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Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  86 ratings  ·  28 reviews
In the tradition of Daniel Levitin’s This Is Your Brain on Music and Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia, Bad Singer follows the delightful journey of Tim Falconer as he tries to overcome tone deafness — and along the way discovers what we’re really hearing when we listen to music.

Tim Falconer, a self-confessed “bad singer,” always wanted to make music, but soon after he starts sin
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published May 14th 2016 by House of Anansi Press
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I'm someone who has had 'pitch problems' but longed to be able to sing, and in fact took lessons for that purpose, but I still have a lot of insecurity around it. So I was certainly curious to read about Tim Falconer's efforts to explore why he's a "bad singer" and attempt to cure it. It's a meandery, affable book about much more than tone deafness: I learned about experimental science involving what the brain does with music, ethnomusicology, timbre, lots of stuff, in the midst of Falconer's ac ...more
Sep 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a really wonderful book. Well written and entertaining. A man who is diagnosed with tone deafness takes voice lessons because he loves to sing. Then this leads to more in depth studies of music and how we hear it, what we enjoy about it, what music is all about. A really great story.
Ellen Lyons
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My life story! So well written and the kind of inspired that cries out: "don't try this at home!" ...more
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Super interesting and engaging the whole way through. I couldn’t stop telling people about “the book i was reading” the whole time.
Journalist Tim Falconer loves music. He glories in concerts and plays albums on repeat until the neighbors complain. Unfortunately, like most of us, he’s pretty sure he’s a bad singer. Falconer decides to do something about that by signing up for singing lessons, and then learns the truth: he’s not just a bad singer, he’s diagnosed as tone deaf.

