- Absolute pitch
Absolute pitch (AP), widely referred to as perfect pitch, is the ability of a person to identify or recreate a
musical notewithout the benefit of a known reference.
Absolute pitch, or perfect pitch, is "the ability to identify the frequency or musical name of a specific tone, or, conversely, the ability to reproduce a frequency, frequency level, or musical pitch without comparing the tone with any objective reference tone, i.e., without using relative pitch." [cite book | author=Ward, W.D. | year=1998 | title=The Psychology of Music (Second Edition) | chapter=Absolute Pitch | editor=D. Deutsch (Ed.) | pages=265-298 | publisher=Academic Press | location=San Diego | id=ISBN 0-12-213564-4 ] .
Naming/labeling of notes need not be verbal. AP can also be demonstrated by other codes such as auditory imagery or sensorimotor responses such as reproducing a tone on an instrument. Therefore if a musician is from an aural tradition, unfamiliar with musical notation they can still show AP if allowed to reproduce a sounded note.cite journal|first=Robert|last=Zatorre |year=2003|month=July|title=Absolute pitch: a model for understanding the influence of genes and development on neural and cognitive function|journal=Nature Neuroscience|volume=6|issue=7|pages=692–695]
Possessors of absolute pitch exhibit the ability in varying degrees. Generally, absolute pitch implies some or all of the following abilities: [cite book | author=Parncutt, R. and Levitin, D. J. | year=2001 | title=The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians | chapter=Absolute Pitch | editor=Sadie, S. (Ed.) | publisher=Macmillan | location=London | id=ISBN 1-56159-239-0 ]
*Identify and name individual pitches (e.g. A, B, C#) played on various instruments
*Name the key of a given piece of tonal music
*Identify and name all the tones of a given chord or other tonal mass
*Sing a given pitch without an external reference
*Name the pitches of common everyday noises such as car horns
Individuals may possess both absolute pitch and
relative pitchability in varying degrees. Both relative and absolute pitch work together in actual musical listening and practice, although individuals exhibit preferred strategies in using each skill.cite journal | first=Ken'ichi | last=Miyazaki | year=2004 | month=June | title=How well do we understand absolute pitch? | journal=Acoustical Science and Technology | volume=25 | issue=6 | pages=270–282 | doi=10.1250/ast.25.426 [http://psyche.ge.niigata-u.ac.jp/Psyche/Miyazaki/Papers/Miyazaki2004.pdf Full text] ]
The distinction between the abilities to name the pitch of a note without reference to another note, and to sing a named note without reference to a previously sounded note, has long been acknowledged (see, for example, references in the New
Grove Dictionary of Music. [cite book | author=Spender, N. | year=1980 | title=The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians | chapter=Absolute Pitch | editor=Sadie, S. (Ed.) | pages=27-29 | publisher=Macmillan | location=London | id=ISBN 0-333-23111-2 ] [cite book | author=Parncutt, R. and Levitin, D. J. | year=2001 | title=The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians | chapter=Absolute Pitch | editor=Sadie, S. (Ed.) | publisher=Macmillan | location=London | id=ISBN 1-56159-239-0 ] )
Dr. Robert Zatorre's research results support that absolute pitch possessors have a number of different encoding strategies that may be used concurrently, for example verbal labeling of tones. Absolute pitch possessors are able to match pitches of tones to some fixed internal scale allowing then to give the corresponding label of the tone. However, they can also effect the match without recourse to the verbal label and can make use of what they know about the pitch of the tone, provided that the tone matches their individual internalized template.cite journal|first=Robert|last=Zatorre|year=1989|title=Multiple coding strategies in the retention of musical tones by possessors of absolute pitch|journal=Memory & Cognition|volume=17|issue=5|pages=582–589]
Difference in cognition, not elementary sensation
Physically and functionally, the auditory system of an absolute listener does not appear to be measurably different from a non-absolute listener. [cite journal | author=Sergeant, D. | title=Experimental investigation of absolute pitch | journal=Journal of Research in Music Education | volume=17|year=1969|pages=135–143 | doi = 10.2307/3344200 ] Rather, "AP perception is not dependent on a special kind of ear; it reflects a particular ability to analyze frequency information, presumably involving high-level cortical processing." [cite journal | author=Gregersen, P.K. | title=Instant Recognition: The Genetics of Pitch Perception | journal=American Journal of Human Genetics | volume=62|year=1998|pages=221–223 | doi = 10.1086/301734 [http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/AJHG/journal/issues/v62n2/970810/970810.web.pdf Full text] ] Absolute pitch is an act of cognition, needing memory of the frequency, a label for the frequency (such as "B-flat"), and exposure to the range of sound encompassed by that categorical label. Absolute pitch may be directly analogous to recognizing
