The Puzzle of Absolute Pitch

Author(s): Diana Deutsch
Source: Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 11, No. 6 (Dec., 2002), pp. 200-204
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of Association for Psychological Science
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it has been found that native speakers of two dif ferent tone languages?Manda rin and Vietnamese?display a form of ab precise remarkably in enunciating solute pitch it words. J. J. evolved life.I. Address University 66045-7535.A. J. J. Hayne. (Available at http://www. 62. so that it extends to duration. J.. (1997). Shaddy. J.. music. F. B.). NJ: Colombo.97-135.. DECEMBER 2002 and thus developmental psychology. J. Infant Behavior and Development.NUMBER 6.ku. Lawrence. (1987). Annual Review of Psychology. (2001). thor in infant visual information process oughness ing. attention. NJ: Erlbaum. Cognitive neuroscience of attention: A develop mental perspective.K.. (2001).371-381. Rich ardson and information (Eds. T. B. the potential at absolute is universal pitch birth. Posner.. (Ed. (1991).. Developmental cognitive in infant attention: Note of Kansas.A. M. (1996). 70. However. Cognitive neuroscience of attention: A develop mental perspective (pp. the acquisition of absolute pitch by rare indi viduals may be associated with a critical period of unusually long 1st year Published of by Blackwell Publishing Inc. (2001). Allen The Puzzle Colombo.. J.1247-1257. Christa to our for their contributions Kannass current program of work. O'Brien. NJ: Ablex. W. Coldren. S. D.W.E. (See References) Hood. and infant in the paired-comparison para performance digm. J. J. E. KS References En un J. 1415 Jayhawk Blvd. & Mitchell.. Blaga. Colombo. 3. 9. Mitchell.H.E. Erlbaum. (1998).. just before the on set Mozart their off fa family mous an anony tour of Europe. O'Brien.A. For speakers of tone languages. the distribution of attention in in Modifying fants.J.people. grateful Frances Horowitz. the age at which the child can lessons. Oxford. Richards (Ed. ~colombo/SRCD99.M. nitive Neuroscience. (1990).T.337-367. detailing remarkable 7-year-old Wolfgang's . look duration. Lipsitt (Eds. & Rothbart. In J.339-351. Components early infancy: Contingency learning. a define field of developmental cognitive neuroscience. Colombo. Journal of Ex perimental Child Psychology.). On the neural mechanisms and individual differ derlying developmental ences in infant fixation duration: Two hypotheses. D. 20. Orlian. (1997). of California. & Feldman. Advances in infancy research (Vol.M. Norwood. Individual differences of Absolute Pitch Diana Deutsch1 Department of Psychology. lookers faster Child Devel D. S. search program. J. (1999. Jankowski. & Rose. speech In May of 1763.D. NJ: Erlbaum.. The distribu tion of visual attention in infants.F. & Janowsky. M. Department 426 Fraser Hall.E. Richards. Colombo. M. & Mitchell.W. Ruff. of visual at Colombo. University Abstract Absolute pitch?the ability a note of to name or produce particular pitch in the absence note?is of a reference gener to be extremely considered ally rare. W.A. Rose.J. A cognitive to individual neuroscience differ approach ences in infant cognition. Ac begin taking music to this line of reason cording for acquiring ing. & Freeseman. 58. Individual differences in infancy (pp.A. Speed vs.. Richman. J. 52. In B. 363-392).474-489. & Colombo. Colombo. La Jolla. Hillsdale. 163-216). H. 15. Stability of infant visual Horowitz. Individual in infant visual and developmental differences In J.J. am to Wayne Marion Mitchell.335-344. 65. NJ: Erlbaum. Richards.S. e-mail: colombo@ku. 193-227).F. of this Acknowledgments?Preparation article was by Grant HD35903 supported I from the National Institutes of Health.). & Maikranz.Harlan. Johnson.. In C. The development of look duration in in fancy: Evidence for a triphasic course. and Janet Frick to this re Jill Shaddy. Child Development. NJ: Erlbaum.htm) Colombo..K. Colombo. (1995). year the 1st Keywords pitch. in early development: Attention Variations and themes. Child engagement Development. Poster pre sented at the annual meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development.E. The development tention in infancy. H. Mitchell. and can be realized by the infant the opportu giving nity to associate pitches with verbal labels during or so of life.127-140.. in of visual orienting (1991). 