As Falconer explains in the book, “tone deafness” is not really a thing, but there’s a real diagnosis behind it: “amusia”. Only about 2% of folks are amu
Jane Gowan
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is a fabulous read. It is heartfelt, honest, and well-researched, with a myriad of great anecdotes interspersed with actual science. Falconer's love and understanding of music comes through loud and clear and totally in key, and you find yourself rooting for him in his quest to discover the truth about his singing ability. A word to the wise - don't ever EVER tell someone they can't sing. ...more
Aug 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Three and a half stars. An entertaining book about the science of music perception, focussing on how the brain perceives music and written from the point of view of a rare “amusic”, who has a brain deficit in pitch perception. Tim Falconer explores his love of music and his quest to learn to sing, despite being completely tone deaf, and intersperses his personal story with much of the science of music perception. I would have preferred a bit more of the science and a bit less about Tim’s taste i ...more
Aug 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fun and informative! Personally, fascinated by the fact that I have so many things yet to learn and understand about brain and ear.
Allison Dunlap
Sep 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I gained a lot of understanding and empathy for my ex-husband who's tone deafness always mystified me. I also gained some real knowledge on singing processes that are so second nature, I've never thought to consider the wonder of it all. It gave me pause as to how our musical tastes are created; by exposure, by identifying with a singer or a genre of music. The very singers he likes are the ones I don't particularly care for but now I at least understand peoples' preferences who are different th ...more
Peter Knapp
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music, science
Fun read that provides a layman's summary of research into "amusia" - a condition where the person has difficulty discerning and/or producing accurate pitch. Falconer is one such person. He's a writer, so this is a personal journey, which makes it much more engaging and real: he loves music, really wants to be a singer, but is simply bad at it - you feel his pain. The book recounts his journey to learn how to sing, with the help of a very patient voice coach, and his in-depth testing and consult ...more
Anne Martin
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: goodreads-arc
The way the book is presented, I was hoping to get some explanations, or maybe even a solution about how to change anybody in a decent singer. Alas, no. You get huge lists of names, this person who worked for the Beatles, this one for the Clash, etc, and they have all turned into music teachers for bad singers.
You are promised revelations about the way the brain deals with music, I'm still looking for them.
Finally, the author sang two songs in front of 35 persons, after years of training. Were t
Robert Hubbard
Aug 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This is an amazing book. It's written in a journalist's low key style, so the complex ideas are made easy to understand. The language is pretty ordinary and makes for a quick and satisfying read. It is remarkable how this book addresses my own insecurities as a musician and singer. There are a number of useful insights for anyone. Whether you sing well or don't,there is something here for you. I enjoyed just observing his progress. Well done. ...more
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
I enjoyed this book very much. I'm not sure if I'm actually tone-deaf, but I do know that I can't sing, no matter how hard I try....I'm always off key. I can hear that I'm off, but I don't seem able to fix it. I enjoyed reading about the author's experiences and feelings about being tone-deaf, and there was a lot of educational material in the book. I felt I learned a lot from it, and the topic was interesting. Recommended! ...more
Daniel Field
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Loved this. Any book that references David Byrne's How Music Works repeatedly has my undivided attention, and I enjoyed the combination of science, personal journey, and connection to music (Falconer has exquisite musical taste!). A perfect complement to This Is Your Brain on Music, Byrne's book, and some similar nonfiction books about why and how we listen to and create music. ...more
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"Bad singer: The surprising science of tone deafness and how we hear music" by Tim Falconer was great. I had no idea people studied tone deafness. I loved how Tim Falconer with great enthusiasm attempts to learn how to sing. All the music teachers he sees say it can be done. Apparently they haven't really met someone like him. A tone deaf person. Good science writing. ...more
Dec 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Also recommend listening to the podcast of the documentary: Most of what is in the documentary is also in the book, and while the book has more information, you can hear exactly how bad a singer he is. Fascinating stuff for music teachers like myself! ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book for a number of reasons. First, I enjoy singing, but I am one of those people who was always rejected for my primary school choir, so I sympathize with Mr. Falconer’s plight. Of course, I don’t think I’m tone deaf. Anyways, this is a fun romp through the science of singing and listening, made more relatable and sympathetic by the author’s quest to improve his own singing.
An interesting look how we perceive music. Brains are weird and fascinating, as per usual. I did the BRAMS amusia test online and aced it (I wasn't worried I was tone deaf). ...more
Aug 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a great read and I learnt a lot about how we hear music. It was a little painful to read about the author's persistence with singing lessons but kudos to him! A must read for anyone interested in music. I won this book from the publisher as part of the Goodreads giveaways program. ...more
Frances Nokes
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Interesting and enlightening.
So many layers of perception, whether appreciating, playing, or remembering music.
Jan 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Grabbed this off the library shelf. Fascinating, and entertaining, too.
Bill Leach
Dec 20, 2019 rated it liked it
This is the story of the author's attempt to understand his inability to sing, his attempts to understand it through testing and his attempts to overcome it through singing lessons. He is apparently amusical: a deficit in fine-grained pitch discrimination suffered by 4% of the population.

Much of the book is made up of descriptions of his testing which show little other than he is largely tone deaf, of his singing lessons and of descriptions of his music collection. None of this provides any sub
Jul 21, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed his broader observations about the many ways we discourage people from singing and about how singing together used to be a much more common activity. I also liked reading about the specifics of what he was learning in singing lessons. But overall it felt disorganized.
Jun 27, 2017 rated it liked it
A man's journey into singing in public. The author reviews lessons, academic studies, what psychologists know about music, etc. Really interesting material if you skip some of the details around academic pitch studies.
Oliver Henderson
Dec 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
A combination of diary, research review, and music lesson, this book is a window into the way singing is perceived by most people...a mysterious gift.
Eric Rodrigues
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As a singer (Not tone deaf I would hope), this book resonated heavily! I loved the research portion of this. It's so engaging and sucks you into the likable author's story with ease. ...more
Angela Smith
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May 25, 2019
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Jay Goemmer
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Jun 22, 2018
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Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tine Deafness and How We Hear Music is now out from House of Anansi Press. I'm also the author of That Good Night: Ethicists, Euthanasia and End-of-Life Care, Drive: A Road Trip through Our Complicated Affair with the Automobile and Watchdogs and Gadflies: Activism from Marginal to Mainstream. And I helped popular parenting guru Dr. Alex Russell write Drop the ...more

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