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Go on, go on - take the musicality test!

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Petroc Trelawny Petroc Trelawny | 08:00 UK Time, Monday, 10 January 2011

We’ve been talking lots over the past week about Mozart’s unprecedented skill as a composer, performer and entrepreneur;  one man who really did deserve the ‘genius’ appellation.  Ever since his death his output has been the subject of extended scholarship.

But clearly you don’t need to be a musicologist to appreciate the man.  The vast, vast majority of us listening to Radio 3’s 12-day festival can’t read music, and don’t play an instrument. Yet we still derive vast amounts of pleasure from this extraordinary figure working two-and-a-bit centuries ago.   Human beings are naturally musical,  to an amazing extent, and today the BBC is launching a significant scientific experiment to discover more about the nation's relationship with the art.  The study hopes to define what it really means to be ‘musical’. It’s called  ‘How Musical Are You’.  

Screen shot of the Musicality Test home page


I was up early this morning to discuss it on Radio 4's Today programme,  with my boss Roger Wright flying the flag for 5 Live listeners.  It’s a brilliant idea,  which sits perfectly alongside The Genius of Mozart,  and is run jointly by BBC Lab UKGoldsmiths, University of London, and Radio 3.  The idea is that tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people,  will log on and do the test. It takes less than half an hour,  and scores respondents in five areas – enthusiasm, perception,  emotional connection with music,  social creativity and musical curiosity.  It’s great fun to do -  there are various technical tests;  one where you use the spacebar on your computer to beat time,  another where you have to compare tunes played in different keys.  And alongside that it asks you dozens of questions about how you use music in your life.  I got 91% for musical perception,  though was beaten by my colleague Katie Derham,  who clocked in at an amazing 99%.

One key point the study hopes to establish is whether people who are untrained but passionate about music can be just as musical as people who have been formally trained.  I would guess the survey will prove that often they can;  look at people's ability to beat time or to hum from memory a tune that they’ve only heard once or twice.  ‘Oh but I’m tone deaf’ is a frequently heard cry;  in fact 'tone deafness' is relatively rare. ‘But I must be because I can’t sing in tune.’  Well hang on, if you can perceive the fact that you veer towards being sharp or flat,  then you can’t be tone deaf, can you? 

I’ll be interested to know as well whether musicality varies depending on the type of music that people like.  The online tests cover most genres of music - and the organisers hope the study will later be rolled out to other networks like 6 Music and Radio 1.  Will Radio 3 listeners be naturally more musical than those who tune in to our sister stations?  I wonder...


One of the reasons some people stay away from concerts is because they are frightened they won’t understand the technical side of what they are hearing.  It’s much more difficult to talk confidently about music than it is about other arts like literature or theatre.  I know when I discuss a particular performance or work, I worry I don’t have the right vocabulary.  It’s easy to think you’re about to make a major faux pas by confusing counterpoint and col legno.   I can’t help thinking that one thing this study will do is reassure people of their innate musicality.   It’s doesn’t matter a sausage if you don’t know the term for what’s happening, it just matters that you are enjoying, or being stimulated, by it.

So whether you’re a virtuoso professional, a Grade 8er,  a choral society chanteur or someone who just loves flatly humming the odd Mozart tune,  do go and participate in the study.  It takes 20 minutes or so,  and I can promise you won’t feel it's time wasted.

This link will take you to the Musicality Test 



  • Comment number 1.

    I listened to the item on the Today programme. Lots of musical enthusiasm, but nothing for the four per cent of the population with amusia - an inability to appreciate music. In any musical situation 4 per cent of people are faking it - although it is considered peculiar to admit it. I have never understood the appeal of any music without intelligible words. I now collect the names of famous people who have also come out. Vladimir Nabokov, Che Guevara, Margaret Drabble to name a few.

    BBC Radio 4 Frontiers covered this a couple of years ago and the programme and the amusia listening test is still available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/science/frontiers_20061213.shtml

    Perhaps people might like to compare their results on the amusia test with the new one.

  • Comment number 2.

    Congratulations, many times, on “The Genius of Mozart”. I listen regularly to the man through my own CD collection, but I did not realise how much he wrote, how wonderful it all is, and to have all this and enlightenment on technical and historical issues was brilliant. I originally planned to dip into the programme but I found it very difficult to do anything else but listen all the time. I also loved the letters of Mozart, some of which I’d read, but to have them spoken in such a convincing way seemed to make them more pertinent to him than ever. Whilst it is the genius of Mozart who makes the programme possible, I would like to warmly thank everyone who took part in the production. It must be one of the most amazing broadcasting accomplishments of recent years, to put all the various elements together, some of them live, of course, with themes, contrast and so on.
    This is the second time I believe you have played all of the music of Mozart at one go, and for some reason I found this present one even more compelling.
    Can we have similar programmes on Beethoven and Wagner? Alas, it seems in the BBC that TV (with more channels!) has forsaken serious Classical music output for good, so we are left with Sky Arts 2

  • Comment number 3.

    I did the test, scored high everywhere except emotional involvment. Reason? I couldn't identify with the questions - eg do you regularly put on music as a mood enhancer, are you addicted to music, do you hum along, etc. Music is vitally important to me in ways that these questions cannot answer. Do practising musicians, whether amateur or professional, feel happy with these questions?

  • Comment number 4.

    @valerieinthegallery: I cannot speak for other people or other musicians but I could identify with those questions. I am a musician (whether there is a link or not I cannot say) and am definately "addicted" to music. Like some people are addicted to things like coffee and chocolate I pretty much "need" music, BUT unlike regular "addictions", I find that music is not something that is simply a part of my life, it is in literally everything concerning my life. Eg.: If I stir my coffee I listen to the tone the spoon makes against the cup, how it changes as I continue to stir... or the sound water droplets make when it rains... or how the constant drone the flourmill makes fades and returns with the wind. I would also go one further than "music as a mood enhancer". It can have the total opposite effect on me. Every piece of music has a specific emotional feel and I am quite susceptible to that. Maybe this study shows in part how music is different things for different people and that we do nto all react the same to it.

  • Comment number 5.

    I play the guitar and the ukulele, but badly. I have hundreds of CDs and records, and spend a lot of time listening to music. I am not musical, so I was not surprised to be graded as 'low' in all four categories, but I did try hard on the tests and was upset to receive 0% (nothing at all) on musical perception, particularly as a friend (a musician)scored 100% across the board. I'm thinking of giving up altogether as, even if I were ten times better, I'd still be on zero.


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