Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Musical Illusions and Phantom WordsHow Music and Speech Unlock Mysteries of the Brain$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Diana Deutsch

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190206833

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190206833.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 27 January 2021

The Mystery of Absolute Pitch

The Mystery of Absolute Pitch

A Rare Ability That Involves Both Nature and Nurture

Chapter:
(p.82) 6 The Mystery of Absolute Pitch
Source:
Musical Illusions and Phantom Words
Author(s):

Diana Deutsch

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780190206833.003.0007

Chapter 6. discusses absolute pitch (or “perfect pitch”)—the rare ability to name a musical note in the absence of a reference note. It is argued that acquiring absolute pitch requires exposure to certain environmental influences during a critical period early in life. This ability is associated with early musical training—and the earlier the onset of training the stronger the association. The author and her coworkers have found at music conservatories and universities in the United States and China that the earlier students had begun taking music lessons, the greater the probability that they possessed absolute pitch. We also found that the prevalence of absolute pitch is much higher among people who speak a tone language—in which the meaning of a word changes depending on the pitch or pitches in which it is spoken. It is therefore argued that when babies learn to speak a tone language, they automatically associate pitches with words, and so develop absolute pitch for the words they hear. Therefore when they begin taking music lessons, their brain circuitry for absolute pitch is already in place. Speakers of non-tone languages are therefore at a disadvantage compared with tone-language speakers for acquiring absolute pitch. Further work by the author and colleagues also point to a genetic factor in acquiring absolute pitch. Also discussed are the neurological correlates of absolute pitch, and its presence in some autistic savants, and in people who are blind. It also considers the decline of absolute pitch with aging, and distortions in absolute pitch judgment under certain medications.

Keywords:   Mozart, absolute pitch, perfect pitch, speech, critical period, tone language, music conservatory, neuroanatomy, musical training, intonation

Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs , and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us .