colors, phonemes (speech sounds) or other categorical perception of sensory stimuli. Even as most people have learned to recognize and name the color "blue" by its frequency, it is possible that those who have had early (somewhere between the ages of 3 and 6) [cite journal | author=Takeuchi, A.H. & Hulse, S.H | title=Absolute pitch | journal=Psychological Bulletin | volume=113|year=1993|pages=345–361 | doi = 10.1037/0033-2909.113.2.345 ] and meaningful exposure to the names of musical tones will be likely to identify, for example, middle C. Absolute pitch, however, may be genetic, possibly an autosomal dominant genetic trait, [cite journal | author=Profita, J,. & Bidder, T.G | title=Perfect pitch | journal=American Journal of Medical Genetics | volume=29 | year=1988 | pages=763–771 | doi = 10.1002/ajmg.1320290405 ] [cite journal | author=Baharloo, S., Johnston, P. A., Service, S. K., Gitschier, J. & Freimer, N. B. | title=Absolute pitch: An approach for identification of genetic and nongenetic components | journal=American Journal of Human Genetics | volume=62 | year=1998 | pages=224–231 | doi = 10.1086/301704 [http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/AJHG/journal/issues/v62n2/970244/970244.web.pdf Full text] ] though it "might be nothing more than a general human capacity whose expression is strongly biased by the level and type of exposure to music that people experience in a given culture." [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=vYQEakqM4I0C&pg=PA13&lpg=PA13&dq=%22nothing+more+than+a+general+human+capacity+whose+expression%22&source=web&ots=i0dYy07tkL&sig=yEUTwtnqE0HGuRQ4vzBNNaSdPoY] ]
Influence by music experience
Absolute pitch sense appears to be influenced by cultural exposure to music, especially in the familiarization of the equal-tempered C-major scale. Most of the absolute listeners that were tested in this respect identified the C-major tones more reliably and, except for B, more quickly than the five "black key" tones, [cite journal | author= Miyazaki, K | title= The speed of musical pitch identification by absolute-pitch possessors | journal= Music Perception | volume=8|year=1990|pages=177–188] which corresponds to the higher prevalence of these tones in ordinary musical experience. One study of Dutch non-musicians also demonstrated a bias toward using C-major tones in ordinary speech, especially on syllables related to emphasis. [cite journal | author=Braun, M. | title= Absolute pitch in emphasized speech | journal=Acoustical Society of America: Acoustics Research Letters Online | volume=3 | year=2002 | pages=77–82 | doi= 10.1121/1.1472336 [http://scitation.aip.org/getpdf/servlet/GetPDFServlet?filetype=pdf&id=ARLOFJ000003000002000077000001&idtype=cvips&prog=normal Full text] ]
Absolute pitch is more common among speakers of
tonal languages such as most dialects of Chinese or Vietnamese, which depend heavily on pitch variation across single words for lexical meaning (Mandarin with 4 possible pitch variations, Cantonese with 9, Minnan with 8, and Vietnamese with 6). [http://www.acoustics.org/press/138th/deutsch.htm] D. Deutsch, T. Henthorn and M. Dolson, "Tone Language Speakers Possess Absolute Pitch", lay language version of "Journal of the Acoustical Society of America", 1999, 106, 2267.] [http://www.aip.org/148th/deutsch.html] D. Deutsch, T. Henthorn, E. Marvin and H. Xu, "Perfect Pitch in Tone Language Speakers Carries Over to Music", lay language version of "Journal of the Acoustical Society of America", 2005, 116, 2580.] Speakers of Sino-Tibetan languageshave been reported to speak a word in the same absolute pitch (within a quarter-tone) on different days; it has therefore been suggested that absolute pitch may be acquired by infants when they learn to speak in a tonal language [cite journal | author=Deutsch, D., Henthorn, T., and Dolson, M. | title=Absolute pitch, speech, and tone language: Some experiments and a proposed framework | journal=Music Perception | volume=21 | year=2004 | pages=339–356 | doi = 10.1525/mp.2004.21.3.339 [http://www.philomel.com/pdf/MP-2004-21_339-356.pdf Full text] ] (and possibly also by infants when they learn to speak in a pitch stress language). However, the brains of tonal-language speakers do not naturally process musical sound as language; [cite journal | author=Gandour, J., Wong, D., and Hutchins, G. | title=Pitch processing in the human brain is influenced by language experience | journal=Neuroreport | volume=9 | year=1998 | pages=2115–2119 | doi = 10.1097/00001756-199806220-00038 [http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~gandour/publications/neurp_98.pdf Full text] ] perhaps such individuals may be more likely to acquire absolute pitch for musical tones when they later receive musical training.
