Identifying musical difficulties as they relate to congenital amusia in the pediatric population

Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol. 2015 Dec;79(12):2411-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ijporl.2015.11.002. Epub 2015 Nov 10.


Introductions/objectives: Approximately 4% of the population fails to develop basic music skills and can be identified as "amusic". Congenital amusia (CA), or "tone deafness", is thought to be a hereditary disordera predominantly affecting the perception and production of music. The gold standard for diagnosis is the Montreal Battery for Evaluation of Amusia (MBEA). This study aims to pinpoint factors in the history that may help identify amusic children and to determine if amusic pediatric patients can be identified using a widely available, shorter test validated in adults.

Methods: Subjects ages 7-17 years were recruited to take an online test, validated against the MBEA, for CA. The sections tested recognition of "off-beat" (OB), "mistuned" (MT), and "out-of-key" (OOK) conditions. Parents filled out a questionnaire regarding the subject's past medical, educational, musical exposure, and family history.

Results: Of 114 subjects recruited, complete data was available on 105 with a mean age of 12.5 years. According to adult criteria, 63/105 (60%) of subjects scored in the "amusic" range. Children >10 years of age scored significantly higher on the off-beat section (p=0.001) and total scores (p=0.025). Subjects who were born prematurely scored significantly lower (p=0.045). Children whose father had difficulties with music scored significantly lower on the off-beat section (p=0.003) and total scores (p=0.008).

Conclusions: CA is a disorder that has implications for quality of life. Earlier identification may help elucidate the pathogenesis of the condition and, in the future, the institution of prompt treatment. Further studies are needed to identify the most appropriate and convenient tests, as well as the optimal timing of testing, for reliably diagnosing CA in children.

Keywords: Amusia; Music perception; Tone deafness.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Auditory Perception
  • Auditory Perceptual Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Auditory Perceptual Disorders / genetics
  • Child
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Otological
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music*
  • Quality of Life
  • Surveys and Questionnaires

Supplementary concepts

  • Tune Deafness