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Absolute Pitch research, ear training and more

Absolute Pitch Bibliography, 2000–present


Baharloo, S., Service, S.K., Risch, N., Gitschier, J., and Freimer, N.B.  (2000).  Familial aggregation of absolute pitchAmerican Journal of Human Genetics, 67(3), 755-8.

This statistical study wanted to discover whether absolute pitch aggregates in families, presumably to lend support for the notion that absolute pitch is a genetic trait.  However, as the authors themselves report, "...estimation of [the genetic component] may be confounded by the possibility that exposure to early music training is, in itself, familial.... indeed, we have provided evidence that early music training is familial."  They claim, however, that even after controlling for musical training there still appears to be a bias towards inheritance.  These results could be taken to support either of two opposing views: that absolute pitch is a genetic trait which requires "activation" by musical training, or (as I prefer) that absolute pitch can be trained in any person but can occur spontaneously if the genetic tendency is strong enough.

Bonnel, A., Mottron, L., Peretz, I., Trudel, M., Gallun, E., and Bonnel, A.M.  (2000).  Enhanced pitch sensitivity in individuals with autism:  A signal detection analysis.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 15(2), 226-35.

In their experiments, autistic individuals were better at discriminating and categorizing tones than were normal listeners.  This becomes part of a larger body of work which demonstrates how autism represents a "high-fidelity processing mode" which allows hyperawareness of perceptual characteristics.

Gandour, J., Wong, D., Hsieh, L., Weinzapfel, B., van Lancker, D., and Hutchins, G.D.  (2000).  A crosslinguistic PET study of tone perceptionJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 12, 207-22.

The authors scanned the brains of Thai, Chinese, and English speakers while they played tonal sounds for these subjects.  Gandour (98) had previously discovered that Thai listeners processed pitches phonemically; in this case, "[t]he major finding of this crosslinguistic study is that the presence or absence of significant activation in the vicinity of Broca's area (BA 44) for Thai listeners varies depending on whether pitch patterns are presented in a linguistic or nonlinguistic context, respectively."  They further determined that tonal-linguistic Thai sounds, when presented to tonal-linguistic Chinese listeners, did not cause significant activation in Broca's area.

Gregersen, P.K., Kowalsky, E., Kohn, N., and Marvin, E.W.  (2000).  Early childhood music education and predisposition to absolute pitch: teasing apart genes and environment.  American Journal of Medical Genetics, 98(3), 280-2.

The authors conducted a survey to determine whether the type of musical training received in childhood affected a students' likelihood of achieving absolute pitch.  They found that there was a difference between methods.  From most likely to least likely, these methods are: fixed-do and moveable-do together, fixed-do only, moveable do only, and no musical training.  Their conclusion is that "[t]he most reasonable view of the existing data is that certain early childhood musical exposures increase the probability of AP in genetically susceptible individuals."  (Also see my comment of 9/11/4.)

Johnsrude, I.S., Penhune, V.B., and Zatorre, R.J.  (2000).  Functional specificity in the right human auditory cortex for perceiving pitch direction Brain, 123, 155-63.

"These findings support a specialization of function linked to right auditory cortical areas for the processing of pitch direction, and specifically suggest a dissociation between simple sensory discrimination and higher-order perception."  In other words, this seems to be the neurobiological support for the separation observed by Shepard (64) and Korpell (65) (see October 26).

Katanoda, K., Yoshikawa, K., and Sugishita, M.  (2000).  Strong rightward asymmetry of the planum parietale associated with the ability of absolute pitch.  In T. Nakada (ed.), Integrated Human Brain Science: Theory, Method, Application (music), pp. 487-91.  Amsterdam: Elsevier.

The authors show, via brain scans, that this is anatomically the case:  subjects with absolute pitch have a rightward asymmetry.  And that's all.  The authors do not offer any scan-data to show its actual use during the absolute-pitch processing task, nor do they make any speculations about how it might be used.

Koelsch, S., Gunter, T.C., Friederici, A.D., and Schröger, E.  (2000).  Brain indices of music processing: "nonmusicians" are musical.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 12, 520-41.

A brain-scan study which demonstrates how "within a musical context the human brain nonintentionally extrapolates expectations about forthcoming auditory input.  These extrapolated expectations are consistent with music theory even in musically untrained listeners."

Krumhansl, C.L.  (2000).  Rhythm and pitch in music cognition.  Psychological Bulletin, 126(1), 159-79.

Just what it says:  a summary of research describing what "rhythm" and "pitch" are and how they function in music.  Her study does not suggest a contiguity between rhythmic pulse and tone frequency.

Kuhl, P.K.  Language, mind, and brain: Experience alters perception.  In M.S. Gazzaniga (Ed.), The new cognitive neurosciences (pp 99-115).  Cambridge, MA: the MIT Press.

This paper is focused on early development.  Through a summary of research, this paper advances the argument that unconscious experience with ambient language prompts the creation of neural "perceptual maps" which, in turn, are employed to interpret and produce that language.

Marvin, E.W. and Brinkman, A.R.  (2000).  The effect of key color and timbre on absolute pitch recognition in musical contexts.  Music Perception, 18(2), 111-37.

The "color" referred to by the authors is the black or white of the piano keys.  Their major findings were that:
- In naming isolated pitches, piano sound was easier than stringed instrument, and key color didn't matter
- In naming tonal centers, white keys were easier than black, and timbre didn't matter
- In humming tonal centers, neither timbre nor key color caused significant effects
- String players identified isolated tones more easily
- Piano players identified tonal centers more easily.
None of these results are exactly surprising, but I'm not sure that anyone else had recorded these results scientifically.

Mottron, L., Peretz, I., and Menard, E.  (2000).  Local and global processing of music in high-functioning persons with autism:  Beyond central coherence?  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41(8), 1057-65.

In their experiment, the authors discovered that autistic subjects demonstrated a "local bias" but failed to demonstrate a "global deficit" in perceiving music.  In other words, the autistic subjects were more able (and more likely) to preferentially perceive the individual components of musical sound, but this did not interfere with their understanding of the musical unit as a whole.  I like the way it's written in the abstract: the subjects demonstrated "enhanced processing of elementary physical properties of incoming stimuli."

Saffran, J.R., Loman, M., and Robertson, R.  (2000).  Infant memory for musical experiencesCognition, 77, B15-B23.

According to Saffran's experiment, "infants remember the music that they hear, and can retain musical information over at least a two-week delay following repeated passive exposure to complex pieces of instrumental music."  Exactly how the infants (average age: seven months) recognized and remembered the musical structures is yet unknown, but Saffran's data demonstrates that however they did it, they did it.

Tervaniemi, M., Medvedev, S.V., Alho, K., Pakhomov, S.V., Roudas, M.S., van Zuijen, T.L., and Näätänen, R.  (2000).  Lateralized automatic auditory processing of phonetic versus musical information: a PET study.  Human Brain Mapping, 10(2), 74-79.

The details of this study are somewhat difficult to penetrate.  One important conclusion is clearly spoken, to say that "...although the earliest stages of sound processing are not affected by sound quality, the later memory-based stages are.  However, conscious attention is not required for activating functionally specialized neural mechanisms."  From what I can make out, it appears that this study supports the idea that the unattended activation occurs due to contextual orientation.  That is, if you've been listening to music or language, sounds will be preattentively processed in the respective area.  If so, that would explain the punchline of this cartoon.

Vitouch, O. and Gaugusch, A.  Absolute recognition of musical keys in non-absolute-pitch possessors.  In C. Woods, G. Luck, R. Brochard, F. Seddon, and J.A. Sloboda (Eds.), Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition.  Keele, UK:  Keele University Dept. of Psychology.


Baharloo, S.  (2001).  Genetics of absolute pitch.  Doctoral dissertation, University of California, San Francisco.

Bigand, E., Tillmann, B., Poulin, B., D'Adamo, D., and Madurell, F.  (2001).  The effect of harmonic context on phoneme monitoring in vocal music.  Cognition, 81, B11-20.

The authors played eight chords and asked their subject to identify a vowel sound sung concurrently with the final chord.  They discovered that, in all cases, regardless of the subject's level of musical expertise, even when the subjects were not asked to pay attention to the music, the phonemic identification was faster with tonic chords than with subdominant.  The authors engage in various speculations based on this result, most strongly suggesting that the processing of musical and language sounds are not independent.  This is distinct from the semantic meaning represented by the language sounds, which Baharloo (98) showed to be independent of musical processing. 

Bonnel, A-M., Faita, F., Peretz, I., and Besson, M.  (2001).  Divided attention between lyrics and tunes of operatic songs: Evidence for independent processing.  Perception & Psychophysics, 63(7), 1201-13.

Just like the title says:  the authors constructed a task which would make visible whether lyrics and musical sounds were processed together or separately, and their results "[suggest] that semantic and melodic aspects of language are processed by independent systems."  This is significant for more than overt musical experience-- for example, I find it difficult to hear words in songs, and I have friends who listen to music "for the lyrics"-- but for ordinary everyday speech.

Braun, M.  (2001).  Speech mirrors norm-tones: Absolute pitch as a normal but precognitive trait.  Acoustic Research Letters Online, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 2, 85-90.

It's an interesting idea-- when we speak, do we normally choose pitch frequencies from the C-major scale?  The author re-examined data from an older, unrelated study; he concluded that yes, we do.  I looked at the data and read this report at least half a dozen times and I don't see how the data supports his conclusions.  As far as I can tell, the data shows that our pitch choices are evenly (or randomly) distributed among the 12 chromatic pitches.  Even if it were otherwise, it's arguable whether "pitch memory", subconscious or otherwise, is representative of absolute pitch talent.

Costa-Giomi, E., Gilmour, R., Siddell, J., and LeFebvre, E.  (2001).  Absolute pitch, early musical instruction, and spatial abilities.  In Zatorre, R. and Peretz, I. (eds.) The Biological Foundation of Music, pp. 394-6.  New York, NY: New York Academy of Sciences.

The earlier that a subject began their musical instruction, the better they were at spatial tasks.  Absolute pitch subjects performed even better than other musicians on the "Hidden Figure Test."  The authors offered no further analysis; I wonder if this latter result suggests that absolute listeners have a general capacity to discover characteristics of objects.

Drayna, D., Manichaikul, A., DeLange, M., Snieder, H., and Spector, T.  (2001).  Genetic correlates of musical pitch recognition in humans.  Science 291(5510), 1969-72.

The authors took pairs of identical and fraternal (monozygotic and dizygotic) twins and asked them to identify "distorted melodies"-- melodies which had one (contour-preserving) note in the wrong absolute position.  Looking at their results, they concluded that "the model providing the best fit to the data" was one which "included an additive genetic and a unique environmental component."  In other words, it could be genes, it could be environment, it could be both.  I'd stamp this one INCONCLUSIVE.

Goldberger, Z.D.  (2001).  Music of the left hemisphere: exploring the neurobiology of absolute pitch. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 74(5), 323-7.

A brief summary of research.  I find this piece remarkable mainly because it contains perhaps the most concise and objective description of the genetics problem that I've yet seen:  "[F]amilial AP includes individuals brought up in similar, musically-enriched environments.  Because of such confounding environmental factors, careful genetic pedigree mapping will be necessary to provide concrete evidence of heritable factors in this complex phenotype."

Keenan, J.P., Thangeraj, R., Halpern, A.R., and Schlaug, G.  (2001).  Absolute pitch and planum temporaleNeuroimage, 14(6), 1402-8.

The significance of this study may be its assertion that, although musicians with absolute pitch display a "leftward asymmetry" of the planum temporale, this is actually due to a smaller right side, not an abnormally enlarged left.  (see also October 11 entry.)

Klein, D., Zatorre, R.J., Milner, B., and Zhao, V.  (2001).  A cross-linguistic PET study of tone perception in Mandarin Chinese and English speakersNeuroimage, 13, 646-53.

A study similar to Gandour's (1998), in which Mandarin Chinese brains were shown to recruit language areas to process linguistically-relevant pitch sounds, while English brains used the right frontal cortex to process the tonal (musical) information.

Lenhoff, H.M., Perales, O., and Hickok, G.  (2001).  Absolute pitch in Williams syndrome.  Music Perception, 18(4), 491-503.

At a music camp for people with Williams syndrome, the authors found 5 participants who had absolute pitch.  These five, aged 13 to 43, tested at "ceiling levels" for absolute pitch ability.  With only 4500 people known to have Williams syndrome in the United States and Canada, the authors suspect that this proportion found at the camp indicates a high prevalence of absolute pitch among the Williams-syndrome population.  Additionally, because each of these five began musical training between ages 5-11, the authors suspect that the "critical period" (if there is one) is prolonged for those with Williams syndrome.

Liégeois-Chauvel, C., Giraud, K., Badier, J., Marquis, P., and Chauvel., P.  (2001).  Intracerebral evoked potentials in pitch perception reveal a functional asymmetry of the human auditory cortex.  In Zatorre, R. and Peretz, I. (eds.) The Biological Foundation of Music, pp. 117-32.  New York, NY: New York Academy of Sciences.

A brain scan study which showed that, in pitch perception, the right side of the brain has tonotopic organization while the left side is more distributed.  "[T]hese results suggest that the processing of spectral information is carried out primarily in the right hemisphere, and the processing of temporal aspects of auditory stimuli in the left auditory cortex."

Maddox, W.T.  (2001).  Separating perceptual processes from decisional processes in identification and categorizationPerception & Psychophysics, 63(7), 1183-99.

This study seems to offer empirical evidence of what Gibson was saying in the late 1960s:  namely, that "...some decision problems-- in particular, those that require selective attention-- can alter both the decision strategy applied and the nature of the underlying perceptual representation."  It also supports the hypothesis that "decisional selective attention tasks alter both perceptual and decisional processes while decisional integration tasks affect only decisional processes..." which is relevant for tone-identification methods of absolute pitch training.

Maess, B., Koelsch, S., Gunter, T.C., and Friederici, A.D.  (2001).  Musical syntax is processed in Broca's area: an MEG study.  Nature Neuroscience, 4, 540-5.

Just as the title suggests, the authors discovered that playing syntactically (harmonically) inappropriate chords activated "language" areas of the brain.  They believe that their findings, from subjects who were non-musicians, represent the function of Broca's area to be auditory processing of "complex rule-based information", rather than sound stimuli solely in the language domain.

Morton, B.J. and Trehub, S.  (2001).  Children's understanding of emotion in speechChild Development, 72(3), 834-43.