It is possible that level-tone languages which are found in Africa—such as Yoruba, [cite journal | author=Connell, B., Ladd, D.R. | title=Aspects of pitch realization in Yoruba | journal=Phonology | volume=7 | year=1990 | pages=1–29 ] with three pitch levels, and
Mambila, [cite journal | author=Connell, B. | title=The perception of lexical tone in Mambila | journal=Language and Speech | volume=43 | year=2000 | pages=163–182] with four—may be better suited to study the role of absolute pitch in speech than the contour-tone languages of East Asia.
Further, speakers of European languages have been found to make use of an absolute, though subconscious, pitch memory when speaking. [cite journal | author=Braun, M. | title=Speech mirrors norm-tones: Absolute pitch as a normal but precognitive trait | journal=Acoustical Society of America: Acoustics Research Letters Online | volume=2 | year=2001 | pages=85–90 [http://ojps.aip.org/getpdf/servlet/GetPDFServlet?filetype=pdf&id=ARLOFJ000002000003000085000001&idtype=cvips Full text] ]
Although absolute pitch is predicated on the ability to perceive and identify "tone chroma" [cite journal | author=Révész, G. | title=Über die beiden Arten des absoluten Gehörs | journal=Zeitschrift International Musikgesellschaft | volume=14 | year=1913 | pages=130–137 [http://www.aruffo.com/eartraining/research/articles/revesz13.htm Full text] [http://www.aruffo.com/eartraining/research/articles/revesz13e.htm Full text (English)] ] — where "tone chroma" is a psychological interpretation of a fundamental vibratory frequency [cite journal | author=Korpell, H.S. | title=On the mechanism of tonal chroma in absolute pitch | journal=American Journal of Psychology | volume=78 | year=1965 | pages=298–300 | doi = 10.2307/1420505 ] — absolute pitch is not a heightened ability to perceive and discriminate fine gradations of sound frequencies, [cite journal | author=Oakes, W.F. | title=An experimental study of pitch naming and pitch discrimination reactions | journal=Journal of Genetic Psychology | volume=86 | year=1955 | pages=237–259] but rather the ability to mentally categorize sounds into predefined pitch areas. [cite journal | author=Rakowski, A. | title=Categorical perception in absolute pitch | journal=Archives of Acoustics Quarterly | volume=18 | year=1993 | pages=515–523] An absolute listener's sense of hearing is no keener than that of a non-absolute ("normal") listener; [cite journal | author=Fujisaki, W. and Kashino, M. | title=The basic hearing abilities of absolute pitch possessors | journal=Acoustic Science and Technology | volume=23 | year=2002 | pages=77–83 | doi=10.1250/ast.23.77 [http://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/ast/23/2/77/_pdf Full text] ] furthermore, the tasks of identification (recognizing and naming a pitch) and discrimination (detecting changes or differences in rate of vibration) are accomplished with different brain mechanisms. [cite journal | author=Tervaniemi, M., Alho, K., Paavilainen, P., Sams, M., and Näätänen, R. | title=Absolute pitch and event-related brain potentials | journal=Music Perception | volume=10 | year=1993 | pages=305–316]
Race (culture) and absolute pitch
The prevalence of absolute pitch is considerably higher among individuals with early childhood in
East Asia. cite journal |author=P. K. Gregersen, E. Kowalsky, N. Kohn, and E. Marvin |title=Early childhood music education and predisposition to absolute pitch |journal=Am. J. Med. Gen. |volume=98 |pages=280–282 |year=2000 |doi=10.1002/1096-8628(20010122)98:3<280::AID-AJMG1083>3.0.CO;2-6 ] cite journal |author=D. Deutsch, T. Henthorn, E. W. Marvin, and H-S. Xu |title=Absolute pitch among American and Chinese conservatory students: Prevalence differences, and evidence for a speech-related critical period (L)a) |journal=J. Acoust. Soc. Am. |volume=119 |pages=719–722 |year=2006. |doi=10.1121/1.2151799 [http://www.philomel.com/pdf/JASA-2006_119_719-722.pdf Full Text] ] cite journal |author=Deutsch, D |title=The enigma of absolute pitch |journal=Acoustics Today |year=2006 |volume=2 |pages=11–19 |doi=10.1002/ajmg.a.31596 [http://philomel.com/pdf/Acoustics_Today_2006.pdf Full Text] ] cite journal |author=Henthorn, T. & Deutsch, D. |title=Ethnicity