Following on from the previous article, No one has ‘no sense of rhythm’, let’s look at our innate sense of tone – because no one is ‘tone-deaf’ either (provided you aren’t actually deaf, or have amusia, of course).
Tone in everyday life
Read these two sentences of dialogue out loud:
“I went for a run today.”
“You went for a WHAT today?!”
If someone was listening to you, or you heard this conversation, how would they know that the second sentence was a question? Or that the ‘WHAT’ was so heavily emphasised? – By the tone of your voice.
Difference in tone means the difference between a statement, a question, sarcasm, happiness, sadness – it’s a huge part of communication through sound.
Someone speaking monotonously, mono(one)-ton(tone/note)-ously, sounds like a robot as we all know. If a monotonous person was to say, using only one tone:
– most of us would doubt how truthful that statement was.
Tone is essential to expressing emotion – there’s no tone of voice in a text message so it’s easy to misunderstand someone unless they use appropriate punctuation (!?), emojies ( ;-P ), or acronyms (OMGROFLMAO).
Changes in tone also tell us things about our environment. If you were to close your eyes as an ambulance drove past, you would be able to tell when it was driving towards you (siren is higher pitched), and when it was driving away from you (or even if it drove away and turned back around).
We can hear that when birds sing there are multiple notes, not just one continuous pitch;
We hear the difference between a glass-shattering scream and a deep, terrifying growl;
And we can probably hear it when someone is really bad at singing and completely out of key (though they can probably learn how to sing more in tune).
Music is like language – it is a form of communication – But it’s different, like a language of it’s own. It can communicate things that you may not be able to communicate through language (and the opposite can be true too: you may not be able to communicate some things through music that you can through language– like how to do long division).
So, just as we did as infants who had to listen and practise using tone to ask questions, we have to listen carefully to music and practise using our vocal chords or instruments to make different tones and patterns of tones. With practise comes familiarity, and with enough familiarity we can become fluent in the language of music.