The authors presented children and adults with sentences that conflicted with their emoted expression (that is, happy sentences spoken in a sad tone, or vice versa).  Although infants' listening seems to rely primarily on the musical (prosodic) aspects of linguistic sound, there appears to be a "dip" from ages 5-10 in which children are paying exclusive attention to the literal language sounds.  In their experiment, the authors discovered that the younger subjects (age 5-10) generally ignored the "paralinguistic cues" and focused exclusively on the literal content.  As the subjects' age increased, their bias towards exclusively literal meaning decreased and their reliance on paralinguistic features increased.

Ohnishi, T., Matsuda, H., Asada, T., Aruga, M., Hirakata, M., Nishikawa, M., Katoh, A., and Imbayashi, E.  (2001).  Functional anatomy of musical perception in musiciansCerebral Cortex, 11, 754-60.

The authors conducted brain scans of both musicians and non-musicians in a passive listening task.  The musicians' brains showed much stronger leftward activation overall.  The authors were satisfied to recognize this tendency, allowing it to raise basic questions such as "Why is the left PT involved in music perception in trained musicians?  Do they employ a common strategy in music perception and language comprehension?"  I suspect that the answer exists in Zatorre's and Levitin's research, which appear to reveal that there is a common strategy-- furthermore, Gandour et al (98) and Klein et al (01) demonstrate how musical sound is processed in the left side when it is linguistically relevant. For a non-musician, who has not learned the structural components of musical "language", it seems reasonable to speculate that their brains would forego the left-side processing.

O'Regan, J.K.  (2001).  Experience is not something we feel but something we do: a principled way of explaining sensory phenomenology, with Change Blindness and other empirical consequences.  Talk given at Bressanone on 24 Jan 2001.

An introduction to the notion that we don't perceive objects and their characteristics directly, but assemble images from sensory data based on our expectations and experience.

Saffran, J.R. and Griepentrog, G.J.  (2001).  Absolute pitch in infant auditory learning: evidence for developmental reorganizationDevelopmental Psychology, 37, 74-85.

This article received quite a lot of press when it appeared; reporters jumped on the story that it "proved" unlearning theory.  As far as I can tell, I'm with Trehub (2003) in saying that it doesn't.  It took me quite a while to figure out this experimental procedure.  These authors played three-tone melodies to infants to familiarize the infants with the melodies.  The authors refer to the melodies as "words".  They then played the same melodies, transposed, so that the three tones had the same relative positions but different absolute positions.  The authors refer to these transposed melodies as "part-words" because of a scheme in which they used tones from existing "words" to form the new transpositions.  The intended result was that the new melodies would have familiar "relative pairs" but unfamiliar "absolute pairs".  Saffran or Trehub's stated arguments and conclusions seem to contradict each other (Trehub's 1984 experiment appeared to conclusively illustrate that infants use relative contour and not absolute pitch), it seems to me that there's a potential hole in Saffran's logic which hasn't been addressed: absolute pitch perception is, according to self-reports of absolute listeners, exclusive of melodic perception.  Playing an infant a three-tone melody and expecting the infant to respond to one absolute event would seem to be a muddled approach.  However, this doesn't necessarily contradict Saffran's claims.  She says merely that infants were able to respond to absolute sounds; she doesn't suggest that this contradicts Trehub's work.

Trehub, S.E.  (2001).  Musical predispositions in infancy.  In Zatorre, R. and Peretz, I. (eds.) The Biological Foundation of Music, pp. 1-16.  New York, NY: New York Academy of Sciences.

A mention of each of the types of musical perception that an infant has been demonstrated to be capable of, and a brief description of the infant's capability in each category:  contour, interval processing, scale structure, and rhythm.  There is also a section on the apparent effects of singing to babies.

Zatorre, R.J. and Belin, P.  (2001).  Spectral and temporal processing in human auditory cortexCerebral Cortex, 11, 946-53.

This study discusses the structural anatomy of the two auditory hemispheres of the brain.  Specifically, they speculate that the structure of the left side "allow[s] for faster conduction, thereby leading to greater sensitivity to rapid acoustic changes... [and] to poorer spectral resolution," and the right side "appear to favor higher frequency resolution but slower transmission."  They suggest that slight initial differences in the sound input can lead to cascading differences throughout the auditory system, resulting in significant distinctions in the processed result. Their observations generally seem to support the theory that speech sound is distinguished from musical sound by its rapid temporal changes.

Zatorre, R.J. (2001).  Neural Specializations for Tonal Processing.  In The Biological Foundations of Music. Ed. Robert J. Zatorre & Isabelle Peretz. Annals of The New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 930.

This study offers neurological support for the hypothesis asserted in their other 2001 paper, that the right brain processes tones as "slower narrow-band stimuli" while the left brain processes language as "rapidly changing broad-band stimuli".


Bergeson, T. and Trehub, S.  (2002).  Absolute pitch and tempo in mothers' songs to infants Psychological Science, 13, 17-26.

The authors discovered that when mothers sing to their children, the pitch and tempo are almost always exactly the same; when mothers speak, the pitch and tempo vary but the rhythm remains constant.  The authors assert that the stability of pitch and tempo in singing is a kind of absolute pitch, but I must disagree because I am not convinced that absolute pitch is the ability to memorize pitch sounds.

Braun, M.  (2002).  Absolute pitch in emphasized speechAcoustic Research Letters Online, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 3, 77-82.

The author's data appears to show that, when people are speaking emphatically, they tend to make pitch choices from the C-major scale.  This data is somewhat clearer than his 2001 study.  Here's another way to think about his hypothesis--  An "emphatic" speech is one which is more emotionally involved.  Emotional expression occurs from a musical idea.  Therefore, emphatic speech expresses a clearer musical idea and, therefore, requires musical pitch choices.  Speakers familiar with the standard musical scale will be more likely to choose these pitches.  Leaving aside whether or not this is absolute pitch ability, the basic problem I have with this hypothesis is that he's presuming that the C-major scale is the "normal" scale.

Brown, W.A., Sachs, H., Cammuso, K., and Folstein, S.E.  (2002).  Early music training and absolute pitch.  Music Perception, 19, 595-7.

In a short article, the authors refute the idea that early music training is necessary for the development of absolute pitch.  They acknowledge that people with absolute pitch most often began their musical studies as preschoolers (the legendary "critical period"), but point out that only a minority of children who receive early music training actually achieve absolute pitch.  Additionally, claiming a "clear genetic contribution" to absolute pitch acquisition, the authors conclude that "it may be premature" to think that early music training is necessary.

Ceponiene, R., Kushnerenko, E., Fellman, V., Renlund, M., Suominen, K., and Näätänen, R.  (2002).  Event-related potential features indexing central auditory discrimination by newborns.  Cognitive Brain Research, 13, 101-113.

Infants can't tell you what they hear.  Head-turning is a proven method with which infants can make same/different judgments, but scanning their little brains provides objective and detailed results.  In this case, the most important result seems to be that "the majority of neonates appear to possess effective neural mechanisms for sound frequency and duration discrimination."

Deutsch, D.  (2002).  The puzzle of absolute pitchCurrent Directions in Psychological Science, 11, 200-4.

The "puzzle" referred to is why, especially compared to a similar task such as color naming, absolute pitch ability is not common.  The author suggests that absolute pitch was originally a linguistic ability that has been recruited for musical purposes.

Fujisaki, W. and Kashino, M.  (2002).  The basic hearing abilities of absolute pitch possessorsAcoustic Science and Technology, 23(2), 77-83.

The authors tested absolute and non-absolute listeners in the following skills:  pitch discrimination, signal detection, temporal resolution, and spatial resolution.  They discovered no significant differences between the two groups, and thus conclude that absolute pitch ability does not imply that a person is a "better listener" overall.

Griffiths, T.D. and Warren, J.D.  (2002).  The planum temporale as a computational hub.  Trends in Neurosciences, 25(7), 348-53.

The authors suggest that the planum temporale is not a "language area" but instead is, as the title suggests, a central location for computations performed on aural sensory input (such as auditory spatial analysis).

Hirose, H., Kubota, M., Kimura, I., Ohsawa, M., Yumoto, M., Sakakihara, Y.  (2002).  People with absolute pitch process tones with producing P300.  Neuroscience Letters, 300, 247-50.

The authors recognized that the previous studies (Klein et al 1984, Wayman et al 1992) asked their subjects to do only tasks based on absolute listening.  In these new experiments, the authors created other musical tasks, for whose results "the most reasonable explanation is that the degree to which the... [absolute pitch] ability [is] employ[ed] during an oddball task determines the amplitude of the P300."

Iverson, P., Kuhl, P.K., Akahane-Yamada, R., Diesch, E., Tohkura, Y., Kettermann, A., and Siebert, C.  (2002).  A perceptual interference account of acquisition difficulties for non-native phonemes.  Cognition, 87, B47-B57.

The authors studied the perceptual categories formed by Japanese, English, and German speakers for the English r and l sounds.  They determined that different speakers pay attention to different low-level acoustic cues (where "low-level" is closer to raw sensation and "high-level" is relational inference).  From this data they suggest that adults become worse at learning new languages not because the language facility has somehow been ruined or blocked off, but because their perception of linguistic sounds has been trained for certain types of distinctions which may not be salient in other languages.

Koelsch, S. et al.  (2002).  Bach speaks: a cortical "language-network" serves the processing of music.  Neuroimage, 17, 956-66.

When listening to music, people used language areas of the brain to process chords and clusters that were out of syntax.  The same "oddball" chords and clusters did not activate the same language areas when played outside of music, which suggests that listening to music is a linguistic-syntactic process.  The specific areas activated were Broca's area (phoneme processing) and Wernicke's area (semantic meaning).  The authors performed additional experiments to confirm the interrelationship of music and speech, and speculate that early musical experience informs language acquisition.

Miyazaki, K. and Rakowski, A.  (2002).  Recognition of notated melodies by possessors and nonpossessors of absolute pitch.  Perception & Psychophysics, 64(8), 1337-45.

Furthering his "absolute pitch as an inability" theme, Miyazaki extends his study from intervals to melodies.  In this instance, he asked people to look at a melody on paper and then listen to a melody; they were asked to judge if the sounded melody was the same as the printed one.  He found that when the melody was transposed, absolute listeners performed worse than normal listeners; when the melody was not transposed, they performed better.  The results of subjects without absolute pitch were unaffected by transposition.

Patterson, R.D., Uppenkamp, S., Johnsrude, I.S., and Griffiths, T.D.  (2002).  The processing of temporal pitch and melody information in auditory cortex Neuron, 36(4), 767-76.

The authors challenge the idea that the auditory cortex processes spectral information.  They used spectrally indistinct noise and found that brain activations were essentially the same as in pitch conditions; when the perceived pitch of the noise was altered to produce melodies, additional activation occurred.  The authors propose a three-stage processing of such melodies:
- extraction of timing information
- determining specific pitch value
- identifying pitch changes

Solomons, R.M.  (2002).  Absolute pitch: a widespread latent ability responsive to training using a new chroma-isolation method.  Doctoral dissertation, University of New South Wales.

"Chroma isolation" means that the tones used in training were computer-generated "Shepard-like" tones, in which the octave position was deliberately baffled in order to draw greater attention to the chroma quality.  As with most methods, people who practiced naming tones got better at naming tones, but as of the author's writing the method did not seem to translate to practical musical ability.

Trainor, L.J., McDonald, K.L., and Alain, C.  (2002).  Automatic and controlled processing of melodic contour and interval information measured by electrical brain activityJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(3), 430-42.

This study addresses the question:  how is relative pitch information encoded in the auditory cortex?  The authors tested attentional (active) and non-attentional (passive) states of listening to melodic contour (up and down) or intervals (specific pitch "distance").  It took me a little while to realize the significance of their results.  It was entirely unsurprising to read that non-musicians automatically processed contour and interval information; I knew that.  But then I noticed this additional conclusion:  "the present results imply that there are also cortical circuits encoding interval information independent of the absolute pitch information."  I've already had reported to me, anecdotally, that an absolute listener hears the pitches in addition to the interval sound.  Now we have the brainwave study to support that statement.

Warrier, C.M. & Zatorre, R.J. (2002).  Influence of tonal context and timbral variation on perception of pitchPerception and Psychophysics, 64, 198-207.

Subjects heard tones of different height (weighted timbre) and were asked to determine whether the chroma was the same or different.  When the tones were presented as the last tone of a melody, subjects were less likely to make mistakes.  That is, when tones are presented as melodies, pitch height and chroma are more easily separated.

Xu, B., Grafman, J., Gaillard, W.D., Spanaki, M., Ishii, K., Balsamo, L,. Makale, M., and Theodore, W.  (2002).  Neuroimaging reveals automatic speech coding during perception of written word meaning.  Neuroimage, 17(2), 859-70.

The authors asked subjects to read various words and pseudowords.  The brain scans showed that when people were reading normally, both semantic (meaning) and phonological (sound) neural processes were activated; but "when subjects were actively processing the speech sounds of the same set of written words, brain areas typically engaged in semantic processing became silent."  I suspect that the same effects would appear for an absolute listener reading a musical score.  There is also implication here for dyslexic readers, who seem not to be able to process the semantic features of written language. 

Zatorre, R.J., Belin, P., and Penhune, V.  (2002).  Structure and function of auditory cortex: music and speechTrends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 37-46.

The authors ask the question: how do we know the difference between music and speech sounds?  Their answer, according to their brain scans, is that linguistic processing (left side) is more specialized towards rapid temporal perception and musical processing (right side) is more specialized towards tonal and pitch processing.  They suggest that this provides a theoretical explanation for why there is specialization-- not that the human mind perceives both "speech" and "music" as fully separate, but that each type of sound has certain qualities which are more optimally processed.


Brattico, E., Tervaniemi, M., and Picton, T.W.  (2003).  Effects of brief discrimination-training on the auditory N1 wave.  Neuroreport, 14(18), 2489-92.

The authors demonstrate that training listeners to recognize specific sound frequencies "induces functional changes in the auditory system."  They observed "brief-term" changes in which "tones have begun to activate neurons that previously did not respond to them."  This report seems to support the hypothesis that adult brains are neurally capable of reconfiguration towards absolute pitch sensitization.

Brown, W.A., Cammuso, K., Sachs, H., Winklosky, B., Mullane, J., Bernier, R., Svenson, S., Arin, D., Rosen-Schiedley, B., and Folstein, S.  (2003).  Autism-related language, personality, and cognition in people with absolute pitch: Results of a preliminary study.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33, 163-7.

Noting the high prevalence of absolute pitch among autistic people, this group applied psychological tests of autism to musicians with and without absolute pitch.  These tests did show that musicians with absolute pitch display "some of the personality, language, and cognitive features associated with autism" where non-AP musicians did not.  The authors specifically suggested that "piecemeal" and "high-fidelity" information processing, typically associated with autistic function, might be evidence of an absolute pitch gene contributing to autism.

Chin, Christina S.  (2003).  The development of absolute pitch.  Psychology of Music, 31(2), 155-171.

