My brother has been taking piano lessons. He wants to learn to play a keyboard. He thinks he could get good enough to be in a band. He talks about making that what he does for a living. He has a problem, but he doesn’t know it. He’s tone deaf. I only figured it out when he kept playing one note wrong every time he played this one song we both already know. He never seemed to notice that he messed up at that same place each time. Finally, I looked at his music sheet and found a misprint. Anyone who wasn’t tone deaf would have heard it. It explained why his singing is so bad. It’s a shame because he has a great voice and sings notes well, but he just can’t hit the right notes. He is counting on music being his career. How do I tell him he can never make it in the music business?
— Perfect Pitch
This is a tough one. Not only do those who do not have “an ear for music” hit wrong notes, but they cannot tell that they have hit wrong notes. To themselves, they sound great. They cannot understand why people complain when they sing. Some of them believe that it has something to do with the quality of their voices rather than their ability to find each needed note correctly. This is particularly sad when the tone-deaf person really wants to sing publicly.
Some tone-deaf persons seem able to hit correct notes within a certain range — low, mid-range, or high. They cannot achieve finding the surrounding notes. What I have found interesting is that anyone of any singing ability is likely to sing quite off key if he or she is wearing headphones over both ears. If you have ever seen footage of a recording session, you are likely to notice that the singers will hold one side of the headphone to one ear, and leave the other ear uncovered. They must be able to hear their own voice through one ear — not just inside their heads — as they sing, or their voice will go anywhere but to the right notes. I wonder from this if some tone-deaf people might simply have a hearing issue. With all the more serious afflictions in the world, I doubt that any medical research teams will be taking this on as a project, so we are likely never to know.
As for your issue, you will probably find that your brother’s dream will outweigh your well-intended concerns. To him, he sounds fine, so he will believe that the problem lies with your hearing, not with his voice. Are you sure that you want to be the one who points out his deficit? If you do, be prepared for his hurt feelings, which may be even worse if he accepts your disclosure. He will probably also be embarrassed by this news, and reactions to embarrassment are often not pleasant.
Your brother could still have a career in the music industry, even if not as a performer. Few literary agents have written books of their own. Most investment counselors are not themselves wealthy. Most nannies are childless. You get the idea. Before you tell your brother that he has a tin ear — if you even do — you may want to see if he would explore any thoughts of becoming a part of the entertainment industry from behind the scenes. That way, even when he does learn of his issue, the seeds have been planted to allow him to consider a change of direction that is still related to his interest and his goal.
I have been aware of memory problems happening more often lately. It’s not real bad — yet — but now I’m worried that this is just the beginning. How do I tell if it’s just because I’m getting older, or if my memory is already showing signs of worse to come?
— I Forget
Since you never said how old you are, I must assess simply from the fact that you used the word, “older,” that you are — at least in your opinion. Keep in mind that, the older any of us become, the greater amount of information that gets stored in our brains. You also did not mention whether the recall that is giving you problems is that of trying to remember your fifth-grade teacher’s name, or failing to remember what you needed from the store after forgetting the list you made which is still on the table back home. I am unaware of any aids for remembering Mrs. Johnson, but there are plenty offered — including on the Internet — for recalling butter, milk, toothpicks and salt. Personally I wonder how people remembered anything at all before Post-It Notes, but yes, even these can be forgotten on our way out the door. Mention your concerns to your doctor when you are next there, just to establish a baseline of concern, and then try to let it go. To varying extents, everyone goes through this. It seems we just get more sensitive to it as we age.
One parting thought that must be taken more seriously, however, is that, should you find yourself driving and struggling to remember which way to go, pull off. When you do finally arrive back home, begin making arrangements for others to start taking you places, either in your vehicle or in theirs.
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