30-60). Attention in infants and adults (pp. D. mous letter was sent from Vienna some of to Augsburg. Indi in dis vidual and developmental differences of fixation in early infancy.W. and Kathleen Anderson. B.).. Campbell. & Rose. processing Hillsdale.. J.200 VOLUME 11. anticipa Journal of Cog tory looking. & Saxon.. California as a feature to other analogous features such as vowel quality..K.. Are short processors or feature processors? opment. 72. & Casey. HR-defined phases of attention. J. (1995). Hillsdale. (1990). S. Frick.. in the critical when infants acquire period other features of their native non language.1605-1616. Jankowski. gland: Oxford University Press. Otilia Richman. & Rothbart. J.F.. NM. April). M.. for their past contributions and to D.). Child Devel opment. Mahwah. J. Green hoot. Colombo & J.J. Reading neuroscience. and disengaging. Shifts of visual attention in the infant: A neuroscientific approach. It is also conjectured that tone ac language speakers generally this feature the quire during may have of speech. (1997). & R.J. habituation during the first year. (1999). (See References) Johnson. J. Fagen (Eds. that absolute pitch is proposed San Diego. Hood. correspondence to John of Psychology.537-548.. D. Rovee Collier & L.W. J. J. (2001).. Julie Maikranz.W. 72. Development of sustained visual attention in the human in fant.A.. (1995). (1998). Child Development. M. A. Colombo. M. L. Recommended 1. Developmental Review. pp. Given these findings.

p. in another listen in letter the note of the bell or time piece.g. Baharloo et this faculty. Friederici. training to a critical These point findings for the of ab period development to solute (and pitch. When we identify a color as red. the in that it On a of researchers developed to train people to acquire programs it (see Takeuchi & H?lse. and Steinmetz Jancke. for a review). for example. a bell toll or a clock. & Jusczyk. so on. ers?including Handel. For exam early a more in than 600 ple. about pitch? at or after age 9 did so. to possess others?were known this faculty. Johnston. the individual must evidence absolute have been to musical notes and their exposed names very in life. There is considerable that in order to acquire pitch. before birth. and it appears on that hu likely general grounds mans would not employ this sim ple feature of sound for the purpose of communication. So the real puz absolute pitch is not zle concerning some it. Chopin. area in the temporal lobe that is crit ical to speech processing. musicians. (1998) had or at music lessons taking before age 4 reported having abso lute pitch. a num . in and What most people. tion is also involved (Baharloo et al. pitch display Ito. Solti. 1990. they give him notes. Indeed. analogous the critical possibly parallel with) out that most of al. As someone who has absolute pitch. IMPLICITABSOLUTE PITCH the intriguing However. on hearing even a able at in an In instant. Profita & Bidder. 1993. the note two whole tones higher as E. On the other hand. kerud. (1998) pointed their subjects who had begun taking music lessons at or before 6 years of THE GENESIS OF ABSOLUTE PITCH in ten thousand mediate as.. 1993). Mewhort. Ihave always found it strange find this labeling that most people it is so rare. study of Baharloo. tween colors. in rel Mu in nam sicians have no difficulty are notes if first ing given a they if they reference note. Fur ther evidence for the role of innate factors was provided by Schlaug. different cannot 201 Society 1998. Bach. the same moment strike. This impression is reinforced by the fact that most famous and perform composers Beethoven. Huang. whereas only 3% of had started musical those who found that 40% of those who started Copyright ? 2002 American Psychological infants and period during which children young acquire the speech sounds of their native language Sven (Jusczyk. cited in E. Rubenstein. syndrome can recognize which the patient are of the same that two objects and can discriminate be color. 