A summary of research suggesting that a combination of early musical exposure and genetic factors are what causes absolute pitch to develop in small children.

Deutsch, D.  (2003).  Absolute pitch:  a connection between music and speech? Bulletin of Psychology and the Arts, 4, 19-21.

Foxton, J.M., Talcott, J.B., Witton, C., Brace, H., McIntyre, F., and Griffiths, T.  (2003).  Reading skills are related to global, but not local, acoustic pattern perceptionNature Neuroscience, 6(4), 343-4.

A series of perceptual experiments which appear to demonstrate that reading skills are correlated with "global" patterns (contour and relative pitch information) as opposed to "local" patterns (individual phonemic and pitch signals).

Gaab, N., Gaser, C., Zaehle, T., Jancke, L., and Schlaug, G.  Functional anatomy of pitch memory:  An fMRI study with sparse temporal sampling. 

Gaab, N. and Schlaug, G.  (2003).  The effect of musicianship on pitch memory in performance matched groups.  Neuroreport, 14, 2291-5.

In this brain-scanning study, the authors asked their subjects-- some of them skilled musicians, some of them non-musicians, none with absolute pitch-- to listen to a series of six or seven tones and report whether the first and last tones were the same as or different from each other.  All subjects performed at approximately the same level of accuracy.  However, the neural strategies of the musicians were different from the non-musicians:  "Musicians activate a network that includes auditory short-term memory regions... and regions implicated in visual-spatial processing... non-musicians seem to rely more on a network that includes brain regions important for pitch discrimination... and traditional memory regions."

Gaser, C. and Schlaug, G.  (2003).  Brain structures differ between musicians and non-musicians Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 9240-5.

The authors used the voxel technique to discover "gray matter volume differences in motor, auditory, and visual-spatial brain regions" between musicians and non-musicians.  The authors found a direct association between the musical behavior of each subject (learned ability and practice intensity) and the structure of their brains; the authors believe that these associations are too direct and consistent to be a result of innate predisposition but have instead arisen from the subjects' musical experience.

Giangrande, J., Tuller, B., and Kelso, J.A.S.  (2003).  Perceptual dynamics of circular pitch.  Music Perception, 20(3), 241-62.

This experiment suggests that Shepard's flat pitch circle is the basis of our mental representation of pitch.  From their experiments, the authors assert that a fixed pitch spiral is an inaccurate model of pitch perception, as all judgments of "higher" and "lower" are not physically given by tones' fundamental frequencies but dynamically selected based on pre-existing expectations and real-time context.

Griffiths, T.D.  (2003).  Functional imaging of pitch analysis.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999, 40-3.

This brain-scan study shows that pitch comprehension is not merely a linear mapping of physical input to neural receptor-- rather, a psychological analysis occurs for all incoming sound.  Pitch perception activates a "pitch center" and pitch pattern perception activates a more distributed network.

Heaton, P.  (2003).  Pitch memory, labelling and disembedding in autism.  Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 44(4), 543-51.

See September 22.

Hirose, H., Kubota, M., Kimura, I., Yumoto, M., and Sakakihara Y.  (2003).  N100m in children possessing absolute pitch.  Neuroreport, 14, 899-903.

The "N100m"-- a brain event which occurs 100ms after a stimulus-- appeared in absolute listeners even when they were asked to ignore tones, but in normal listeners only when they were asked to pay attention.

Itoh, K., Miyazaki, K., and Nakada, T.  (2003).  Ear advantage and consonance of dichotic pitch intervals in absolute-pitch possessors.  Brain & Cognition, 53(3), 464-72.

See October 17.

Juslin, P. and Laukka, P.  (2003).  Communication of emotions in vocal expression and music performance:  different channels, same code?  Psychological Bulletin, 129(5), 770-814.

An empirical study which demonstrates that there are similarities between how musical or language expressions convey specific emotions.  They explore broad theoretical possibilities for the use of this data, including that music arose from evolutionary needs; the authors finish by saying that "we predict that future research will confirm that musical performers communicate emotions to listeners by exploiting an acoustic code that derives from innate brain programs for vocal expression of emotions."  I'm just pleased to have empirical evidence that the channel of spoken language contains musical ideas.

Levitin, D. (2003). Absolute pitch: Précis to an integrated review. Bulletin of Psychology and the Arts, 4(1), 17-19.

A short summary of the current popular understanding of absolute pitch.

Levitin, D. and Menon, V.  (2003).  Musical structure is processed in "language" areas of the brain: a possible role for Brodmann Area 47 in temporal coherence.  Neuroimage, 20, 2142-52.

The authors asked subjects to listen to melodies, and then again to the same melodies but with their structure altered.  The melodies' other attributes (pitch, loudness, timbre, etc) had been kept constant.  In scanning the subjects' brains, they discovered that the structural difference caused activity in the pars orbitalis region of the left inferior frontal cortex, "a region that has previously been closely associated with the processing of linguistic structure in spoken and signed language...".

Levitin, D. and Zatorre, R.J.  (2003).  On the nature of early music training and absolute pitch: A reply to Brown, Sachs, Cammuso, and Folstein.  Music Perception, 21(1), 105-10.

In the equivalent of an academic smackdown, the authors vigorously attack the premises of Brown et al's article.  Point by point, Levitin and Zatorre use data and logic to peel apart the assertions of the prior article, making those assertions appear flimsy and uninformed.  The most important logical point is that Brown et al have ignored the fact that "musical training" can take many different forms, including those which are not tone-specific.

Patel, A.D.  (2003).  Language, music, syntax, and the brainNature Neuroscience, 6, 674-81.

The author points out that language and music are increasingly recognized as not just similar, but interrelated.  His study offers grammatical and biological (neural) evidence of overlap between the syntactic processes of language and music; his goal is to suggest testable hypotheses for further study, including development, neural plasticity, pitch perception, cortical representation, sequential processing, and experiential effects.

Patel, A.D. and Daniele, J.R.  (2003).  An empirical comparison of rhythm in language and musicCognition, 87, B35-B45.

Noting that people often suggest that linguistic prosody affects a culture's musical production, the authors conducted an study and discovered direct empirical evidence to support the idea.

Peretz, I. and Coltheart, M.  (2003).  Modularity of music processing Nature Neuroscience, 6, 688-91.

The authors describe how, according to the available evidence, the brain doesn't just perceive "music", but perceives distinct aspects of musical sound which are processed separately but with synthesis.  Their model of musical perception includes five categories of pitch and temporal organization, which branch out into more complex structures.

Peretz, I. and Zatorre, R.J. (eds)  The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

A reprinting (with some updates) of 2001's Biological Foundations of Music.

Plantinga, J., & Trainor, L. J. (2003). Long-term memory for pitch in six-month-old infants. In G. Avanzini, D. Miciacchi, L. Lopez & M. Majno (Eds.), The Neurosciences and Music. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999, 520-521.

"Contrary to our original hypothesis, we conclude that 6-month-old infants remember melodies in terms of relative pitch, that they do not remember absolute pitch or it is not salient to them, and that if a developmental shift in perception from absolute to relative pitch occurs, it takes place before 6 months of age."

Renniger, L.B., Granot, R.I., and Donchin, E.  (2003).  Absolute pitch and the P300 component of the event-related potential: An exploration of variables that may account for individual differences.  Music Perception, 20(4), 357-82.

The study begins with the observation (which is by this time supported by multiple reports) that "if subjects with AP maintain permanent representations of pitches, they do not need to update their auditory context when making pitch judgments.  Therefore... an auditory Oddball Paradigm would not elicit a P300."  The authors wanted to test this further-- they wanted to make sure that the P300 was due to absolute pitch ability and not to the experimental task.  They designed a task which they believed to be more absolute-pitch demanding, although still within the capability of relative listeners.  They found "substantial individual differences" within the absolute pitch group, which would indicate different levels of absolute pitch ability-- but the authors believe their data shows how the P300 effect "can be observed only when the AP subjects are incapable of using their RP skills."

Rimland, B.A.  (2003).  Autism-related language, personality, and cognition in people with absolute pitch:  Results of the preliminary study.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 33(2), 169.

A comment on Brown et al's study from this same year.  Rimland describes the autistic brain as "locked into high-fidelity mode", which provides an appropriate contrast to Snyder et al (04) who has illustrated how normal brains will dynamically inhibit the perception of specific information when a Gestalt identity can be perceived.

Ross, D.A., Olson, I.R., and Gore, J.C.  (2003).  Absolute pitch does not depend on early musical training.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999, 522-6.

The title of their paper is predicated on one subject who had no musical training and has no musical knowledge, and yet can match tones at a better-than-chance level.  The researchers explain nothing about this subject's background, where they found him, what made him think he had absolute pitch, or how his ability developed-- and yet they offer the conclusion that his ability is possible evidence for absolute pitch being hereditary, purely on the basis that he had no "musical training."

Russo, F.A., Windell, D.L., and Cuddy, L.L.  (2003).  Learning the "special note": Evidence for a critical period for absolute pitch acquisition.  Music Perception, 21(1), 119-27.

Indicating that most evidence for a "critical period" for learning absolute pitch is based on adult musicians' self-reports, the authors set out to teach children to recognize tones.  (For further comment, see my entry for 8/9/4.)

Saffran, J.R.  (2003).  Absolute pitch in infancy and adulthood: the role of tonal structure Developmental Science, 6, 35-43.

This is an expansion of Saffran's 2001 study; with the same kind of testing procedure, Saffran attempts to discover whether there is a difference between infants' perception of tonal versus atonal melodies.  I confess I'm not fond of Saffran's conclusions-- she seems dedicated to classifying infant tonal perception as "relative" or "absolute", and I agree with Trehub's comment that neither of these may be accurate-- so I'll report Saffran's results as they stand: infants responded to tonal structures differently than atonal.  Saffran suggests that the tonality may have changed how the babies processed the melodies; although this could be so, it seems to me equally possible that the process was the same but the experience was different.  The results are interesting in that they discovered infant sensitivity to tonal structure, but I'd hesitate to draw conclusions from this experiment.

Saffran, J.R.  (2003).  Birds do it-- why not babies?  Developmental Science, 6(1), 46-7.

In this response to Trehub's response, Saffran agrees with Trehub that more data is necessary, but maintains that her experimental design was adequate to support the conclusions drawn.

Schellenberg, E.G. and Trehub, S.  (2003).  Good pitch memory is widespreadPsychological Science, 14, 262-66.

In an experiment similar to Daniel Levitin's (1994), the authors recruited random college students and asked them to identify whether familiar television themes were being played in their original keys or shifted by 1-2 semitones.  The subjects succeeded above chance levels.  The authors conclude that pitch memory is a common ability, and suggest that this offers implicit support of a universal potential for absolute pitch.

Thompson, K.  (2003).  Pitch internalization strategies of professional musicians.  Doctoral dissertation, University of Oklahoma.

Working with undergraduates, Thompson determined six common strategies used to recognize or produce pitches.  She then surveyed 100 professional musicians to see if they, too, used these strategies.  The professional musicians reported that they did use these strategies, and introduced only one additional strategy besides (the "Chunker").  The strategies are:
Follower:  Quickly matches the pitch of a sound source.
Contour singer:  Knows up and down, but with no specific do nor fixed intervals.
Button pusher:  Connects pitch with the feeling of fingering an instrument key.
Tonal thinker:  Knows the pitch by its scale degree.
Builder:  Tracks each new pitch interval by interval (using the previous pitch as a reference).
Pitcher:  Absolute listeners who just know the pitch.
Chunker:  Recognizes repeated patterns and infers pitch from its position within that pattern.

Trehub, S.  (2003).  Absolute and relative pitch processing in tone learning tasks Developmental Science, 6(1), 44-5.

Sandra Trehub reflects on Jenny Saffran's research.  Trehub defines absolute pitch and relative pitch as musical skills, involving the association of musical sounds with specific verbal labels.  As such, "concepts related to AP and RP are largely irrelevant to Saffran's current study of statistical learning or to her previous explorations of tone learning... with no basis for attributing AP or RP to the infants or adults in these studies, how can we interpret the findings?"  Trehub points out that Saffran's subjects might have been responding to either relative or absolute cues in the assigned tasks, and asserts that Saffran's research is entirely inconclusive.

Trehub, S.  (2003).  The developmental origins of musicalityNature Neuroscience, 6, 669-73.

A summary of research which aims to provide "a rough outline of the initial state of the human music listener."  The most salient facts seem to be that infants are capable of perceiving sounds of any cultural origin (unlike adults who have been trained away from those sounds) and can also recognize musical attributes for what they are (for example, an out-of-tune note in a melody).  In short, infants are universal music listeners.

Vitouch, O.  (2003).  Absolutist models of absolute pitch are absolutely misleading.  Music Perception, 21(1), 111-7.

A summary of research whose conclusion is this:  "early tonal training typically is a necessary condition for the development of [absolute pitch]."  The author refutes the idea that genetic predisposition is necessary, and presents evidence that the type of musical training received as a child-- tonal training versus more general musical education-- may be a significant factor.

Warren, J.D. and Griffiths, T.D.  (2003).  Distinct mechanisms for processing spatial sequences and pitch sequences in the human auditory brainJournal of Neuroscience, 23(13), 5799-804.

You can believe the title; the authors' brain scans show that pitch changes and spatial changes were processed in different areas of the brain.  The "spatial" factor in this study was where the sound was coming from, rather than the space it might be moving through.  The same scans in each condition show a different mental reaction to pitch change than to fixed pitch; unfortunately, this reaction is different from the reaction to spatial position.  This study cites a number of other papers which demonstrate brain activity during the movements of different sounds-- I suspect that if I correlate the findings of the different papers I may discover support for my hypothesis that musical pitch change is the relative listener's perception of a moving implicit (invisible) object, but I will need to understand more about brain anatomy before I can do that.

Warren, J.D., Uppenkamp, S., Patterson, R.D., and Griffiths, T.D.  (2003).  Analyzing pitch chroma and pitch height in the human brain.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999, 212-4.

An abbreviated version of the article directly below.

Warren, J.D., Uppenkamp, S., Patterson, R.D., and Griffiths, T.D.  (2003).  Separating pitch chroma and pitch height in the human brainProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 100(17), 10038-42.

The authors manipulated the spectral envelopes of tones so that their subjects heard either changes in pitch chroma or changes in pitch height, but not both.  Their results showed that each quality was mapped to a different area of the brain:  "...chroma change is specifically represented anterior to primary auditory cortex, whereas height change is specifically represented posterior to primary auditory cortex."  The authors suggest that this might indicate tone height as a function of auditory scene analysis, while tone chroma may be described as an "information stream."

