People who think they have perfect pitch may not be as in tune as they think, according to a new University of Chicago study in which people failed to notice a gradual change in pitch while listening to music.
When tested afterward, people with perfect, or absolute pitch, thought notes made out of tune at the end of a song were in tune, while notes that were in tune at the beginning sounded out of tune.
About one out of 10,000 people has absolute pitch, which means they can accurately identify a note by hearing it. They are frequently able, for instance, to replicate a song on a piano by simply hearing it. Absolute pitch has been "idealized in popular culture as a rare and desirable musical endowment, partly because several well-known composers, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Handel, have been assumed to possess absolute pitch," the researchers write in "Absolute Pitch May Not Be So Absolute," in the current issue of Psychological Science.
The study showed that exposure to music influences how people identify notes from their sound, rather than having a rare, absolute ability at an early age. The research also demonstrates the malleability of the brainthat abilities thought to be stable late in life can change with even a small amount of experience and learning.
One of the researchers, Stephen Hedger, a graduate student in psychology at UChicago, has absolute pitch, as determined by objective tests. Joining him in the study were postdoctoral scholar Shannon Heald and Howard Nusbaum, professor in psychology at UChicago.
Hedger and Heald decided to pursue the study after a session in which Heald tricked Hedger by covertly adjusting pitch on an electronic keyboard.
"Steve and I have talked about absolute pitch, and I thought it might be more malleable than people have thought," Heald said. While in the lab, Hedger began to play a tune, and Heald secretly changed the pitch with a wheel at the s
|Contact: William Harms|
University of Chicago