21) It is clear from this description that the young Mozart had abso lute pitch. not only on the pianoforte but on every other imaginable instrument as well.. that musicians (1995).O. & 1995. (Augsbur gischer Intelligenz-Zettel. now low. 1988). What was most note number about these programs was worthy their lack of success?people la to achieve bored for many months suc absolute pitch. Ser and Freimer vice. in is name a note that is presented isolation. absolute pitch seems a and mysterious extraordinary gift? that must surely be very something or take some exceptional difficult. Deutsch. a as note is naming simple and im then evaluating the relation two. cannot do cluding most musicians. absolute songbirds. Toscanini. Gitschier. cluded the following I saw and to made heard The passage: room. 1993). Yet for color ing object's most people. In age did not possess some is evidence that a there deed. this assumption. and et al. and Heifetz. Menuhin. ques as to why tion still remains abso to be so rare. the involve ment of a critical period may be only part of the picture. pocket-watch. so and innate. 1763. & Weisman. The ability relation ative to judge one note as to another?known pitch?is very common. found that this left Schlaug ward which emerges asymmetry. This re on is the left side gion usually larger of the brain than on the right. identify an as red. but possess why people rather why talent. the between The labeling ship more A lack is much direct. they easily identify note a whole tone higher as D. was he to name task so difficult. are played the note C and given its can the name. and he came out with the letter of would the name of the note deed. now high. (see. Takeuchi un H?lse. but simply label them. Wessels. often without even when were ceeding. For example.CURRENT DIRECTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE accomplishments. Njegovan. who observed with absolute pitch tend to have an in unusual form of brain structure an the volving planum temporale. For people with absolute pitch. do we What genesis know of absolute vestigators is acquired the basis have of Some suggested through learning. is greater among musi cians with absolute than pitch among other individuals. lute pitch appears nonhuman such as Many species. otherwise known as per fect pitch?a faculty that has been to occur in less than one estimated in our population. process of absolute pitch therefore appears to be somewhat to the analogous rare in of color anomia. we do not do so by it with another color comparing and he was when how. and did not have the immediacy effortlessness of the perceptions of individuals who naturally possess this faculty. e. and they their perceptions fairly successful. to acquire. predisposi genetic.

Lev songs on different itin (1994) had subjects sing two songs. C followed by some hear an ascend listeners F#). the subject was handed same list of 10 Vietnamese words to read out loud one time. but played (say. One body of evi a musical illusion involves dence called the in memory? have stored The an swer might in tone lan be found InMandarin. we can think More specifically. a name: C.202 VOLUME 11. as in 1. a word takes on an entirely differ on the tone ent meaning depending a in which it is enunciated?with I tone being defined both by its pitch contour and by its absolute pitch level. we should ex meanings to pect speakers of these languages be very consistent from one day to Supposing. 7 native tested Dolson. DECEMBER 2002 that have shown ber of studies an most people do in fact possess of absolute form pitch. judgments of the tritone paradox. F. the octave of the 12 tones within as ar as classes) (known pitch a circle. height some that they must be employing in form of absolute pitch making that musi (1989) found Halpern were untrained quite subjects cally in their choices consistent of were to when asked they pitches hum the first notes of well-known occasions. and he compared popular with the pitches their productions re in the songs' used that were He that 44% of the found cordings. I (D. implicit even though they are unable to la bel notes directly.G# followed by D). this ability is considered very rare. word showed cies: All consisten extraordinary aver 7 subjects produced . an average pitch for each word was We then calculated. to and the (b) ability widespread. D#. while group of listeners hears ing hears a de the second an ascend consonants ample. E. spoken