Zatorre, R.J.  (2003).  Absolute pitch:  a model for understanding the influence of genes and development on neural and cognitive functionNature Neuroscience, 6, 692-5.

A summary of research which, using known aspects of genetic and neural development, offers an explanation of absolute pitch development.  It includes a fact which I haven't encountered elsewhere:  "...the posterior dorsolateral cortex responds preferentially in subjects with AP... the same area is active in both subjects with AP and those without AP when they are asked to label pairs of tones that form musical intervals... whereas only the AP subjects show such activation when listening to single tones, presumably because only AP subjects can label the latter.  Additional support for this explanation is that similar regions of the frontal cortex can be recruited, even in non-musicians, once they are taught to identify chords with arbitrary labels."


Bossomaier, T. and Snyder, A.  (2004).  Absolute pitch accessible to everyone by turning off part of the brain?  Organised Sound, 9(2), 181-9.

This article is speculative and has no experimental data (thus the question mark).  The authors, noting that pitch information is "low-level" versus the "high-level" structural information of music, suggest that people would be able to hear absolute pitch if those "high-level" functions were somehow anesthetized.  Whether or not one agrees that absolute pitch is a "low-level" processing function, I'd say their solution seems to be musically impractical.

Deutsch, D., Henthorn, T., and Dolson, M.  (2004).  Absolute pitch, speech, and tone language:  some experiments and a proposed framework.  Music Perception, 21(3), 339-56.

The experiment demonstrated that speakers of tonal languages used consistent tone choices when asked to produce certain words, and that English speakers didn't.  The authors believe that this is a form of absolute pitch, and that the universality of its presence in the tonal language speakers is direct evidence of the universality of absolute pitch.  They conclude that "the potential to acquire absolute pitch is universally present at birth," which is in accordance with unlearning theory.

Deutsch, D., Henthorn, T., Marvin, E., and Xu, H.  (2004).  Perfect pitch in tone languages carries over to music: Potential for acquiring the coveted musical ability may be universal at birth.  Presented at ASA 148th meeting, San Diego, CA.

It seems possible that speakers of tone languages can learn absolute musical pitch as though the musical sounds were part of a new tonal language.

Gutschalk, A., Patterson, R.D., Scherg, M., Uppenkamp, S., and Rupp, A.  (2004).  Temporal dynamics of pitch in human auditory cortexNeuroimage, 22(2), 755-66.

This paper offers further support for the hypothesis that pitch perception is a time analysis rather than a direct perception.  Their results indicate that an auditory image is formed as a temporal unit from which pitch information is calculated.  According to the authors, their own data corresponds with preceding data which indicates that the pitch information is assembled in a right-side area of the brain called Heschl's Gyrus.

Hamilton, R.H., Pascual-Leone, A., and Schlaug, G.  (2004).  Absolute pitch in blind musiciansNeuroreport, 15, 803-6.

It's been known that blind musicians are more likely to have absolute pitch.  These authors put a number on that (57%) and wonder why.  The most interesting aspect of the study seems to be that their preliminary data shows that blind musicians do not necessarily have an enlarged left planum temporale-- if I put that together with their survey data which indicates that blind musicians generally begin their musical training later than sighted musicans, I have to wonder if that suggests an enlarged left planum temporale is as much an effect as a cause of absolute pitch.

Hirose, H., Kubota, M., Kimura, I., Yumoto, M., and Sakakihara, Y.  (2004).  N100m in adults possessing absolute pitch.  Neuroreport, 15(9), 1383-6.

This study examined the cortex activation of an "N100m" event in adults who did and did not have absolute pitch, using both a passive-listening and active-labeling task.  For the active-labeling task, non-absolute listeners showed increased activity in the left hemisphere alone-- presumably for the linguistic task of generating a letter name-- while absolute listeners showed increased activity in both left and right.  The authors suggest that evaluation of the tone occurs in the right hemisphere while labeling occurs in the left.  I'd like to add what seems to be implied from the increased activity, which is that the right-side pitch analysis is an active process which is functionally distinct from mere perception.

Lau, C.K.  (2004).  The acquisition of absolute pitch for the mainstreamed, special educational needs and academically talented under Lau Chiu Kay Music Educatherapy.  Doctoral dissertation, University of Manchester (UK), 2004.

Lau's training is a revised form of Kodaly solfege which, like this Russian website, teaches fixed-do harmonic scale degree perception and claims that to be "absolute pitch".

Levitin, D.J.  (2004).  L'oreille absolue:  Autoréférencement et mémoireL'année psychologique, 104, 103-20.

Luders, E., Gaser, C., Jancke, L., and Schlaug, G.  (2004).  A voxel-based approach to gray matter asymmetriesNeuroimage, 22, 656-64.

The authors wanted to test the effectiveness of this 3-D technology on a known neural phenomenon, namely the planum temporale asymmetry evident in absolute pitch.  The authors claim to have found more data than had previously been discovered (thanks to the new technology), but because their focus is strongly on the technology rather than the phenomenon, this study may simply stand as providing further evidence that absolute listeners have a pronounced leftward asymmetry.

McMullen, E., and Saffran, J.R.  (2004).  Music and language: a developmental comparisonMusic Perception, 21(3), 289-311.

A summary of research suggesting that the developmental processes for language and music are essentially the same throughout human growth.  The authors cite cultural influences and biological similarities which evidence similar results in each type of aural comprehension, and they support Patel's conclusion about modality (the brain's extracting meaning from either "music" or "language" sound): "general auditory processing mechanisms responsible for pattern analysis are involved in the perception of both speech and music.  However, the vast stores of knowledge pertaining to those separate domains may be stored in separate places in the brain."

Miyazaki, K.  (2004).  How well do we understand absolute pitch?  Acoustical Science and Technology, 25(6), 270-82.

A review of (mainly) Miyazaki's own literature in eight sections:
1.  Definition of absolute pitch (the popular definition)
2.  Perception of absolute pitch (mainly a summary of his experiments)
3.  Absolute and relative pitch (suggesting that these are different modes of perception)
4.  Absolute perception of musical intervals (summary of his 1992 paper)
5.  Absolute perception of melodies (summary of his 2002 paper)
6.  An auditory Stroop phenomenon (summary of his Stroop experiment)
7.  The origin of absolute pitch (genetic vs learned?)
8.  Implicit absolute pitch (absolute memory for tones in non-absolute listeners).
There's nothing new in this paper, but it could easily serve as a layman's introduction to absolute pitch; it's relatively short and easy to read (compared to Takeuchi & Hulse's 1993 review).

Miyazaki, K.  (2004).  The auditory Stroop interference and the irrelevant speech/pitch effect: Absolute-pitch listeners can't suppress pitch labeling.  Paper presented at the 18th International Congress on Acoustis (ICA 2004), April 4-9, 2004 (Kyoto, Japan).

Although Miyazaki is full guns with his "absolute pitch as an inability" theme, I suspect this study is more definitive in demonstrating the lack of Stroop effect for non-absolute listeners.  For the absolute listeners, it seems possible that (as in color-based Stroop experiments) the verbal code is activated based on the naming task rather than the appearance of the pitch sound itself-- which is contrary to the implication of this study's title.  In addition to the central hypothesis, the study also seems to suggest an effect of tones on syllables, which would further contribute to the crossover between language and music.

Miyazaki, K.  (2004).  Recognition of transposed melodies by absolute-pitch possessors.  Japanese Psychological Research, 46, 270-82.

I've actually had this study in my possession since 2002, even though it was only officially published this year.  I wrote about it on June 17, 2003.

Ross, D.A.  (2004).  Auditory processes of musical pitch perception.  Doctoral dissertation, Yale University.

The precursor of Ross's article also published this year.

Ross, D.A., Olson, I.R., Marks, L.E., and Gore, J.C.  (2004).  A nonmusical paradigm for identifying absolute pitch possessors.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 116(3), 1793-99.

I'm not sure why these guys are so excited about their "paradigm".  It's not a new procedure-- play a musical target tone, create some interference (either a delay, or other tones, or both), and then ask the subject to reproduce the target tone.  People with absolute pitch can do this easily; people without absolute pitch can't.  Diana Deutsch did this years ago-- they even reference her research papers.  But regardless of whether or not their ideas are new, they seem most interested in making this point:  "as long as the ability to name notes is considered the hallmark of AP... only individuals with musical experience will be able to pass the test."

Sakakibara, A. (2004).  なぜ絶対音感は幼少期にしか習得できないのか?:  訓練開始年齢が絶対音感習得過程に及ぼす影響.  Japanese Journal of Educational Psychology, 52(4), 485-96.  (In Japanese)
Sakakibara, A. (2004).  Why are people able to acquire absolute pitch only during early childhood?:  Training age and acquisition of absolute pitch.  Japanese Journal of Educational Psychology, 52(4), 485-96.  (Translated by Aruffo, C.)
Saah, V. and Marvin, E.W.  (2004).  Absolute memory of learned melodies in children trained by the Suzuki violin methodProceedings of the 8th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, 736-9.

Following Levitin's experiment with adults and familiar memories (1994), young children were tested to see if they would sing the Suzuki-book melodies-- melodies which the Suzuki method requires them to learn and play flawlessly from memory-- at the correct pitch.  They didn't.

Sininger, Y.S. and Cone-Wesson, B.  (2004).  Asymmetric cochlear processing mimics hemispheric specialization.  Science, 305(5690), 1581.

The authors seem to have discovered that the right ear has a physical preference for processing "language sounds" and the left for "musical sounds".  More specifically, using clicks and tones, they appear to have determined that the right ear is better at processing temporal shifts of information and the left ear is better at processing tonality.  The authors wonder if this difference is the reason why the brain becomes hemispherically specialized for aural processing.

Snyder, A., Bossomaier, T., and Mitchell, D.J.  (2004).  Concept formation: Object attributes dynamically inhibited from conscious awareness Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, 3(1), 31-47.

(Although, annoyingly, I can't get access to the full text of this article from my sources, here are excerpts from the author's abstract.)  Once the brain learns such critical groupings, the "object" attributes are inhibited from conscious awareness. We see the whole, not the parts. The details are inhibited when the concept network is activated, i.e. the inhibition is dynamic and can be switched on and off.

Now that I have access to this full article, I'm surprised to discover that it has a section on absolute pitch.  The authors think that people learn to recognize language "objects" and thereby learn to suppress the individual characteristics of those objects-- but the authors believe that this suppression is indeed learned, because infants have to learn what does and does not constitute meaning.  The authors suggest that "...absolute pitch seems to be preserved from infancy in those who were exposed to musical instruments at a very young age.  This could be an instance where the brain is 'tricked' into believing that artificially produced pure tones constitute a language."  Their speculations would lend direct support to Deutsch's observations of tonal languages.

Snyder, J.M.  (2004).  Toward a behavioral account:  A feedback protocol for the acquisition of absolute pitch.  Master's thesis, University of Nevada.

Snyder trained subjects with a tone-naming strategy, and they became better at naming tones.  Snyder claims that the unique aspect of her study is that the subjects were required to actively produce the tones instead of passively listening.

Volkova, A.  (2004).  Long-term memory for absolute pitch level of songs in infancy.  Master's thesis, University of Toronto.

"Our results indicate that 7-month olds (and perhaps younger infants) retain the pitch level of familiar music if this music is meaningful to them."

Weisman, R.G., Njegovan, M.G., Williams, M.T., Cohen, J.S., and Sturdy, C.B.  (2004).  A behavior analysis of absolute pitch: Sex, experience, and species.  Behavioural Processes, 66, 289-307.

The authors trained songbirds, rats, and humans to categorize pitch sounds.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the songbirds were best at this task.  Perhaps surprisingly, the rats demonstrated themselves capable of absolute pitch judgments.  The authors cite this as evidence that absolute pitch is a perceptual discrimination ability, rather than a musical or a linguistic one, because "[r]ats, after all, learn neither language nor music."


Bahr, N., Christensen, C.A., and Bahr, M.  Diversity of accuracy profiles for absolute pitch recognitionPsychology of Music, 33(1), 58-93.

The experiment demonstrates that the speed and accuracy of absolute-pitch identification is affected by timbre.  The author generalizes this observation into the conclusion that absolute pitch is a "multidimensional skill... tied to their learning histories and musical experience."

Bermudez, P. and Zatorre, R.J.  (2005).  Conditional associative memory for musical stimuli in nonmusicians:  Implications for absolute pitch.  Journal of Neuroscience, 25(34), 7718-23.

"There is no need to posit AP-specific mechanisms for the retrieval of [pitch] information and its association with verbal labels.  Therefore, one interesting aspect of the hypothesis put forth in this investigation is that part of the chain of processing involved in absolute-pitch identification, the conditional associative pairing of a stimulus dimension to a label and the retrieval of this information, is a universal ability, which is merely applied specifically in the case of AP."

Braun, M. and Chaloupka, V.  (2005).  Carbamazepine induced pitch shift and octave space representation.  Hearing Research, 210, 85-92.

A 2003 study had indicated that the drug carbamazepine caused children to hear musical pitches a semitone lower than normal.  The authors discovered such a case in an adult musician who also had absolute pitch, and ran tests in placebo and non-placebo conditions.  Their data, if I'm interpreting it correctly, demonstrates that the subject's internal psychological representation of musical-pitch categories was not affected; rather, the subject's interpretation of the incoming stimulus frequency was somehow confused (and down-shifted) before being recognized according to the stable categorical template.  For example, in the placebo condition the subject could identify G very easily but was not as clear with F#; in the drug condition the subject appeared to identify F# very easily but not F.

Fujisaki, W. and Kashino, M.  (2005).  Contributions of temporal and place cues in pitch perception in absolute pitch possessors.  Perception and Psychophysics, 67(2), 315-23.

A "place cue" is the place on the basilar membrane which corresponds to a pitch; a "temporal cue" is a calculated assessment of sound waves' periodicity on the membrane.  The authors manipulated these separately with two different kinds of noise and discovered that temporal cues are more relevant to absolute judgments than are place cues.  I recall two ideas that correspond with this observation:  that the language processors (on the left side of the brain) handle temporal information, and that the left side turns temporally-variable sensory input into non-temporal symbolic meaning.

Hirose, H., Kubota, M., Kimura, I., Yumoto, M., and Sakakibara, Y.  (2005).  Increased right auditory cortex activity in absolute pitch possessors.  Neuroreport, 16(16), 1775-9.

This study examined the cortex activation of an "N100m" event in adults and children who did and did not have absolute pitch.  Although I may disagree with their interpretation of what's going on in the right hemisphere (they think it's a "circuit" for calculating and labeling pitch "height"), the interesting fact seems to be that absolute adult listeners showed right-side activation even when they weren't actively paying attention, and non-absolute children (age 7-12) showed right-side activation in the labeling task where the adults did not.  The authors suspect that this is due to the children being able to "link their attention to the neuronal circuit for labeling."  Although I'm not sure it's a circuit for labeling, "Finding the Special Note" would seem to support the kids' capacity to make absolute sense judgments of pitch (as opposed to "height area" judgments).

