Go on, go on - take the musicality test!
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’.
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 UK, Goldsmiths, 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.