Monday, February 25, 2008

How Is Music Perceived By Someone With Amusia?

"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter." - John Keats

Music is an important and influential aspect of the human experience. It is a cultural phenomenon and a powerful vehicle for the expression of emotion. Music has the power to bring people together in celebration, mourning and even the repetitions of everyday life. While there are many people on earth that may be indifferent to the presence of music in their own lives, for many it is a valued and appreciated art form.

While there is great variability among cases of amusia, the disorder is characterized by difficulty in perceiving music. With congenital amusia, music can sound like noise or banging. A person with amusia may not be able to recognize familiar tunes or tell the difference between two different tunes. The person may have difficulty judging the direction of pitch, unless the pitches are drastically different and it is suggested that pitch problems can also influence the development of rhythmic and timing abilities. Some people with amusia may avoid situations involving music at all costs while others with a comparable deficit may still find great pleasure in listening to music (Stewart, 2006).

Acquired amusia also differs drastically from case to case. Amusia often co-occurs with aphasia, resulting in impairments in speech and language as well. Amusia can occur in the absence of aphasia and in such cases, most often the site of the lesion is in the right hemisphere. People afflicted have reported hearing musical sounds as “out of tune,” their sense of rhythm being compromised, the loss of the ability to recognize sounds as musical and the sound of voices and music being monotonal (Brust, 2001).


1. Brust, J.C.M. (2001). Music and the neurologist: A historical perspective.
Biological Foundations of Music. 930, 143-152.
2. Stewart, L. (2006). Congenital amusia. Current Biology. 16, R904-R906.

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