versus Early Environment: Comment on 'Early childhood music education and predisposition to absolute pitch: Teasing apart genes and environment' by Peter K. Gregersen, Elena Kowalsky, Nina Kohn, and Elizabeth West Marvin (2000). |journal=American Journal of Medical Genetics |volume=143A |pages=102–103 |year=2007 |doi=10.1002/ajmg.a.31596 [http://philomel.com/pdf/AJMG_2007.pdf Full Text] ] This difference has been suggested to be racial in origin.cite journal |author=Zatorre, R. |title=Absolute Pitch: A model for understanding the influence of genes and development on neural and cognitive function [http://www.zlab.mcgill.ca/docs/Zatorre_2003.pdf Full Text] ] A study has claimed that individuals of East Asian heritage reared in the United States or Canada have "no significant difference" in prevalence of absolute pitch than do Caucasians of the same geographical origin, asserting that the difference in prevalence is more likely to be explained by linguistic experience than genetic heritage. Many East Asians speak tone languages such as Mandarin and Cantonese, while others (such as those in Japan and certain provinces of Korea) speak pitch accent languages; the prevalence of absolute pitch may be explained by exposure to pitches together with meaningful labels very early in life. cite journal | author=Deutsch, D., Henthorn, T., and Dolson, M. | title=Absolute pitch, speech, and tone language: Some experiments and a proposed framework | journal=Music Perception | volume=21 | year=2004 | pages=339–356 | doi = 10.1525/mp.2004.21.3.339 [http://www.philomel.com/pdf/MP-2004-21_339-356.pdf Full text] ]
Natural vs. nurtured
Many people have believed that musical ability itself is an inborn talent.cite journal | author = Copp, E.F. | year=1916 | title=Musical Ability | journal=Journal of Heredity | volume=7 | pages=297–305 [http://www.aruffo.com/eartraining/copp.htm Full text] ] Some scientists currently believe absolute pitch may have an underlying genetic basis and are trying to locate genetic correlates;cite journal | author = Drayna, D., Manichaikul, A., DeLange, M., Snieder, H., and Spector, T. | year=2001 | title=Genetic correlates of musical pitch recognition in humans | journal=Science | volume=291 | pages=1969–1972 | doi = 10.1126/science.291.5510.1969 ] most believe that the acquisition of absolute pitch requires early training during a
critical periodof development, regardless of whether or not a genetic predisposition toward development exists.cite journal | author = Chin, C. | year=2003 | title=The development of absolute pitch | journal=Psychology of Music | volume=31 | pages=155–171] The "unlearning theory," first proposed by Abraham,cite journal | author = Abraham, O. | year=1901 | title=Das absolute tonbewußtsein. | journal=Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft|volume=3|pages=1–86 [http://www.aruffo.com/eartraining/research/articles/abraham01.htm Full text] [http://www.aruffo.com/eartraining/research/articles/abraham01e.htm Full text (English)] ] has recently been revived by developmental psychologists who argue that every person possesses absolute pitch (as a mode of perceptual processing) when they are infants, but that a shift in cognitiveprocessing styles (from local, absolute processing to global, relational processing) causes most people to unlearn it; or, at least, causes children with musical training to discard absolute pitch as they learn to identify musical intervals.cite journal | author = Saffran, J. R. & Griepentrog, G. J. | year=2001 | title=Absolute pitch in infant auditory learning: Evidence for developmental reorganization | journal=Developmental Psychology | volume=37 | pages=74–85 | doi = 10.1037/0012-16184.108.40.206 [http://elias.it.helsinki.fi/psyko/Opetus/HYPsykol.nsf/e9472accfeea83abc2256c4c0049705b/7a21adcc12795596c2257203003caf04/$FILE/Minna-9-Saffran01DevPsy.pdf Full text] ] Additionally, any nascent absolute pitch may be lost simply by the lack of reinforcement or lack of clear advantages in most activities in which the developing child is involved. An unequivocal resolution to the ongoing debate would require controlled experiments that are both impractical and unethical.
