Monday, February 25, 2008

Congenital and Acquired Amusia

"You have Van Gogh's ear for music." - Artemus Ward

Congenital and Acquired Amusia are the two main types of amusia.

Acquired Amusia is the loss of musical ability as a result of a traumatic event, such as an accident or disease. Clinical symptoms are much more variable than those of congenital amusia, and are determined by the location and nature of the lesion.

Acquired amusia often co-occurs with aphasia. Like aphasia, amusia can be categorized as receptive, expressive or mixed. Receptive amusia is sometimes referred to as ‘musical deafness’; symptoms include the inability to recognize familiar melodies or the loss of ability to read musical notation. Clinical symptoms of expressive amusia include the loss of ability to sing, write musical notation, and/or play an instrument (Bautista & Ciampetti, 2003). A mixed disorder would be a combination of expressive and receptive impairment.

Congenital amusia, commonly referred to as “tone deafness,” is a lifelong impairment in the perception and production of music. Research findings indicate impairment to be specific to the music domain. Likewise, there are no known effects upon prosody or the recognition of familiar voices or environmental sounds.

In general, people with congenital amusia have deficiency processing pitch variation. This is reflected in both receptive and expressive ability, and extends to the impairment of musical memory and recognition, as well as singing and the ability to tap in time to music. Latest research shows that there is a genetic component to congenital amusia, however, no specific genes have been identified (Peretz et al, 2007).


1. Peretz, I., Cummings, S., Dube, M. (2007). The Genetics of Congenital Amusia (Tone Deafness): A Family-Aggregation Study. The American Journal of Human Genetics, 81, 582-588.
2. Bautista, R., Ciampetti, M. (2003). Expressive Aprosody and Amusia as a Manifestation of Right Hemisphere Seizures. Epilepsia, 44(3), 466-467.

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