Itoh, K., Suwazono, S., Arao, H., Miyazaki, K., and Nakada, T.  (2005).  Electrophysiological correlates of absolute pitch and relative pitch Cerebral Cortex, 15(6), 760-9.

This is a brain-scan study in which the subjects were asked either to listen or to name tones.  The authors identified specific neural structures which, for the absolute listeners, were consistently activated for both tasks.  I'm not sure if I appreciate the author's conclusions about their observations-- they treat "relative pitch" as though it were a single strategy, and they also assume that left-brain activity in the absolute listener's mind must represent pitch labeling-- but the raw data does illustrate specific areas used for absolute-pitch listening and naming tasks.

Krishnan, A., Xu, Y., Gandour, J., & Cariani, P.  (2005).  Encoding of pitch in the human brainstem is sensitive to language experience. Cognitive Brain Research, 25, 161-168.

The authors show, in this brain-scan study, that tone-language speakers (in this case, Mandarin Chinese) do not merely extract the acoustic properties of pitch, but analyze the sound by linguistic context.

Levitin, D.J. and Rogers, S.E.  (2005).  Absolute pitch:  Perception, coding, and controversiesTrends in Cognitive Sciences, 9(2), 26 & 45.

Yet another summary of research-to-date.  The authors think that absolute pitch is learned like any other system of labels-- the closest parallel, of course, being the labels learned for color sensation.  (The article appears on page 26, and there is a clarification on page 45.)

Miyazaki, K. (2005) Verbal encoding in musical pitch recognition by absolute-pitch possessors. Japanese Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 7, 67-70 (in Japanese).

A reinforcement of the Stroop-like effects the author had previously observed.

Plantinga, J. and Trainor, L.J.  (2005).  Memory for melody:  Infants use a relative pitch code Cognition, 98, 1-11.

Dispensing with clever strategies, the authors simply played transposed melodies for infants.  The babies were indifferent to the transpositions, leading the authors to conclude that either the babies did not remember the absolute pitch or the absolute information was less salient to them than were the melodic contours.  I'd say this experiment adequately demonstrates that infants do not "have absolute pitch", even if they are able to perceive or access absolute pitch information.

Ross, D.A., Gore, J.C., and Marks, L.E.  (2005).  Absolute pitch:  Music and beyond.  Epilepsy and Behavior, 7, 578-601.

Because "naming notes" can be accomplished with multiple strategies, these authors want to distinguish between true absolute listening and "heightened tonal memory".  They point out that absolute listeners frequently exhibit other musical skills, such as an increased ability to remember musical sequences, which do not "correlate with either the ability to name notes or with subjects' musical experience.  Rather, they appear to reflect a difference in the perceptual salience of stimulus frequency."

Saffran, J.R., Reeck, K., Niehbur, A., and Wilson, D.  (2005).  Changing the tune:  The structure of the input affects infants' use of absolute and relative pitchDevelopmental Science, 8(1), 1-7.

Infants can demonstrate relative pitch skills when musical sounds are presented to them in the right way.

Schlemmer, K.B., Kulke, F., Kuchinke, L., and Van Der Meer, E.  (2005).  Absolute pitch and pupillary response:  Effects of timbre and key color.  Psychophysiology, 42, 465-72.

Apparently, pupil dilation is a measure of the amount of brain-processing power used in a particular task.  The authors compared pupil dilation with response times and accuracy scores in a pitch-naming task that varied timbre and key color.  If their interpretations are correct, then identifying "black key" pitches requires more processing power, and timbre effects are inconclusive.  The authors suggested that it's also possible that this result was not due to processing power but the emotional effect of a black-key pitch versus a white-key pitch.

Schneider, P., Sluming, V., Roberts, N., Scherg, M., Goebel, R., Specht, H.J., Dosch, H.G., Bleeck, S., Stippich, C., and Rupp, A.  (2005).  Structural and functional asymmetry of lateral Heschl's gyrus reflects pitch perception preference.  Nature Neuroscience, 8(9), 1241-7.

The authors made an distinction between listeners who detect fundamental frequency (F0) and those who calculate "spectral frequency" (Fsp) to determine the pitch of a complex tone.  They found the distinction was clearly represented anatomically.  F0 listeners tended to have a larger leftward asymmetry, while Fsp listeners were rightward, and the absolute size of the entire gyrus depended on musical ability.

Vitouch, O.  (2005).  Absolutes Gehör.  Allgemeine Musikpsychologie (Enzyklopädie der Psychologie, Bd. D / VII / 1, S. 717-766). Göttingen: Hogrefe.


Bent, T., Bradlow, A.R., and Wright, B.A.  (2006).  The influence of linguistic experience on the cognitive processing of pitch in speech and nonspeech sounds.  Journal of Experimental Psychology:  Human Perception and Performance, 32(1), 97-103.

Speakers of Mandarin Chinese were better able to identify tones and contours than were English speakers; however, they did not perform better in discrimination tasks.  This might support the idea that the Chinese speakers had formed concepts for auditory tokens.

Brown, S., Martinez, M.J., and Parsons, L.M.  (2006).  Music and language side by side in the brain:  a PET study of the generation of melodies and sentences.  European Journal of Neuroscience, 23, 2791-803.

Participants were asked to produce either sentences or melodies, and both tasks used basically the same areas of the brain.

Deutsch, D. (2006).  The enigma of absolute pitchAcoustics Today, 2, 11-19.

A summary of her research to date, including the specific assertion that absolute pitch developed as a feature of language.

Deutsch, D., Henthorn, T., Marvin, E., and Xu, H.  (2006).  Absolute pitch among American and Chinese conservatory students:  Prevalence differences, and evidence for a speech-related critical period.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 119(2), 719-22.

Deutsch has been systematically advancing the hypothesis that speakers of tone languages are more likely to have absolute pitch.  The data she presents here displays direct and significant correlations between early musical training and absolute pitch, and also between Asian tone-language and non-tone-language speakers.  The latter difference is striking (12% versus 60%) but I'm still inclined to suspect that the quality and nature of musical instruction is also significant.

Gaab, N., Schulze, K., Ozdemir, E., and Schlaug, G.  (2006).  Neural correlates of absolute pitch differ between blind and sighted musicians.  Neuroreport, 17(18), 1853-7.

The title is only somewhat misleading; there were nine sighted musicians and one blind musician.  Nevertheless, the blind musician very obviously used different parts of his brain during the musical task.  These were parts normally associated with visual activity, prompting the authors to suggest that this is a particular example of how people blind from birth are able to recruit otherwise-visual areas of the brain for auditory analysis instead.  Because there was only one blind musician in the study, they couldn't be sure whether the different area being used is specific to absolute pitch or not.

Magne, C., Schön, D., and Besson, M.  (2006).  Musician children detect pitch violations in both music and language better than nonmusician children:  Behavioral and electrophysiological approaches.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 18(2), 199-211.

I had read that during a certain age-- perhaps from 5-10 years old-- children generally fail to detect emotional cues in language.  This means that children are less likely to recognize (or understand) irony, sarcasm, or any but the most blatant and blunt emotional messages.  This study appears to suggest that, should this be true, the children's insensitivity is not merely due to normal developmental changes but to lack of musical training which would allow them to be sensitive to the prosodic content of speech.

Miyazaki, K.  (2006).  Learning absolute pitch by children.  Music Perception, 24(1), 63-.

For three months, Miyazaki tested 104 children, ages 4-10, at a Tokyo music school.  All of the students had begun their training at age 4.  The school was not designed to teach absolute pitch explicitly, but the curriculum featured fixed-do training ("Here is a do.  There are many do's on the keyboard.  Can you find them all?")  Most of the students acquired absolute pitch ability, but some didn't.
That last result, that some forms of early musical training seem to instill absolute pitch ability, is widely known,  but this study demonstrates what had not been shown before now:  students undergoing training from ages 4-7 demonstrated an obvious linear improvement in pitch-naming ability.  This certainly makes it appear as though the ability is being learned (and during the expected "critical period", besides) as a direct result of the training.

O'Connor, J.  (2006).  Exploring the self-concept and identity of Sydney Conservatorium students with and without absolute pitch.  Unpublished master's thesis, University of Sydney, Sydney.

An unusual approach, if a limited one, suggesting that absolute musicians feel better about their musicianship than do non-absolute musicians.

Rusconi, E., Kwan, B., Giordano, B.L., Umiltà, C., and Butterworth, B.  (2006).  Spatial representation of pitch height:  the SMARC effect Cognition, 99, 113-29

This study is essentially a followup to Pratt's 1930 experiment.  Although I wouldn't argue with the authors' observation that "a representational dimension influences performance", the data does not convincingly argue that spatial position is anything more than a preferred metaphor.  I suspect they could have achieved substantially the same results if they had asked their subjects to evaluate tones based on "brightness" or even "speed" instead of exclusively requiring a response judgment of spatial "distance" or "position".  At the very least, these authors appear to have ignored the highly relevant reports of Warren and Griffiths (2003) and Dimmick and Gaylord (1934).

Xu, Y., Gandour, J., Talavadge, T., Wong, D., Dzemidzic, M., Tong, Y., Li, X., and Lowe, M.  (2006).  Activation of the left planum temporale in pitch processing is shaped by language experience.  Human Brain Mapping, 27, 173-83.

This article has as many worthwhile observations as it does authors, as well as useful references to other significant studies on the lateralization of brain activity when processing language or non-language sensory input.  When you sift through the greater picture to look solely at the experiment these authors have conducted, you get their conclusion:  "we infer that pitch processing... activates auditory cortex in the [brain's right hemisphere] regardless of language experience, but that it shifts in laterality to the left [planum temporale] when a language-sensitive task requires that listeners access higher-order categorical representations."


Athos, E.A., Levinson, B., Kistler, A., Zemansky, J., Bostrom, A., Freimer, N., and Gitschier, J.  (2007).  Dichotomy and perceptual distortions in absolute pitch abilityProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(37), 14795-800.

This article has been widely touted as "proving" that absolute pitch is genetic, just as Saffran's earlier publication "proved" that all infants were born with absolute pitch-- in other words, this article has been thoroughly misrepresented in the public press.  This article shows two things we knew already:  that people generally either can or can't name notes (this "have it or don't" is what the press picked up on as genetic evidence), and that pitch perception tends to go sharp with age.  The only new information here is the observation that there seems to be a strong and near-universal tendency to mislabel A-flat as A.

Drayna, D.T.  (2007).  Absolute pitch:  a special group of earsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(37), 14549-50.

A short comment on and brief analysis of the Athos et al. publication (featured in the same issue of PNAS), intended for the layman who needs it.

Gregersen, P.K., Kowalsky, E., and Li W.  (2007).  Reply to Henthorn and Deutsch:  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).  American Journal of Medical Genetics, 143A, 104-5.

In this report, they re-analyzed their own data and statistically determined their data to show that fixed-do training was correlated to absolute pitch acquisition, while Asian childhood was not.  It's not that Asian childhood is demonstrably unimportant; rather, they point out that almost all (97%) of the Asian children in their study were exposed to fixed-do training, so they don't believe their data can conclusively support tonal language as an independent factor.

Henthorn, T., and Deutsch, D.  (2007).  Ethnicity versus early environment:  comment on "Early childhood music education and predisposition to absolute pitch" (2000)Acoustics Today, 2, 11-19.

The authors take another look at the 2000 data by re-grouping the subjects.  The subjects who spent their childhood in East Asia, where tone languages were native, demonstrated a higher proportion of absolute pitch than did those who spent their childhood in North America-- regardless of ethnicity.  With this environmental factor taken into account, there was no significant difference between East Asian and Caucasian.

Hsieh, I. and Saberi, K.  (2007).  Temporal integration in absolute identification of musical pitch.  Hearing Research, 233(1), 108-16.

The authors ask, how quickly can an absolute judgment be made?  The answer seems to be either as brief as 5ms or as few as 4 vibratory cycles.  When listening to pure tones, the participants made more accurate identifications with higher-octave sounds.

Hyde, K.L., Peretz, I., and Zatorre, R.J.  (2007).  Evidence for the role of the right auditory cortex in fine pitch resolution. 

Makomaska, S. (2007).  Case studies on absolute pitch.  Archives of Acoustics, 32(4S), 193–196.

Marvin, E.W.  (2007).  Absolute pitch perception and the pedagogy of relative pitch.  Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, 21, 1–34.

Rakowski, A. and Miyazaki, K.  (2007).  Absolute pitch:  Common traits in music and language.  Archives of Acoustics, 32(1), 5-16.


Brenton, J.N., Devries, S.P., Barton, C., Minnich, H., and Sokol, D.K.  (2008).  Absolute pitch in a four-year-old boy with autism.  Pediatric Neurology, 39(2), 137-8.

A brief description of the lad, but nothing more, noting his young age and speculating that absolute pitch is a genetic subset of autistic heritage.

Di Carlo, N.  (2008).  Role of proprioceptive memory in a professional opera singer's absolute pitch.  Journal of Experimental Voice Research, 1(2), 34-9.

An opera singer's larynx was physically adjusted (by external means) before singing, and she consequently sang off-key.  The author points out that the singer was capable of singing the correct note, even with the manipulation, but didn't.

Heaton, P., Davis, R.E., and Happe, F.G.E.  (2008).  Exceptional absolute pitch perception for spoken words in an able adult with autism.  Neuropsychologia, 46, 2095-8.

This person can reliably identify the fundamental frequency of a person's spoken words, which mainly underscores the observation that most absolute musicians can't.

Hseih, I. and Saberi, K.  (2008).  Dissociation of procedural and semantic memory in absolute-pitch processing.  Hearing Research, 240, 73-9.

There are two procedures here to produce an indicated target pitch:  either adjust a slider on a computer or sing it out loud.  The most curious finding is that people who are nearly random in their slider production are incredibly good at accurate vocal production.  The authors suggest that this is a result of motor access to pitch representation (as in vocal production) which causes a feedback loop that adjusts to a desired pitch.  Bluntly:  the raw data shows that non-absolute musicians produce correct absolute pitches when they are asked to sing.

Hseih, I. and Saberi, K.  (2008).  Language-selective interference with long-term memory for musical pitch.  Acta Acustica united with Acustica, 94, 588-93.

Absolute musicians who had been trained with fixed-do experienced a Stroop-like effect when naming tones sung as solfege syllables; absolute musicians who had been trained with movable-do showed no such interference.

Schellenberg, E.G., and Trehub, S.E.  (2008).  Is there an Asian advantage for pitch memory?  Music Perception, 25(3), 241-52.