Researchers have been trying to teach absolute pitch ability for more than a century,cite journal | author = Meyer, M. | year=1899 | title=Is the memory of absolute pitch capable of development by training? | journal=Psychological Review | volume=6 | pages=514–516 | doi = 10.1037/h0069034 [http://www.aruffo.com/eartraining/research/articles/meyer99.htm Full text] ] and various commercial absolute-pitch training courses have been offered to the public since the early 1900s. [cite book | author=Maryon, E. | year=1924 | title=The Science of Tone-Color | publisher=C. C. Birchard & Co. | location=Boston [http://www.greylodge.org/occultreview/glor_003/Marcotone.pdf Full text] ] It has been shown possible to learn the naming of tones later in life, although some consider this skill not to be true absolute pitch. [cite journal | author=Levitin, D. J. & Rogers, S. E. | title=Absolute pitch: Perception, coding, and controversies | journal=Trends in Cognitive Sciences | volume=9 | year=2005 | pages=26–33 | doi = 10.1016/j.tics.2004.11.007 [http://www.zainea.com/absolpitch.pdf Full text] ] Although it has been shown possible to learn to identify pitches, keys, and everyday sounds later in life, no training method for adults has yet been shown to produce abilities comparable to naturally occurring absolute pitch. [cite journal | author=Takeuchi, A.H. & Hulse, S.H | title=Absolute pitch | journal=Psychological Bulletin | volume=113 | year=1993 | pages=345–361 | doi = 10.1037/0033-2909.113.2.345 ]
For children aged 2-4, observations have suggested a certain method of music educationcite journal | author = Oura, Y. & Eguchi, K. | year=1982 | title=Absolute pitch training program for children | journal=Music Education Research | volume=32 | pages=162–171] may be successful in training absolute pitch,cite journal | author = Sakakibara, A. | year=1999 | title=A longitudinal study of a process for acquiring absolute pitch | journal=Japanese Journal of Educational Psychology | volume=47 ] but the same method has also been shown to fail with students 5 years and older.cite journal | author = Sakakibara, A. | year=2004 | title=Why are people able to acquire absolute pitch only during early childhood?: Training age and acquisition of absolute pitch. | journal=Japanese Journal of Educational Psychology | volume=52 | pages=485–496]
Persons who have absolute pitch may feel irritated when a piece is transposed to a different key or played at a nonstandard pitch.cite journal | author=Miyazaki, K. | title=Absolute pitch as an inability: Identification of musical intervals in a tonal context. | journal=Music Perception | volume=11 | year=1993 | pages=55–72] Musicians with absolute pitch may fail to develop
relative pitchskills when following standard curricula, persisting instead in a habit of conceptualizing music as a sequence of absolute tones; it thus becomes difficult for them to transpose or play a transposing instrumentAlthough it is not unknown — Ludwig Wittgensteinhad perfect pitch and played the clarinet] . Absolute pitch possessors have also been known to find it difficult to play with an orchestra that is not tuned to standard concert pitch A4 = 440 hertz(442 Hz in some countries); this may be due to a perception of pitch which is categorical rather than freely adjustable. [cite book | author=Harris, G.B. | year=1974 | title=Categorical perception and absolute pitch | publisher=University of Western Ontario|location=Ontario ] Additionally, post-tonal musiccan be problematic for a person who attends to individual pitches rather than intervallic content. [cite book |author=Edlund, Lars | | title=Modus Novus: Studies in Reading Atonal Music | |location=Sweeden]
The prevalence of absolute pitch is higher among those who are blind from birth, due to
