Musical memory

By way of jenlyn_b, I came across this test of musical memory.

Which was fascinating enough that I began rambling about it in the comments of her post, and finally realized I really ought to just write a post of my own. 🙂

The thing is, I was an awful, awful singer as a child, for all that I loved it. The sort of singer who would be told, with sympathy by more on-key peers and adults alike, that singing was just one of those talents that you either have, or don’t have. I, clearly, didn’t have it.

But I loved to sing. And it wasn’t until my mid-30s that I figured out that hey, I’ve learned so many other things. Why not sign up for lessons and find out whether I can learn this, too? It was a little scary, going to the first few lessons. I mean, I couldn’t even tell what notes I was singing, or whether they had any relation to the notes I was hearing and trying to match. And besides, I’d been embarrassed of my voice for so long; it felt strange to suddenly bring it out into the open.

But what I discovered was that I could learn. More slowly than many people, but I could, with much practice, train myself to hear the notes I was singing, and to match them to those others sang, or played.

So, the interesting thing about that test. When I took it, my musical memory came out as low-normal, which is probably about right–on the low side of the middle of the bell curve. But I knew, as I took it, that I was hearing things that I could tell I’d learned how to hear, from my lessons; that I wouldn’t have known how to hear without them. If I’d taken the test before my voice lessons, I’d almost certainly have come up as having a possibly pitch perception deficit.

Which makes me able to see, in this wonderfully clear way, how what musical memory I have now really was learned. Because I could see myself using that learning–and not some just some natural skill–to figure out my answers.

I think maybe we do people a disservice, when we tell them that music–or anything else–is only accessible to a chosen few.

Though of course, the other side of that is: it’s accessible, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have to work for it.

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