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Music to My Soul

True story by Tsirel Pacht

When I try to sing with other people, a little technicality called the “key” gets in the way, and it just doesn’t sound right

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

shiur

Photo: Shutterstock

Ireally enjoy the sound of the violin. I play a little bit, but mostly I enjoy listening to other people play. When I try to explain what I like about it, I describe the sound as screeching and grinding. I know that probably isn’t what you expect to hear from someone who loves the violin. The fact is, I agree with you. 

I guess you could say I’m not a regular person when it comes to music. I usually put it like this: You know how there are some people who say they’re tone-deaf when really they mean that they’re not the best singers in the choir, or that when their friend talks about third and fourth harmonies they feel lost? Well, that’s not actually tone-deaf. (For those of you thinking, “No, but I really can’t sing on key,” keep reading.) 

Tone-deaf describes people who can’t hear any aspects of music relating to tone. (Some people also can’t hear other parts of music, like rhythm, but that’s not exactly tone-deafness either.) To tone-deaf people, all notes sound the same. Music might sound like pots clattering on the floor or like someone repeatedly honking their horn. They can’t enjoy music; it just isn’t part of their lives at all. 

Based on the statements I made back at the beginning, you’re probably wondering whether or not I’m tone deaf. Truth is, I consider myself nearly tone-deaf. I am capable of singing, playing piano, and, as I said, some violin, but I can’t tell if my playing or singing sounds good or if I go off-key. That’s especially problematic for a violin, which needs to be tuned frequently — and I can’t tell if it’s tuned properly! I’m often told I should just use an electronic tuner, which would allow me to play each string and hear a signal when it’s tuned. I used to agree it would be a good idea, until the time I tried it.

Photo: Shutterstock

I was holding the violin and playing the string I wanted to tune. The tuner told me it was off, but I couldn’t tell if it was too high or too low. I did some mathematical calculations, based on the length of the string and when it had been tuned last (math is my strong point, much more so than music), and decided which way to tune it. As I tightened the string, I kept wondering why it was taking so long to reach the right note. It wasn’t until the string popped and broke that I realized the note I was trying to tune it to was a full octave from the note it was supposed to be. Yikes. Based on people’s comments, I believe I can sing fine. However, when I try to sing with other people, a little technicality called the “key” gets in the way, and it just doesn’t sound right. Or rather, it doesn’t sound right to me, but I don’t actually know if I’m on the right key. Yeah, confusing.

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