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Is Perfect Pitch All in the Genes?
Date:8/30/2007

Study suggests genetics may be behind ability to know the tone of a musical note

THURSDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- A Web-based do-it-yourself study has found evidence for a possible genetic basis for absolute pitch, the rare ability to identify the pitch of a musical note without other notes as reference, researchers report.

"We asked, 'What is the chance that a sibling of a person with absolute pitch also has absolute pitch?', " said study lead author Jane Gitschier, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. "Both in our study and others, there appears to be an eight- to 14-fold increase in the likelihood. Our goal is to get at what the genes are."

To reach that goal, Gitschier and her colleagues are asking participants who demonstrate what musicians prefer to call absolute pitch -- rather than perfect pitch -- to send in samples of their DNA to aid in the search for the purported genes.

Most people have so-called "relative pitch" and are able to identify a pitch when it is surrounded by pitches at nearby levels. Among musicians, Mozart was said to have had perfect pitch, allowing him to copy the works of other composers in his childhood years.

The new study, published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, covers data from 2,213 people who went to the Web site of the University of California Genetics of Absolute Pitch Study. They were asked to identify both pure tones from a synthesizer and piano tones, and also to complete an accompanying survey. Of those who filled all the requirements, 981 were found to have perfect pitch, Gitschier said.

One expected finding from the study is that pitch perception changes with age, as older people err in the "sharp" direction, she said.

"We also discovered that in the subjects who entered the study, absolute pitch appears to be an all-or-none phenomenon," Gitschier said. "People ar
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