From The Guardian:
Despite what you may have heard, acoustical analysis suggests that (1) most people are not horrible singers, and (2) most horrible singers are not tone deaf – they’re just horrible singers.
In 2007, Isabelle Peretz and Jean-François Giguère of the University of Montreal, and Simone Dalla Bella, of the University of Finance and Management in Warsaw, tested the abilities of 62 “nonmusicians” in Quebec who admitted to being “occasional singers”.
The very act of testing proved more difficult than Dalla Bella, Giguère and Peretz had heard it would be.
They published a report, in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, called Singing Proficiency in the General Population. They complain, to anyone who will listen, that it is not easy to measure the goodness or badness of singing. There is “no consensus”, they seem to wail, “on how to obtain … objective measures of singing proficiency in sung melodies”.
They devised their own test, using the refrain from a song called Gens du Pays, which people in Quebec commonly sing as part of their ritual to celebrate a birthday. That refrain, they explain, has 32 notes, a vocal range of less than one octave, and a stable tonal centre.
These scientists went to a public park, where they used a clever subterfuge to recruit test subjects: “The experimenter pretended that it was his birthday and that he had made a bet with friends that he could get 100 individuals each to sing the refrain of Gens du Pays for him on this special occasion.”
The resulting recordings became the raw material for intensive computer-based analysis, centring on the vowel sounds – the “i” in “mi”, for example. Peretz, Giguère and Dalla Bella assessed each performance for pitch stability, number of pitch interval errors, “changes in pitch directions relative to musical notation”, interval deviation, number of time errors, temporal variability, and timing consistency.
Continue reading the rest of the story on The Guardian