a she is associating particular pitch of pitches) with a (or combination a when verbal label. were en speech samples and tered into computer memory. by repeat names People (or with absolute pitch are able to name the in pitch of a note when it is presented isolation. D. able to label Published the pitches by Blackwell that they Publishing Inc. which these judgments. determined. analogous to tritone (D. with identi absolute person pitch of the note C# as fies the sound "C#. So he concluded lute pitch has two components: (a) which is long-term pitch memory. judgments be flect a systematic relationship tween pitch class and perceived 1991) showing (D. partial than was form. or as "hemp" when or in the second he tone. To examine they enunciate this prediction. Deutsch. semitone cends in height. then. vowels. C#. the difference The the average pitch for each we on Day 1 and Day 2. ing pitch this is produced succession across classes) of note octaves. re listeners' thermore. Analogously." he or a she is also associating pitch with a verbal label. is rare. Pitches are therefore used to create verbal features. and across these differences averaged in the list. that absolute to in tone languages between the different distinguish of a word. for example. do most people have stable long-term for the absolute pitches even though they are un So why. as it as B. in Figure ranged in making Most people. instead. guages." or the note D as "D. Dolson. two computer-produced a are half-octave that related by (or in succession. Deutsch. A. 1991). The results the words tween in then. posite region the orientation of the pitch-class circle with respect to height differs Fur from one listener to another. whereas other listeners ing pattern. The entire and scale. Terhardt and traditionally that mu Seewann (1983) observed sicians who lacked absolute pitch were nevertheless able to judge to or not a pas some extent whether sage was played in the correct key. F#. G. pitch-class Western by dividing scale The music is pro the octave into 12 tone is given and each steps. is more prevalent assumed. Each subject served in two sessions. came within two semi subjects tones of the correct pitch for both that abso songs. The list the range of tones in Viet spanned and namese speech. place tones and TONE LANGUAGES another in the pitches in which words. pitch is used one. hear a descending pattern a different tone pair is Yet when fined. for ex a speaker of Manda the meaning of ma as in the it is spoken "mother" when it is first tone. 1999) speak ers of Vietnamese. A#. which were held on different days. Henthorn.When they pairs is played (say. tritone) are played that The tones are so constructed their note names are de am clearly are in they principle octave in terms of which biguous one of these tone are in. be for each subject. & Henthorn. However. as lower. label pitches. The Fig. in traditional duced circle. To generate tones lusion. the first group of listeners scending pattern. G#. when rin identifies 1. In each ses the sion. that There is further evidence at in absolute least pitch. So. our society memories of tones.NUMBER 6. paradox this il Deutsch. cir in one region of the pitch-class and tones in the op cle as higher.

aver half of the subjects produced pitches. (1991). and between the readings first and second readings on Day 2. MA: MIT Press. 267. To this end. of model Brown. D. psychologists do not know whether absolute & form life. MA: MIT Press. Deutsch. Such a predisposi tion for an extended critical period be determined. that the mu brain mechanisms subserving sic and speech are distinct and sep arate. which 203 Note 1. N. More am also that absolute proposing for and absolute pitch speech pitch for music share common brain con mechanisms. though not been given the op to associate pitches with portunity verbal labels during the critical pe riod for speech Per acquisition? of less than third of the this criti haps for such individuals.). though there is some evidence that this may be the case (see. For all comparisons. Department University of California. Gitschier. Recommended organization be of consid to understand Reading 1995). which has tra a musi as been viewed ditionally to cal faculty. 