The authors asked North American and Asian youngsters to identify whether the pitch level of familiar television theme songs were being played in their original key.  Asians were better at it.  The authors' speculations about why are the same as usual.

Smith, N.A. and Schmuckler, M.A.  (2008).  Dial A440 for absolute pitch:  Absolute pitch memory by non-absolute pitch possessors.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 123(4), EL77-84.

This experiment essentially duplicates Daniel Levitin's experiment for familiar melodies, but using a dial tone instead.  Listeners accurately judged a dial tone to be in-tune, higher, or lower than normal.

Trehub, S.E., Schellenberg, E.G., and Nakata, T.  (2008).  Cross-cultural perspectives on pitch memory.  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 100, 40-52.

The authors tested children to find out if they would recall the correct absolute key of familiar television themes.  Older children were more successful than younger children; Canadian children were less successful than Japanese children.  Essentially an expansion of Schellenberg's other paper, and just as speculative.

Wu, C., Kirk, I.J., Hamm, J.P., and Lim, V.K.  (2008).  The neural networks involved in pitch labeling of absolute pitch musicians.  Neuroreport, 19(8), 851-4.

When making absolute judgments in labeling musical tones, absolute listeners use more of their brains to do so.  Although this would seem to contradict the results found by Wilson et al, the task was substantially different.  Wilson et al used noise bursts with individual tones, and listeners responded either by identifying the tone or saying "pass"; this group, to allow non-absolute musicians to label tones correctly, used a two-tone procedure where the first tone served as reference.  The greater brain activation may, therefore, be a function of the absolute musicians' discovery of a greater quantity of information within the sound signal.


Bermudez, P. and Zatorre, R.  (2009).  A distribution of absolute pitch ability as revealed by computerized testing.  Music Perception, 27(2), 89-101.

The computerized testing was just a note-naming test.  The results, though, show more than just the usual.  Of course absolute listeners can identify notes and others can't, but these researchers show that there is also substantial deviation in accuracy within each group... however, the absolute versus non-absolute listeners were grouped according to self-selection.

Bermudez, P. and Zatorre, R.  (2009).  The absolute pitch mind continues to reveal itself.  Journal of Biology, 8, 75.

A layman's summary of the year's brain-scan research on absolute pitch.  It's a good idea to read this before tackling the actual experimental write-ups.

Brancucci, A., di Nuzzo, M., and Tommasi, L.  (2009).  Opposite hemispheric asymmetries for pitch identification in absolute pitch and non-absolute pitch musicians.  Neuropsychologia, 47, 2937-41.

The conclusion is not new:  "AP and NAP subjects exhibit opposite hemispheric specialization for pitch identification, AP subjects showing a bias towards the left hemisphere and NAP subjects showing a bias towards the right hemisphere."  The odd thing about this study, given the journal in which it appears, is that it doesn't use brain-scanning equiment to reach this conclusion.  Instead, they merely played white noise to one ear and a tone to the other, and rendered their analysis based on which ear caused a faster and more accurate naming response.

Brancucci, A., di Pinto, R., Mosesso, I., and Tommasi, L.  (2009).  Vowel identity between note labels confuses pitch identification in non-absolute pitch possessors.  PLoS One, 4(7), e6327.

I designed Ear Training Companion with the idea that verbal labels, themselves being sounds, could interfere with the sounds of the tones themselves.  If this paper is to be believed, I was right.  I say if it's to be believed, because they claim to show that musicians will confuse solfege terms that have the same vowel in them-- suggesting that when they hear a sol they will confuse it for do, or fa for la.  But they way they did it is weird; if I'm understanding it correctly, and correct to interpret that their graphs are labeled backwards, they're saying essentially "When subjects made a guess that was off by [major interval], they either did or did not produce a label with the same vowel in it."  Why they did this, instead of "When subjects named a note, they either did or did not mistake the vowel," I'm completely at a loss... they offer no explanation for it, and thus throw the door wide open to the possibility that the errors are somehow due to the intervals themselves and not the labels.  Furthermore, the use of solfege labels is entirely inappropriate with which to perform a pitch test of non-absolute musicians, because it to them represents scale degree and not absolute pitch "level" (gads, I despise that term).

Deutsch, D., Henthorn, T., and Head, B.  (2009).  Absolute pitch among students in an American music conservatory: association with tone language fluency.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 125(4), 2398-2403.

Of a sample of East Asian music students in a conservatory, those who spoke a tone language were more likely to have absolute pitch than those who didn't.  The authors argue that this evidence supports the idea that the prevalence of absolute pitch in Asian cultures is a consequence of language, not genetics.

Hsieh, I. and Saberi, K.  (2009).  Virtual pitch extraction from harmonic structures by absolute-pitch musicians.  Acoustical Physics, 55(2), 232-9.

Not only are absolute musicians able to detect and identify the missing fundamental of a harmonic series, they're pretty good at it even when the harmonic series only consists of a couple tones.  The higher the remaining harmonics, the more difficult the identification.

Oeschlin, M.S., Meyer, M., and Jäncke, L.  (2009).  Absolute pitch-- Functional evidence of speech-relevant auditory acuity.  Cerebral Cortex, 20(2), 447-55.

Again, a brain-scan study.  The authors manipulated the lexical and prosodic content of sentences and scanned people with absolute pitch, relative pitch, and no musical experience.  Although I'm not sure I fully understand the methods they used, I'm intrigued by their conclusion:  "There is an AP-specific [brain] enhancement for segmental speech processing... AP represents a comprehensive analytical proficiency for acoustic signal decoding."

Pfordresher, P. and Brown, S.  (2009).  Enhanced production and perception of musical pitch in tone language speakers.  Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 71(6), 1385-98.

Although tone-language speakers don't actually process musical pitch as language (Gandour, Wong, & Hutchins 1998), this report shows that speaking a tone language appears to improve the abilities to accurately reproduce and discriminate between musical tones.

Ross, D. and Marks, L.  (2009).  Absolute pitch in children prior to the beginning of musical training.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1169, 199-204.

The authors tested kids (using their 2004 test) before and after musical training.  The kids who passed their test ended up having absolute pitch.  Unfortunately, the authors did not follow up with the kids who did not pass the test, so all that can really be said here is that the predisposition to absolute pitch can be detected early.  This is actually a fairly important thing, though, because when asked to name notes initially, the same two kids who passed the test only got about 57% correct-- from which alone they surely wouldn't have been thought to "possess" absolute pitch ability before their musical training.

Schulze, K., Gaab, N., and Schlaug, G.  (2009).  Perceiving pitch absolutely: Comparing absolute and relative pitch possessors in a pitch memory task.  BMC Neuroscience, 10(106), 13pp.

This is a brain-scan study.  I don't entirely understand the brain regions they're talking about, but their conclusion is "AP musicians [might] involve categorization regions in tonal tasks. The increased activation of the right SPL/IPS in non-AP musicians indicates either an increased use of regions that are part of a tonal working memory (WM) network, or the use of a multimodal encoding strategy."  Considering that this is essentially a re-statement of my own speculative conclusions, for now I'm happy to take them at their word.

Theusch, E., Basu, A., and Gitschier, J.  (2009).  Genome-wide study of families with absolute pitch reveals linkage to 8q24.21 and locus heterogeneity.  American Journal of Human Genetics, 85, 112-9.

They retrieved 73 different samples from people they found online (via their website testing tool) and compared their DNA.  There was a significant correlation for one particular gene.  If they find that this same gene-- or set of genes, as they're trying to build a case for a few other correlations as well-- has some important function for building some particular section of the brain, that would be interesting.  As it is, right now all we know is that the commonality exists.

Wilson, S.J., Lusher, D., Wan, C.Y., Dudgeon, P., and Reutens, D.C.  (2008).  The neurocognitive components of pitch processing:  Insights from absolute pitch.  Cerebral Cortex, 19(3), 724-32.

A brain-scan study that looks at the distinction among levels of pitch-naming ability.  Among three groups of pitch-naming skill-- AP (90% or better), Quasi-AP (20-90% accuracy), and RP (less than 20%)-- they discovered that the lesser a musician's skill, the more of their brain they used, and the more they used of their brain's right hemisphere.  Excellent absolute listeners used only a smaller part of their left brain.


Dooley, K. and Deutsch, D.  (2010).  Absolute pitch correlates with high performance on musical dictation.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 128(2), 890-3.

The title says it all, really.  The dictation test did not require absolute pitch, but absolute musicians did consistently well while non-absolute musicians were inconsistent.  This result does not directly contradict Miyazaki's "inability" theme, but does indicate another side to the story.

Lee, C. and Lee, Y.  (2010).  Perception of musical pitch and lexical tones by Mandarin-speaking musicians.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 127(1), 481-90.

If I ever have need to look at this more closely, I'll see how they gathered evidence that, like last year's Pfordresher & Brown and Gandour before them, supports the assertion that perception of pitch in tone languages is not the same as musical absolute pitch.  Yawn.

Rogowski, P. and Rakowski, A.  (2010).  Pitch strength of residual sounds estimated through chroma recognition by absolute pitch possessors.  Archives of Acoustics, 35(3), 331-47.

Essentially the same as Hseih's from last year.

Vanzella, P. and Schellenberg, E.  (2010).  Absolute pitch:  Effects of timbre on note-naming ability.  PLoS One 5(11), e15449.

This web-based survey confirms the anecdotal observation that vocal tones are more difficult to identify than instrumental.  It also purports to show a distribution of note-naming skill among participants, regardless of timbre... however, they counted semitone errors as correct!  This makes me wonder just how poorly the note-namers did who didn't get 100% accuracy-- 3 semitones' guessing range changes the chance of a false positive from 1/12 to 1/4.


Deutsch, D. (2011).  Musical illusions, absolute pitch, and other enigmas of sound perception.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 129(4), 2430.

A conference talk essentially summarizing her work to date.

Dooley, K. and Deutsch, D.  (2011).  Absolute pitch is correlated with high performance on relative pitch tasks.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 129(4), 2582.

AP musicians were extremely good at naming intervals, regardless of musical key, interval size, or musical context.  The pitches were not shifted, but that's not the point.  The point is that AP were darn good at naming intervals, however they managed it.

Loui, P., Li, H., Hohmann, A., and Schlaug, G.  (2011).  Enhanced cortical connectivity in absolute pitch musicians: A model for local hyperconnectivity.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23(4), 1015–26.

Hyperconnectivity is exactly what it sounds like:  more neuronal connections than normal.  Hyperconnectivity has been implicated in synesthesia and similar phenomena.. like absolute pitch.

Masataka, N.  (2011).  Enhancement of speech-relevant auditory acuity in absolute pitch possessors.  Frontiers In Psychology, 2(101).

Japanese listeners with AP were able to identify Japanese syllables more quickly than non-AP listeners.  This seems to suggest an AP advantage for processing linguistic sounds.

Rakowski, A. and Rogowski, P.  (2011).  Absolute pitch and its frequency range.  Archives of Acoustics, 36(2), 251–266.

About C3 to B7, it seems, although one listener could go as high as D9.

Theusch, E. and Gitschier, J.  (2011).  Absolute pitch twin study and segregation analysis.  Twin Research and Human Genetics, 14(2), 173–8.

Monozygotic twins were more likely to both have absolute pitch than were dizygotic twins.


Akiva-Kabiri, L & Henik, A.  (2012).  A unique asymmetrical Stroop effect in absolute pitch possessors.  Experimental Psychology, 59(5), 272–278.

The Stroop effect shows that it's difficult to name colors when you're looking at the names of different colors.  There is an "asymmetry" in that it isn't difficult to read the names of colors when they're printed in different colors.  This paper demonstrates that absolute listeners experience an opposite asymmetry with notes and their names-- they find it easy to name a note while reading the wrong names, but difficult to read the names when hearing the wrong note.  This is taken as yet more evidence that absolute listeners can't ignore notes' identities.

Bittrich, K., Heller, J.K., & Blankenberger, S. (2012).  Absolute pitch – simple pair-association? Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, Thessaloniki, Greece.

The authors trained non-musicians to label tones.  Each training session started with two pitches and then, once those two pitches were correctly labeled, added another one.  Add-a-pitch continued for a set number of trials.  After ten days of training, these non-musicians were able to correctly identify about seven pitches with reasonable accuracy.  This provides still further evidence that people can learn to name a certain number of tones regardless of the method employed.

Dohn, A., Garza-Villarreal, E., Heaton, P., & Vuust, P.  (2012).  Do musicians with perfect pitch have more autism traits than musicians without perfect pitch?  An empirical study.  PLOS One, 7(5), e37961.


Jänke, L., Langer, N., & Hänggi, J. (2012).  Diminished whole-brain but enhanced peri-sylvian connectivity in absolute pitch musicians.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24(6), 1447–1461.

Brain scans appear to show that absolute listeners have a deficit in "global interconnectedness" but a surfeit of "local connectedness" in language-related areas compared to non-absolute listeners.

Loui, P., Zamm, A., & Schlaug, G. (2012). Absolute pitch and synesthesia: two sides of the same coin? Shared and distinct neural substrates of music listening.  In ICMPC: Proceedings/edited by Catherine Stevens [et al.]. International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition (p. 618). NIH Public Access.

"Results support both shared and distinct neural enhancements in AP and synesthesia: common enhancements in early cortical mechanisms of perceptual analysis, followed by relative specialization in later association and categorization processes that support the unique behaviors of these special populations during music listening."

Loui, P., Zamm, A., & Schlaug, G. (2012). Enhanced functional networks in absolute pitch. Neuroimage, 63(2), 632–640.

"AP possessors have increased functional activation during music listening, as well as… local efficiency of functional correlations, with the difference being highest around the left superior temporal gyrus."  So, again, absolute listeners' brains bring more power to bear on analyzing musical sound.

Luna, D. (2012). Analysis of pitch-perception abilities among musicians with fixed-pitch and variable-pitch instruments. En Kephalos.

Fretless, stringed instruments.  It seems logical that someone who has to listen carefully to the tuning of their instrument, such as a violin, would have better absolute and relative pitch perception than someone who plays an instrument whose tuning is fixed (like a piano or flute).  But no.  This experiment shows it to be the opposite-- fixed-pitch instrumentalists demonstrated better pitch perception.

Matsunaga, R. & Abe, J. (2012).  Dynamic cues in key perception.  International Journal of Psychological Studies, 4(1), 3–21.

The authors used absolute listeners to name the keys of different melodies.  I believe their conclusion here is that key is not determined by which pitches are present, but by the patterns in which the pitches change from one to another.

Miyazaki, K., Makomaska, S., & Rakowski, A. (2012).  Prevalence of absolute pitch: a comparison between Japanese and Polish music students.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 132(5), 3484–3493.

