering that I can
approximate the vocal line better than I might have expected.
Though to a listener I'm afraid it would be about like some of the
worst of American Idol, as it's been described to me.
All that said, there IS a genuine condition called, if I remember
correctly, amusia, which is something more profound. I understand it
as a basic inability to perceive music as in any way meaningful.
Which is to say, think about even the most elementary response we
might have to a simple tune, and how there is that peculiar mental
state when we are "in" a musical line (it doesn't have to be "good"
music or even music we like or can even STAND for this mental state
to occur). It's so universal and familiar to most of us that it's
hard to imagine being without it.
But I have a friend that I swear has something like amusia. His brain
just doesn't "get" anything at all from any kind of musical
phenomena. Nothing. It's just a pattern he can register
intellectually, but has no aesthetic or emotional component whatever.
Reminds me of how I've been told the author of "An Anthropologist
from Mars" describes the subjective experience of an autistic person
interracting with others.
Owen Daly Early Keyboard Instruments
557 Statesman St. NE
Salem, OR 97301