88-95.. e-mail: ddeutsch@ucsd. controlling tors such as age of onset of musical training. S. (Ed. and one infants acquire other features of speech (Jusczyk et al. Cambridge. Each subject again two sessions in that participated were held on different days. La Jolla. to Diana correspondence of Psychology. that is initially for acquired to later musical speech generalizes tones. e. that infants are able (2001) showed to remember em as sub ployed 15Mandarin speakers a list of words we and used jects. In Saffran and Griepentrog deed. (2000). For example. D.5 semitone. that spanned all four tones inMan darin speech. Kowalsky. B. The tritone paradox: An influ ence of language on music perception. Day on Day 1. my colleagues and I are in the initial stages of car a the rying out study comparing of absolute prevalence pitch among in China music students and the United for fac States. The psychol ogy of music (2nd ed. Wallin.25 semi tone. quite prevalent tone languages are countries where spoken.224-231. Cambridge. although in would be States.. but in this case he or she recited list twice in each session. D..B.). The origins of music (pp. S. 2000).CURRENT DIRECTIONS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE of less than aged pitch differences 1. This suggestion trasts with the view that has domi nated thinking for decades. Gregersen. the word the read on ings Day 1 and Day 2. & Brown. P. Absolute pitch: An approach for identification of genetic and nongenetic components. Deutsch. and 4 of the 7 subjects averaged pitch differ produced ences of less than 0. & S. corollary. San Diego. between on the second readings Day 1 and between the and first second 2. If such generaliza tion does occur. many plored. We concluded we the pitch discrepancies though found were remarkably small. during absolute they have separated ings being by roughly 20 s. The origins of music. American Journal ofHuman Genetics. they underestimated the nevertheless of the absolute precision subjects' pitch templates. Service. the absolute of pitches ferring then. The 'Musilanguage' music evolution. (Eds. evolved originally a I As subserve speech. 1993).. B.A. Copyright ? 2002 American Psychological Society N. CONCLUSION Wallin. & Freimer. 1999). statistical anal yses found no significant differences in the degree of pitch consistency in reciting that occurred the word list on different days. Brown (Eds. Scientific American. S. edu. in the United States pos viduals sess absolute even pitch. analogous such as vowel (see also quality One further Brown. CA: Academic Press. .We calculated four sets of dif ference scores: between the first read aged pitch differences 0. Music Perception.5 semitone.L.L.). (1998). (1999).. by in that 8-month-old demonstrating a fants could perform perceptual re task that necessitated learning to tones. S. do some rare indi Why. 8. 62. Johnston. might genetically and might also be associated with feasible music differences (Schlaug subjects produced pitch averaged differences of less than 0. Merker.). Given the framework presented issues remain to be ex here. In N. 271 300). The findings and theoretical framework here lead to presented an additional question: What other mu between linkages speech and sic exist. pitch Kohn. In a second we experiment. though they have not yet been identified? The uncovering of such linkages would erable importance bases of these ing the evolutionary two forms of communication. References Baharloo. Furthermore. San Diego. Address Deutsch. Merker.. (2000). absolute pitch for rare in the United music. CA 92093. Paradoxes of mu sical pitch.. is of longer duration. Deutsch.K. that speak This study indicates ers of Vietnamese and Mandarin an extraordinarily possess precise that they of absolute pitch in the enunciation of words employ in their native The re language. (1992). in I am proposing generally. We found remarkable again consistencies.335-347.. sults suggest that absolute pitch as a feature of may have evolved to other features speech.g. may hy that this feature is gener pothesize ally acquired during the 1st year of the critical period in brain et al.1 semitone. J. Marvin. compared with reciting it twice in immediate that al succession. that absolute pitch. cal period and extends to the age at which it is for them to begin taking lessons.