optic nerve hypoplasia, and has been claimed to be higher among individuals with Williams Syndromecite journal |author=Lenhoff, H. M., Perales, O., & Hickok, G. |title=Absolute pitch in Williams syndrome. |journal=Music Perception |year=2001 |volume=18 |pages=491–503 | doi = 10.1525/mp.2001.18.4.491 ] and those with an autism spectrum disorder. cite journal |author=Heaton, P., Hermelin, B., & Pring, L. |title=Autism and pitch processing: A precursor for savant musical ability |journal=Music Perception |year=1998 |volume=15 |pages=291–305 ] [cite book | author=Sacks, O. | year=2007 | title=Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain | publisher=Knopf | location=New York | id=ISBN 1-400-04081-7 ]
Correlation with musical talent
Absolute pitch is not a prerequisite for developing a high level of talent as a musician or composer, and musicians may disagree about the overall value and relevance of absolute pitch ability to musical experience. Owing to uncertainty in the historical record, and, until recently, lack of objective tests, it is often impossible to determine whether notable composers and musicians had absolute pitch or not. Since absolute pitch is rare in European musical culture, claims that any particular musician possessed it are to be doubted, unless there is clear contemporary evidence. Among composers of the Baroque and Classical eras, such evidence is available only for
Mozart's perfect pitch. He famously attained it at the age of 3. [ [http://www.philomel.com/pdf/Acoustics_Today_2006.pdf] D. Deutsch (2006), "The Enigma of Absolute Pitch", "Acoustics Today".] Experts have only surmised that Beethoven had it, merely due to his remarkable ability to compose undetrimented music long after becoming completely deaf. For 19th century-musicians such as Camille Saint-Saënsand John Philip Sousa, it became more common for the presence of absolute pitch to be recordedFacts|date=August 2007. Nicolas Slonimskywas discovered to have perfect pitch as a child of six, which led to him being given music lessons by his aunt Isabelle Vengerova, and a life as a musician. He even titled his 1988 autobiography "Perfect Pitch: A Life Story" ( [ISBN 0-19-313155-3] ). The same was the case with jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, starting with his parents discovering his ability to reproduce musical lines on the piano at the age of three. [Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 11, 2000, interview with Keith Jarrett]
Absolute pitch may influence the ability to transpose while
sight-reading, as a musician with absolute pitch may focus greater attention on the exact notes presented in a musical score rather than the structural characteristics represented by the notation.
Many musicians have quite good
relative pitch, a skill which can be learned. With practice, it is possible to listen to a single known pitch once (from a pitch pipeor a tuning fork) and then have stable, reliable pitch identification by comparing the notes heard to the stored memory of the tonic pitch. [cite journal | author=Brady, P.T. | title=Fixed-scale mechanism of absolute pitch | journal=Journal of the Acoustical Society of America | volume=48 | year=1970 | pages=883–887 | doi = 10.1121/1.1912227 ] Unlike absolute pitch, this skill is dependent on a recently perceived tonal center.
* Online absolute pitch [http://perfectpitch.ucsf.edu survey and test] with information about the absolute pitch study conducted at the University of California-San Francisco
* Comprehensive historical [http://www.aruffo.com/eartraining/research/phase11.htm bibliography of absolute pitch research] , 1876-present
* Another [http://www.nslij-genetics.org/apbib/ bibliography of absolute pitch] , with +300 papers
* [http://www.nslij-genetics.org/ap/ Participate in study on genetics of absolute pitch at The Robert S Boas Center for Genomics and Human Genetics, Feinstein Institute for Medical Research]
* [http://oriole-artists.com/absolute_pitchENG/Absolute_Pitch.html Audio Perception and Absolute Pitch Development Training]
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