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Mind

Find Out If You’re Tone Deaf

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This is great: take this nifty series of listening tests and in 15 minutes you objectively find out how acute your sense of pitch is. The third test determines if you have a weak sense of rhythm, which is known to be linked with bad dancing. (No word on whether this is "objectively" connected with success in one's social life, or lack thereof. And when a computer starts criticizing your social life...)

I scored a 66.7 on the first test, the one on tone deafness, which was pretty much average. Then I got a 4.8 on the pitch accuracy test -- that means that at 500Hz (near the B below the C above middle C), I can discern two tones that are 4.8Hz apart. (Half tones are about 29Hz apart at that pitch, so this is a small but appreciable gap.) Interesting to see that the 6Hz tones sound very different to me, while the 3Hz tones sound almost exactly the same. That placed me at only the 13th percentile. I blame my poor relative performance on the probability that this online quiz is overrun with musical geniuses -- they wrecked the curve!

Having realized long ago that I didn't have a great ear (my high school chorus teacher can attest to this), I took this as no great surprise. That's fine, I thought -- I'll really shine in the rhythm section. But it was not to be. I scored a 68%, placing me at the 31st percentile.

Despite my vaguely depressing results, I really like these tests. It's fascinating that you can sit down and in 15 minutes find out something about how your ear and brain work. Also interesting to think that people can have such different experiences of similar stimuli. Auditory acuity is largely a natural, unchangeable characteristic of a person (at least an adult). Not to get too Brave New World, but I wonder if it could actually be helpful to test people's hearing to see how well they can, say, learn to play the violin. Maybe if my chorus teacher knew about my tin ear, she would have been a little more understanding of my flat singing -- or maybe she never would've let my hopeless self even in the doorway.

As fast and powerful as these listening tests are, they can't quite match color blindness tests. I remember sitting down for my first such test in elementary school, and about a minute in, the nurse pretty much knew: my red cones are a bit strange.

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