Is anybody truly tone deaf? I suppose there are those with possible hearing disabilities which might be compared to people that can see but maybe are colorblind.
I prefer to “think not” though. With training, any music student can develop the ability to match a pitch. Very few first and second graders can do this at first, but by the end of the school year, most of the class is singing popular songs together. What did I do to get around first or second grader’s inability to match pitches with their voices? Well, number one, I worked with them very softly like I was walking on rice paper to avoid them becoming self conscious in front of the other classmates.
As a form of keeping records and evaluating the accuracy of each student’s development, I would ask each student to softly match one note well within their range. I would have each echo a note or match a pitch with me, sometimes three or four times. If they failed in these attempts, I would still give them praise or encouragement individually, with little phrases like “ok” or “not bad” followed with “now you sing a note (any reasonable one close to what we were trying to match)”. I then matched their pitch with my voice. Either way, the end result was that they experienced the feeling of their voice blending with an external sound and pitch. Of course a one shot deal wouldn’t necessarily bring them totally on board but it was a good start. Confidence can be an important tool.
Second, I would have students repeat a short theme or pattern within the framework of a familiar song like “Skin and Bones” The Ooooo-oo-oo-oo sound of the wind blowing is fun and easy for students to sing. Again I had them sing individually, this time accompanied by piano or backup music (found in the free back up accompaniments of “The Yankee Collection”). The objective was to make the student feel comfortable opening their mouths and listening to what came out. Repetition was very important.
It was bad enough I saw them only once a week. In a perfect world, 10 minutes a day would have done wonders!
Let’s face it, it ain’t easy but well worth the effort when you know your students will have a full musical life minus the embarrassment when they want to eventually sing karaoke over a mike and not sound tone deaf.