Hearing management

Updated 06 December 2017

Ras may be tone deaf

The controversy surrounding the singing of the national anthem by Ras Dumisani continues. Was it his interpretation people didn't like, or is he in fact tone deaf and can't sing?

The controversy surrounding the singing of the national anthem by Ras Dumisani in France last Friday just won't die down. Was it just his interpretation people didn't like, or is he in fact tone deaf and can't sing?

Watch this video and make up your own mind. Then read more about what it means to be tone deaf.

If you're one of the unlucky people who is tone deaf, it turns out your brain may have a wiring problem. That's what new research suggests.

People who are tone deaf can't detect differences in musical pitch but usually have normal hearing and speech. Tone-deafness runs in families, and estimates of how many people have the problem range from 4% to 17%.

In the small study done in Boston, brain scans showed there was a difference in a particular brain circuit between those who were tone deaf and those who weren't.

Among the tone deaf, researchers discovered there were fewer connections between two areas of the brain that perceive and produce sounds.

The study's lead author, Psyche Loui, likened the connection to a highway between two islands in the brain.

In tone-deaf people, "there's less traffic on the highway," said Loui, who studies music and the brain at Harvard Medical School and is also a musician.

How the study was done
Loui and her colleagues took brain scans of 20 people, half of them tone deaf. Those who were tone deaf had fewer nerve fibres between the frontal and temporal regions of the brain, or in some cases the fibres couldn't be detected at all. The researchers reported their the Journal of Neuroscience.

"It's a new piece in our understanding of tone-deafness and the processes that are involved in the perception of pitch in general," said Nina Kraus of North-western University, who wasn't involved in the research.

Loui said the brain connection they examined was long known to be involved in language. "Now that we know which brain pathways to train," she said, there may be ways to help people with tone-deafness, and perhaps those with other language disorders.

(Health24/Sapa, updated November 2009)


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Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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