30% of Japanese students, 7% of Polish students.  Japanese students generally started training two years earlier and had had fixed-do training at the Yamaha school.

Petrovic, M., Antovic, M., Milankovic, V., & Acic, G.  Interplay of tone and color: absolute pitch and synesthesia.  Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Synesthesia appears to be common among absolute listeners, and certain ranges' associations seem to suggest consistency across listeners:  around A and E with yellow and orange, and near F and G with green and blue.

Schulze, K., Mueller, K., and Koelsch, S.  (2012).  Auditory Stroop and absolute pitch: an fMRI study.  Human Brain Mapping, (online only).

For absolute listeners, brain activation for English syllables and musical tones looks suspiciously similar.

Weisman, R., Balkwill, L., Hoeschle, M., Moscicki, M., & Sturdy, C.  (2012).  Identifying absolute pitch possessors without using a note-naming task.  Psychomusicology, 22(1), 46–54.

I'm not a hundred percent certain of what they did here, but it appears as though they split the octave into two naming categories ("S+" and "S-"), and then presented those tones across three octaves.  Absolute listeners were able to identify whether a tone belonged to which category, and non-absolute listeners weren't.

Wilson, S., Lusher, D., Martin, C., Rayner, G., & McLachlan, N.  (2012).  Intersecting factors lead to absolute pitch acquisition that is maintained in a "fixed do" environment.  Music Perception, 29(3), 285–296.

Three factors contributed to absolute listeners' musical experience:  family history, training onset during sensitive period, and early fixed-do training.  All three mattered:  "no factor by itself is necessary or sufficient for the expression of AP. Rather, it is the co-occurrence of factors that is most salient, with AP musicians more often reporting a combination of two or three factors, whereas no RP musicians reported all three... we have identified a new and equally important factor that contributes to the expression of AP; namely, ongoing exposure to a fixed-do instrument that is regularly played by the musician and presumably serves to reinforce the skill."


Bidelman, G.M., Hutka, S., and Moreno, S. (2013).  Tone-language speakers and musicians share enhanced perceptual and cognitive abilities for musical pitch:  Evidence for bidirectionality between the domains of language and music.  Public Library of Science One, 8(4), e60676.

If you speak a tone language, you have a greater capacity than non-tone-language speakers to process sound, as measured by acuity, memory, and production.  These results don't directly support the hypothesis that tone-language speakers have an advantage for absolute pitch, specifically, but provides broader confirmation that learning to process the meaning of sophisticated and complex sound leads to perceptual and performance benefits.

Deutsch, D., & Dooley, K.  (2013).  Absolute pitch is associated with a large auditory digit span: A clue to its genesis. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 133(4), 1859–1861.

People with absolute pitch can remember a longer sequence of spoken numbers than can non-absolute listeners.  This is offered as evidence that absolute listeners have a greater capacity to remember auditory information, which may contribute to absolute listeners' superior recall for musical sounds.

Deutsch, D. (2013).  Absolute pitch.  In D. Deutsch (ed.), The Psychology of Music, 3rd Edition (pp. 141–182).  Cambridge, MA:  Academic Press.

A comprehensive look at the genesis, abilities, neural anatomy, and correlates of absolute pitch.  A large section is, understandably, given over to the author's personal investigation into tone languages, but the claims are data-driven, and are used to argue against a genetic origin.

Deutsch, D., Li, X., & Shen, J. (2013). Absolute pitch among students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music: A large-scale direct-test study. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 134(5), 3853–3859.

The absolute-pitch abilities of 160 Mandarin Chinese young adults were tested.  Superficially, the results are as would be expected:  those who began training before age 5 had stronger note-naming skills; C-major pitches were easier to identify than accidentals; middle-range pitches were identified more accurately than those at the extremes.  However, the authors use these results to draw a connection between the students' identification skills and the structures of the Western music with which they were trained, supporting the hypothesis that their absolute-pitch skills were learned from that music.

Dohn, A., Garza-Villarreal, E.A., Chakravarty, M.M., Hansen, M., Lerch, J.P., & Vuust, P. (2013).  Gray- and white-matter anatomy of absolute pitch possessors.  Cerebral Cortex.

More information about the neuroanatomy of absolute pitch and how it's different from that of non-absolute listeners.  I'm not terribly interested in neurological studies, but I'm glad they're being done; perhaps at some point they'll suggest an unexpected direction for training—one designed to stimulate a specific area of the brain, but in a way that isn't necessarily "musical" in the traditional sense.

Elmer, S., Sollberger, S., Meyer, M., and Jäncke, L. (2013).  An empirical reevaluation of absolute pitch: Behavioral and electrophysiological measurements.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 25(10), 1736–1753.

This EEG study finds a distinct measure attributable to absolute listeners—and the authors use this measure both to claim that absolute pitch is not a have-it-or-not ability (rather a continuum) and to discuss a difference between the "implicit" and "explicit" absolute identification of non-absolute and absolute listeners, respectively.  That is, absolute listeners can make an "explicit" decision about whether a pitch is or is not a certain known category, and the authors connect this decision to a specific brain event.

Frieler, K., Fischinger, T., Schlemmer, K., Lothwesen, K., Jakubowski, K., & Müllensiefen, D. (2013). Absolute memory for pitch: A comparative replication of Levitin’s 1994 study in six European labs.  Musicae Scientae, 17(3), 334–349.

The 1994 study, as you might recall, showed that if people attempt to sing an extremely well-known song (such as "Hotel California") they will generally sing it at the same pitch level as the recording they know.  This investigation successfully replicated the effect, but results "differed considerably across laboratories."  I take this to mean that the two skills of correctly remembering a familiar recording and accurately producing the sounds in one's head are widely variable across the general population.  I maintain that the original effect does not necessarily demonstrate memory for absolute pitch, mainly because there's still no way for the singer to know they got it right without a reference.

Gervain, J., Vines, B.W., Chen, L.M., Seo, R.J., Hensch, T.K., Werker, J.F., & Young, A.H. (2013).  Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch.  Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 7, 102.

So what?  Are we going to dope ourselves into learning?  And even if that were feasible, all that this study really shows is, just like every other study that trained people to name notes, that a certain population became better at naming notes than another population—and even then, the drug-takers still weren't very good at it, getting only about a 35% accuracy overall.  The claim that the drug "reopens the critical period" seems to me to be a wild and unfounded exaggeration.

Gregersen, P.K., Kowalsky, E., Lee, A., Baron–Cohen, S., Fisher, S.E., Asher, J.E., Ballard, D., Freudenberg, J., and Li, W.  (2013).  Absolute pitch exhibits phenotypic and genetic overlap with synesthesia Human Molecular Genetics, 22(10), 2097–2104.

Abstractly interesting, but of course correlation isn't causation.

Hedger, S.C., Heald, S.L.M., & Nusbaum, H. (2013). Absolute pitch may not be so absolute. Psychological Science, 24(8), 1496–1502.

The authors told me the inspiration for this experiment:  Hedger, who has absolute pitch, was playing an electronic piano, and Heald subtly and gradually pushed the "pitch bend" control while he was playing (without his noticing).  When she suddenly let go, he was startled that all the no-longer-bent pitches now seemed out of tune.  His mind had adjusted to the shift.  This experiment documents this phenomenon.

Jakubowski, K., & Müllensiefen, D. (2013).  The influence of music-elicited emotions and relative pitch on absolute pitch memory for familiar melodies.  Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 66(7), 1259–1267.

The more strongly a song makes you feel—whether by its nostalgic value or the impact of the music itself—the better you will be at remembering its correct absolute pitch.  The authors used Levitin's 1994 procedure to test this, which suggests that, between correct memory and accurate production, the former may be the more important one for this effect.

Levitin, D.J. (2013). Commentary on “Absolute memory for pitch: A comparative replication of Levitin’s 1994 study in six European labs.”  Musicae Scientiae, 17(3), 350–355.

Levitin enumerates factors that could explain why Frieler et al.'s replication showed a weaker effect than his own experiment.

Martinez-Castilla, P., Sotillo, M., and Campos, R.  (2013).  Do individuals with Williams syndrome possess absolute pitch?  Child Neuropsychology, 19(1), 78–96.


Matsuda, A., Hara, K., Watanabe, S., Matsuura, M., Ohta, K., & Matsushima, E. (2013). Pre-attentive auditory processing of non-scale pitch in absolute pitch possessors. Neuroscience Letters, 548, 155–158.

By "non-scale" they mean "tones not tuned to the standard Western pitch frequencies," e.g., 450Hz instead of good ol' A440.  Participants watched silent cartoons while passively listening to pairs of "scale" and "non-scale" tones.  Absolute listeners' brains reacted to the non-scale tones as being deviant, whereas the non-absolute listeners' brains did not.  Notably, the non-absolute listeners in this experiment were trained musicians, indicating that it is absolute listening, and not musical experience, that inculcates sensitivity to the specific frequencies of the Western scale. 

Peng, G., Deutsch, D., Henthorn, T., Su, D., & Wang, W. (2013). Language experience influences non-linguistic pitch perception.  Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 41(2), 447–467.

There's an interesting result "buried in the mix" of this experiment.  The main experiment doesn't actually seem to be a test of absolute listening; Mandarin and German non-musicians made same–different judgments on "tone sweeps", that is, sinusoidal sounds that began at a certain pitch and ended at another... but all these stimuli ended on the same pitch, making it more a judgment of interval than pitch.  No, the result that I was more interested in—that I had to read a couple times, in fact, to make sure that I wasn't misreading it—was that Mandarin participants who had been trained in movable-do named notes more accurately than those who had been trained in fixed-do.  The difference was significant only for those who had begun training between ages 6–9, but movable-trained were nominally better at note-naming across the board.
This would seem to fly in the face of previous research indicating the importance of fixed-do training to absolute-pitch acquisition—but, rather, it supports Gregersen et al. (2000) who pointed out that absolute skill was best achieved through a combination of fixed- and movable-do training.  This also provides evidence that absolute pitch as an "inability" is what happens when absolute listeners don't receive integrated training that develops their relative-listening skills.

Schulze, K., Mueller, K., & Koelsch, S. (2013). Auditory Stroop and absolute pitch: an fMRI study. Human Brain Mapping, 34, 1579–1590.

The task here was to listen to a sequence of tones, each presented simultaneously with a syllable (a letter name) that either was or was not congruent; at the end of the sequence, participants heard either a single tone or a single letter and pressed a button to indicate whether or not they'd heard it in the previous sequence.  Here's the researchers' own summary here, with my own emphasis added.  "[N]eural resources for verbal and tonal perception overlap more strongly in AP musicians than in non-AP musicians... Our results also indicate that first, AP is associated with the categorical perception of tones; second, the left STG/STS is activated in AP musicians only for the detection of verbal-tonal incongruencies in the auditory stroop task; and finally, verbal labelling of tones in AP musicians seems to be automatic. Overall, a unique feature of AP appears to be the similarity between verbal and tonal perception."

Wengenroth, M., Blatow, M., Heinecke, A., Reinhardt, J., Stippich, C., Hofmann, E., & Schneider, P. (2013). Increased volume and function of right auditory cortex as a marker for absolute pitch. Cerebral Cortex.

The authors claim that what makes their study new is the procedure they used to test absolute listening... but from what I can tell, all they did was use novel types of interfering sounds between each absolute identification or production task.  As for the "increased volume", the plasticity of the developing brain and the claims of the genetic researchers leaves the obvious question wide, wide open:  is this cause or effect?


Aruffo, C., Goldstone, R.L., & Earn, D.J.D. (2014).  Absolute judgment of musical interval width.  Music Perception, 32(2), 186–200.

I ran this experiment because I was tired of the "absolute pitch as an inability" theme.  At Indiana University, I had students from their music school compare the pitches of ascending triads which either did or did not differ by a fraction of a semitone.  That is, they heard triad A, then triads X and Y, and had to decide which of X or Y was the same as A.  This was the first experiment I ever designed, so I didn't really take the human factor into account—to test all the triads I wanted to try, the experimental session took three hours.  The publishable result was exactly what I expected:  absolute listeners were perfectly capable of making the relative judgment of "distance" between tones, even when the tones themselves were in the same pitch categories.
In fact, the non-publishable result made me believe even more strongly that absolute listening can contribute to better overall musicianship:  to a one, the non-absolute participants found the experimental process tedious, frustrating, even exasperating (though, fortunately, never so much so as to quit in the middle of the session), while the absolute participants found it an engaging and entertaining challenge, even as it dragged into its third hour.
One thing I was pleased to have anticipated with this experiment, though, which I repeated in the future, is that any such tedious task is much more bearable when you know how much longer it will continue.  This and all my future experiments had "countdowns" to the end of the session.  When I was at McMaster, I participated in a number of repeated-task experiments myself, and some of them were so tedious that by the time I was partway through them I was just dashing off answers to get it over with.  Having a progress meter, I think, keeps participants more willing to stay on task.  (I wonder if anyone has tested this?  If not, I probably should do that at some point.)

Behroozmand, R., Ibrahim, N., Korzyukov, O., Robin, D.A., & Larson, C.R. (2014). Left-hemisphere activation is associated with enhanced vocal pitch error detection in musicians with absolute pitch. Brain and Cognition, 84, 97–108.

...which is, at the very least, a reason why absolute listeners have an advantage if they want to learn a new language without an accent.

Ben-Haim M.S., Eitan, Z., & Chajut, E. (2014). Pitch memory and exposure effects. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 40(1), 24–32.

Nothing really new here.  If you test non-musicians who have had ordinary exposure to Western music, by training them to identify certain pitches, they'll find it easier to identify pitches that are more common in Western music.

Bouvet, L., Donnadieu, S., Valdois, S., Caron, C., Dawson, M., & Mottron, L. (2014). Veridical mapping in savant abilities, absolute pitch, and synesthesia: an autism case study. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.

A case study suggests that this particular autistic person used "veridical mapping"—e.g., mentally associating the seven tones of C-major with the seven days of the week—to learn different structural concepts.

Dohn, A., Garza-Villarreal, E.A., Ribe, L.R., Wallentin, M., & Vuust, P. (2014). Musical activity tunes up absolute pitch ability. Music Perception, 31(4), 359–371.

The strange title of this paper belies its actual finding.  Absolute musicians were asked to identify tones as well as to "produce" them—but, rather than singing the tones, they adjusted a slider to make a sinusoidal tone match a named target pitch.  They were skilled at this task, and the authors use this result to argue that there should be no distinction made between "active" and "passive" absolute pitch skill.  This is a point I'm in solid agreement on; the real skill is being able to imagine the pitch correctly in your head.  Identifying or singing the pitch you imagine is a follow-on phenomenon.

