Music Teacher's Helper Blog

In the News: “Beat Deafness” and Learning from your Mistakes

I found two news articles online this week that I thought should be shared with the MTH community.

The first one deals with the first confirmed, documented case of “beat deafness”, a condition in which a person can’t feel the beat or move in time to it.

Mathieu flails in a time zone of his own when bouncing up and down to a melody, unlike people who don’t dance particularly well but generally move in sync with a musical beat, according to a team led by psychologists Jessica Phillips-Silver and Isabelle Peretz, both of the University of Montreal. What’s more, Mathieu usually fails to recognize when someone else dances out of sync to a tune, the researchers report in a paper that will appear in Neuropsychologia.

What I find interesting is Mathieu is reported to actually have a good sense of pitch. It will be interesting to see what continued research reveals about those who are “beat deaf.” Read more about Mathieu here and see video of his attempts to keep musical time.

I was shown another study this week by a colleague that has results useful to those of us teaching young musicians. This study showed that the 8 year old brain don’t respond to negative feedback like the 12 year brain does. Essentially, eight-year-olds don’t have the ability to learn from their mistakes.

Eight-year-old children have a radically different learning strategy from twelve-year-olds and adults. Eight-year-olds learn primarily from positive feedback (‘Well done!’), whereas negative feedback (‘Got it wrong this time’) scarcely causes any alarm bells to ring. Twelve-year-olds are better able to process negative feedback, and use it to learn from their mistakes. Adults do the same, but more efficiently.

The switch in learning strategy has been demonstrated in behavioural research, which shows that eight-year-olds respond disproportionately inaccurately to negative feedback. But the switch can also be seen in the brain, as developmental psychologist Dr Eveline Crone and her colleagues from the Leiden Brain and Cognition Lab discovered using fMRI research. The difference can be observed particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for cognitive control. These areas are located in the cerebral cortex.


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1 Comment

  1. Barb

    I found the beat-deafness article interesting. I had an adult come to me for lessons with no musical background, and she said to me something along the lines of, “When people clap their hands to music, I don’t get that. How do they know when to clap?” She is in her second year of music lessons now, and though rhythm is still her weakest point, she CAN clap to a beat now!

    I also had a six-year-old student begin lessons with me who could not clap to a beat. Two years later he was complimented by a music festival adjudicator as having a very natural sense of rhythm! The truth is, he did have to work on getting the rhythm right and learning to play with a steady beat on that piece, though in general it is getting easier for him.

    I wonder if these students could have been considered “beat-deaf” at one time?

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