Will "tone deaf" parents' singing harm a child's musicality?
On Bija Children's Choir rehearsal days at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, parents occasionally inquire about an interesting subject. They claim, "My child loves to sing but I can't hold a tune! Am I harming her musicality if I sing to her out of tune?" My short answer is, no, as long as parents and children are enjoying singing with each other, the child is developing many more greater influences, such as cultivating a love for music, and a joy for singing with others.
Children in these cases have many more outside-the-home opportunities to hear pitch-accurate singing as they're growing up, whether at school, on recordings, live performances, or with friends. Often times if they enjoy singing, or have musical role models to look up to, they'll learn to sing in tune and quickly detect that mom or dad is singing out of tune. They may even enjoy being the better singer in the family!
Relatively few adults are clinically "tone deaf" (in which they can't distinguish one sung pitch from another), but many do have a rather loose sense of pitch-matching, or have little experience singing successfully in tune. A lack of vocal training and confidence, often stemming from childhood criticisms and discouragement from harsh teachers, is a common culprit. It's too bad that everyone isn't able to have Mr. Music (Jim Corbett) in their classrooms growing up, where his legacy stands for music to be every child's birthright and joy.
From decades of my own music teaching to all levels and ages-- just as it is with sports or mathematics or fine arts-- some people are born with natural musical abilities while others have to work at it, but the fact still remains: there is much more to singing than maintaining accurate pitch. Character, rhythmic vitality, generosity of spirit, confidence, tone, message-- are all essential elements of singing, too.
Music is the language of emotion, the expression of humanity. My opinion rests with the African proverb, "If you can walk, you can dance; if you can talk, you can sing." Amen!
- Maria Bija, Creative Director