& Jusczyk.911-913.W. American Journal of Human Genet Deutsch. Aural key to absolute identification and its relationship pitch. (1989). 37.K. was to attributed greater causality whichever observers person hap to be facing. referred to as causation (McArthur. are more the suspects likely to be guilty. Y.g. videotaped In 1935. videotaped jurors confessions to judge were more that the volun that tary and. tran presentation scripts and audiotapes)?lead Keywords illusory causation. most important. Perfect pitch. for the absolute Halpern. GJ.. Daniel Lassiter1 Department of Psychology.O..345-361. ethnic variation. vin. E. A. of structural brain (1995). P. (1993).. is not limited to cases involv in the Courtroom Ohio University. in speakers of Absolute pitch is demonstrated tone languages. 106. asymmetry Saffran. 65.H. Ito.M. Amer ican Journal ofMedical Genetics. Njegovan. Mewhort. M. T. Wessels.763-771. For example.. Athens. two-person The vantage was varied point of by seat in different locations ing them around the two interactants. acquainted" that is is not an error in judgment . (1990). Research physical that it affects people's causal attri more butions for complex social in as In the first sys teractions well. people judge two that a widening gap between of light is caused by the pinpoints one that they happen to be looking Published by Blackwell Publishing Inc.572-581. 56. & Weisman. E. & Steinmetz.. (1999). 1. more than less likely conspicuous objects to be judged the originators there of a physical event. illusory 1980). (2001). N. T. (1993). 32. Jancke. the observers of illusory domain.. Classification and humans..414r-423. E.. & Griepentrog. H. ing tematic demonstration in the causation Taylor servers and view conversation. bias confessions. and estimation of the genetic component.402-420..R. 21. Gregersen. E. Takeuchi. Schlaug. 29. Memory pitch of familiar songs. Illusory Causation G. D. M. Terhardt. when placed in a darkened room. on the and interroga suspect traditional tor) or with more formats (i. R. considerable practical signifi videotaped arily camera lens zeroed cance... interaction.& Bidder. at regardless it is actu of whether one the ally moving.}.H. Because nal interrogations actual crimi are custom with the in on the are of these findings suspect.74r-85. (1999). Kohn. In vivo evidence inmusicians. pitch.204 VOLUME 11. even when is no objective basis for such a con clusion. interactions among simple indicates objects. Kowalsky. Henthorn. Absolute memory for musical of learned for the production pitch: Evidence melodies. Memory & Cognition. Profita.699-701. in terms of rated each interactant the amount of causal influence he or she exerted the ex during that The results revealed change. into of frequencies (1995). & Mar P. Videotaped the recorded with confessions on the sus camera focused with video camera points focused equally pect?compared tapes from other of view (e. G. Levitin. 113. Huang. M. Absolute pitch in infant auditory learning: Evidence for Developmental developmental reorganization. Music Perception.R..G (1988).e. was determined by inci seating position?an entirely dental have causal factor that logically should no on their bearing had judgments. S. Perception & Psychophysics. (1975) had ob social Fiske a casual. DECEMBER 2002 Deutsch.. Journal ofMemory and Language.W. & Seewann.. 267. A. kerud.). (1983).33-42.Y.63-83. 27. regard certain evidence.. D.2267.. London: Simon and Schuster. Koffka noted that objects that stand out in our visual field. D. Friederici...D. Psychology.NUMBER 6. Infants' to sound patterns lan of native sensitivity guage words. & H?lse. L. recent research demonstrating that this illusory-causation phe can produce nomenon serious effects with prejudicial to how people evaluate types of Specifically.. Absolute A.. Ohio Abstract mock in large body of evidence attribute that people dicates A unwarranted (influ causality ence) to a stimulus simply be or cause it is more noticeable salient than other available reviews This article stimuli. Absolute pitch: Prevalence. J. S. pened their course. V. Journal of ranges by songbirds Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Pro cesses. After the conversation observers ended. This phenomenon. & Dolson. Psychological Bulletin. the causal influence of a mating a in participant particular "getting I daresay. which of multi Misidentifying in a of light is moving ple points or even overesti darkened room. ics. Journal of theAcoustical Society ofAmerica. Science. or are are the focus of our attention. Sven Jusczyk. A. Mozart: A documentary biogra phy (3rd ed. legal evaluations of can be confessions altered by presum significantly changes ably inconsequential in the camera perspective are the confessions taken when initially recorded. (1994). J. of which.