Peter Q Pfordresher and Steven Brown (2007)
Poor-pitch singing in the absence of "tone deafness"
Music Perception, 25(2):95-115.
The term "tone deafness", commonly applied to poor-pitch singing, suggests that the cause lies in faulty perception. However, it is also plausible that problems lie in production, memory, and/or sensorimotor integration. We report the results of two experiments on vocal pitch imitation that addressed these possibilities. Participants listened to and then vocally imitated unfamiliar 4-note pitch sequences.Within each experiment, 10-15% of the participants imitated pitch at least one semitone off and were categorized as "poor-pitch singers." Such deviations were reliable across different pitch classes and therefore constitute transpositions. In addition, poor-pitch singers compressed the size of intervals during production. Poor-pitch singers did not differ from good singers in pitch discrimination accuracy, although they appeared to be hindered rather than helped by singing with correct accompaniment. Taken together, findings suggested that poor-pitch singing results from mismapping of pitch onto action, rather than problems specific to perceptual,motor, or memory systems.