Fileva-Ruseva, K.G. (2014). A first-person view on absolute musical pitch. International Journal of Literature and Arts, 2(1), 8–13.

A musician with absolute pitch reflects on what it's been like to have it.  No new insights worth mentioning.

Iușcă, D.G.  (2014).  The development of absolute pitch:  The early training theory.  Review of Artistic Education, 7–8, 259–264.

A review comparing research on born-with and learning hypotheses.

Moulton, C. (2014). Perfect pitch reconsidered. Clinical Medicine, 14(5), 517–519.

I'm not sure why this three-page review article touts itself as "reconsidered" when it presents no new argument.  I'm not even sure why the author bothered to write it.  It retreads the uninformed opinion that absolute listening can "interfere" with relative perception, favors the genetic explanation, and essentially dismisses absolute pitch as a useless curiosity.

Parkinson, A.L., Behroozmand, R., Ibrahim, N., Korzyukov, O., Larson, C.R., & Robin, D.A. (2014). Effective connectivity associated with auditory error detection in musicians with absolute pitch.  Frontiers in Neuroscience, 8.

Another angle on Behroozmand's other article from this same year.  The idea here is that enhanced ability may lead to an adapted functional connection between auditory processing and vocal control.

Sakakibara, A. (2014).  A longitudinal study of the process of acquiring absolute pitch: A practical report of training with the "chord identification method".  Psychology of Music, 42(1), 86–111.

22 Japanese children (in Tokyo), starting from ages 2–6, were trained using the Eguchi method.  All of them gained absolute pitch ability, becoming able to identify any pitches without error.  Although the rote drilling of Eguchi's approach is not acceptable to Western culture, its success is not to be ignored, as its principles should be adaptable into Western pedagogy.

Wong, Y.K., & Wong, A.C.N. (2014). Absolute pitch memory: Its prevalence among musicians and dependence on the testing context.  Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 21(2), 534–542.

Participants identified different "contexts" of tones:  sine waves, tones matching their instrument, video clips of someone else playing the tones, and physically modeling the target pitches on their own instrument.  Identification accuracy wasn't different for absolute listeners across these conditions, but for non-absolute listeners, each step "closer" to their own physicalization brought with it improved identification accuracy.  Accuracy didn't rise above 35%, so the authors' claims that these non-absolute listeners "have absolute pitch" is dubious, but the results clearly show that pitch memory can be enhanced by multimodal associations.

Ziv, N. & Radin, S. (2014). Absolute and relative pitch: Global versus local processing of chords.  Advances in Cognitive Psychology, 10(1), 15–25.

Participants identified chords and then pitches in chords.  One finding here is not a surprise to me, which is that absolute listeners may have low or high relative-pitch skill.  What is more interesting is that greater absolute-pitch ability led to slower identification of chords.  Perhaps this is because there is, well, more going on; rather than just hearing and recognizing the chord (as would a relative listener) maybe they decode and recognize the whole structure.


Burnham, D., Brooker, R., & Reid, A. (2015).  The effects of absolute pitch ability and musical training on lexical tone perception.  Psychology of Music, 43(6), 881–897.

While Deutsch has been wondering if tone languages affect musical development, these folks wondered if musical expertise translated to better perception of linguistic prosody.  Participants made same–different judgments of speech, the same speech samples filtered to remove the language characteristics, and violin slides of the same tones.  Answer: yes, musicians were better at it, and absolute musicians were better than non-absolute.

Elmer, S., Rogenmoser, L., Kühnis, J., & Jäncke, L. (2015).  Bridging the gap between perceptual and cognitive perspectives on absolute pitch.  Journal of Neuroscience, 35(1), 366–371.

It's been asserted by various sources that absolute listeners' don't actually perceive musical sounds differently; rather, that "absolute hearing" is the cognitive processing (and labeling) that comes after the raw perception.  If I'm understanding this paper rightly—and I may not be, because it goes deep into the weeds of neurological anatomy in a way that goes beyond me—then what they're suggesting is that the raw perception is the same, but the absolute brain has adapted to differently route those raw perceptions as soon as they have been received.

Hutchins, S., Hutka, S., & Moreno, S. (2015).  Symbolic and motor contributions to vocal imitation in absolute pitch.  Music Perception, 32(3), 254–265.

How does an absolute listener remember a pitch—by the actual sound, or by the label of what was sounded?  This result says the latter.  This experiment played tones that were slightly mistuned and then, after a delay, absolute (and non-absolute) listeners sang the tone back again.  Absolute listeners were biased toward producing a well-tuned version of the tone, suggesting that they didn't bother to remember the actual sound but instead remembered, for example, "that was an A", and proceeded to reproduce their internal representation of the sounded pitch.  This experiment doesn't necessarily answer the question of whether absolute listeners can remember a mistuned pitch, because it's possible that the participants, even though they were instructed to imitate "as closely as possible", didn't realize that the experimenters were truly asking for the exact frequency.  A secondary finding is that, to an extent, non-absolute listeners also showed the same bias, further supporting the now-long-standing assertion that ongoing ordinary exposure to Western music inculcates an implicit knowledge of its standards.

Hutka, S.A. & Alain, C.  (2015).  The effects of absolute pitch and tone language on pitch processing and encoding in musicians.  Music Perception, 32(4), 344–354.

If knowing a tone language makes it easier to learn absolute pitch, does that mean speaking a tone language will make your absolute-pitch skills better than someone who doesn't?  This experiment recruited absolute-pitch musicians who did and did not speak a tone language... and found no significant performance difference between them.

Rogenmoser, R., Elmer, S., and Jäncke, L.  (2015).  Absolute pitch: evidence for early cognitive facilitation during passive listening as revealed by reduced P3a amplitudes.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27(3), 623–637.

An EEG study showing that absolute listeners experience additional mental processes for tone perception even when they're not actively trying to label the pitches.

Suriadi, M.M., Usui, K., Tottori, T., Terada, K., Fujitani, S., Umeoka, S., Usui, N., Baba, K., Matsuda, K., & Inoue, Y. (2015). Preservation of absolute pitch after right amygdalohippocampectomy for a pianist with TLE. Epilepsy & Behavior, 42, 14–17.

The surgical procedure "clearly avoided disturbing important structures and networks for AP, so that AP ability was preserved postsurgically."  This, of course, helps to rule out parts of the brain that aren't important for absolute pitch.

Van Hedger, S.C., Heald, S.L.M., Koch, R., & Nusbaum, H.C.  (2015).  Auditory working memory predicts individual differences in absolute pitch learning.  Cognition, 140, 95–110.

Yet another train-adults-to-name-notes procedure; the difference here is that, as the title indicates, the authors attribute differences in note-naming performance to levels of auditory working memory.  I'm pleased to see that the authors also embed, in their discussion, an argument against the valproate study's claim of "reopening the critical period" (Gervain et al., 2013), because the note-naming accuracy results found here without drugs are substantially the same as the results they found with drugs.

Van Hedger, S.C., Heald, S.L.M., & Nusbaum, H.C.  (2015).  The effects of acoustic variability on absolute pitch categorization: Evidence of contextual tuning.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 138(1), 436–446.

When you throw different timbres and octaves at an absolute listener, they'll identify pitches more slowly.


Chavarria–Soley, G.  (2016).  Absolute pitch in Costa Rica: Distribution of pitch identification ability and implications for its genetic basis.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 140(2), 891–897.

This experiment was simple:  take 127 Costa Rican musicians and get them to name 80 notes (piano tones and sine waves).  Then separate them by result into three groups:  those who can do it perfectly, those who can do it well, and those who aren't good at it.  Other than the author's acknowledgement that this is the first time such a test has been done in Costa Rica, the only thing new I could find in this paper was the assertion that being in the middle group—being able to identify notes well but not perfectly—appeared to be most highly dependent on musical training (versus the other two groups).  This seems to be the observation on which the authors base their "genetics" argument because, if absolute pitch weren't genetic, wouldn't it be more likely that the perfect scorers would be the ones who had had the most musical training?  It makes a different kind of sense to me, though: I'd say that if (as a child) you didn't get the right musical exposure to learn absolute pitch, it takes a heck of a lot of training to make up the difference.

Kim, S. & Knösche, T.R.  (2016).  Intracortical myelination in musicians with absolute pitch: Quantitative morphometry using 7-T MRI.  Human Brain Mapping, 37(10), 3486–3501.
Kupferstein, H.  (2016).  Non-verbal paradigm for assessing individuals with absolute pitch.  World Futures, 72, 390–405.

This wasn't what I was expecting.  The "non-verbal paradigm" I'm familiar with is the test that doesn't require a verbal label—listeners hear a tone, then interfering tones, and then a second tone on which they make a same–different judgment.  In this one, though, they mean "non-verbal" literally; they tested "neurodiverse" individuals who were verbally impaired.  The researchers tested them by asking "can you find [pitch sound] on the piano?" and letting them press the keys.  In hindsight, I'm amazed that nobody's done this before.  If absolute pitch is the ability to imagine the pitch, then how that pitch is expressed could take any number of forms, and this is one of the most obvious.  (I'm reminded that, in the 2004 study of Suzuki students, participants offered to physically model the pitches on their instruments instead of singing, but such responses were not accepted—rightly in that case, though, because Suzuki training is driven by physical muscle memory and not auralization.)  With this approach, the authors found that 37 out of 38 of their autistic participants "demonstrated absolute pitch"; the two criteria were 1) matching more than 80% of the tones correctly and 3) doing so instantly.  This makes me wonder if other experiments on neurodiverse populations, which measured verbal responses, underrepresented the number of absolute listeners in their samples.

Leite, R.B.C., Mota–Rolim, S.A., & Queiroz, C.M.T.  (2016).  Music proficiency and quantification of absolute pitch:  A large-scale study among Brazilian musicians.  Frontiers in Neuroscience, 10, 447.
Sergeant, D. & Vraka, M.  (2016).  Pitch perception and absolute pitch in advanced performers.  In Advanced Musical Performance: Investigations in Higher Education Learning, pp. 201–230. 
Tsuzaki, M. & Tanaka, S. (2016).  Effects of aging on the absolute pitch judgment and frequency following responses of electroencephalograms.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 140(4), 3153.
Van Hedger, S.C., Heald, S.L.M., & Nusbaum, H.C.  (2016).  What the [bleep]?  Enhanced absolute pitch memory for a 1000 Hz sine tone.  Cognition, 154, 139–150.

Smith & Schmuckler (2008) used a dial tone; these authors used the "censored" bleep that we always hear on television.  As with the 2008 study, all participants were able to recognize the correctly pitched familiar sound; unlike the 2008 study, absolute listeners were also tested, and they were better at it.  (I wonder how many people nowadays would actually recognize a dial tone?)


Creel, S.C., Weng, M., Fu, G., Heyman, G.D., & Lee, K.  (2017)  Speaking a tone language enhances musical pitch perception in 3–5-year-olds.  Developmental Science, 21(1), e12503.
Deutsch, D., Edelstein, M., & Henthorn, T.  (2017).  Absolute pitch is disrupted by an auditory illusion.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 141, 3800.
Hou, J., Chen, A.C.N., Sun, C., & Beauchaine, T.P.  (2017).  Neural correlates of absolute pitch:  A review.  Musicae Scientiae, 1–16.
Hou, J., Song, B., Zhou, J., Sun, C., & Zhu, H.  (2017).  The cognitive and neural mechanisms of absolute pitch.  Advances in Psychological Science, 25(11), 1865–1876.
Itoh, K., Sakata, H., Kwee, I.L., & Nakada, T.  (2017).  Musical pitch classes have rainbow hues in pitch class–color synesthesia.  Scientific Reports, 7(1), 17781.
Jakubowsky, K., Müllensiefen, D., & Stewart, L.  (2017).  A developmental study of latent absolute pitch memory.  Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70(3), 434–443.

This experiment isn't interesting for the reason the authors think it is.  I'm getting a little tired of experiments that test whether or not people can remember the exact "absolute pitch level" of a familiar recording; in this case, it was television theme songs and children between ages 4 and 12.  I don't call this "latent absolute pitch" as the authors do; I call it "remembering a sound".  If it were the case that absolute listeners necessarily pegged their pitch perception to familiar tones as a matter of practice, I might care more.  The reason I find these results interesting is by comparison to the 2004 study in which Suzuki students did not remember the correct pitch of the songs they were required to memorize as the core of their training—the major difference here is that, in the 2004 procedure, the children were required to sing the tunes, whereas in this experiment, the children listened and selected which of two choices was "more like" the one they knew from TV.  If the 2004 participants had used a match-the-tone listening procedure like Dohn (2014), instead of singing, would they have evidenced a correct auditory memory of the songs they couldn't sing properly?  Or does the Suzuki method as taught in the United States truly miss its foundational principle and fail to instill accurate auralization in favor of physical memory (from my personal experience, the answer to that question is "yes, definitely")?

Kim, S., Blake, R., Lee, M., & Kim, C.  (2017).  Audio-visual interactions uniquely contribute to resolution of visual conflict in people possessing absolute pitch.  PLOS One, 12(4), e0175103.
Kim, S. & Knösche, T.R.  (2017).  Resting state functional connectivity of the ventral auditory pathway in musicians with absolute pitch.  Human Brain Mapping, 38(8), 3899–3916.
Kim, S. & Knösche, T.R.  (2017).  On the perceptual subprocess of absolute pitch.  Frontiers In Neuroscience, 11, 557.
Van Hedger, S.C., Heald, S.L.M., Huang, A., Rutstein, B., & Nusbaum, H.  (2017).  Telling in-tune from out-of-tune: widespread evidence for implicit absolute intonation.  Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 24(2), 481–488.


McKetton, L. & Schneider, K.A. (2018).  Auditory processing in absolute pitch possessors.  AIP Conference Proceedings 1965, 070004.
Van Hedger, S.C., Heald, S.L.M., & Nusbaum, H.C.  (2018).  Absolute pitch can be learned by some adults.  Preprint released by bioRxiv; not yet peer-reviewed.
Van Hedger, S.C., Heald, S.L.M., Uddin, S., & Nusbaum, H.C.  (2018).  A note by any other name: Intonation context rapidly changes absolute note judgments.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 10.1037/xhp0000536.
Van Hedger, S.C. & Nusbaum, H.C.  (2018).  Individual differences in absolute pitch performance: Contributions of working memory, musical expertise, and tonal language background. Preprint released by bioRxiv; not yet peer-reviewed.


Carden, J. & Cline, T. (2019).  Absolute pitch:  Myths, evidence and relevance to music education and performance.  Psychology of Music, 2019.


Zhou, L., Liu, F., Hai, T., Jiang, J., Man, D., and Jiang, C. (2020).  Absolute pitch ability is not associated with advantage in musical tension processing.  Preprint DOI 10.31234/