The contribution of absolute pitch research to compulsory preschool training.

Originally published in Archiv für die Gesamte Psychologie, 68, 273-94, 1929.

M. Gebhardt

Translated by Christopher Aruffo


The following investigation should contribute to psychological research into personality.  It was inspired by several studies from the Würzburger Psychological Institute [1] and will add to this important field being studied at the Psychological Institute at the University of Würzburg.

The following describes a psychological profile and test of the absolute ear of a five-and-a-half year old boy.  With the test of his musical abilities we are furthering another research area of the Würzburg Psychological Institute [2].

Absolute pitch memory, already found only infrequently in musicians, belongs generally to the category of rare aptitudes.  In many cases, it was first acquired through intense musical study, and among these is a privileged subgroup within whom the ability is innate.  In this preferred category, the ability to recognize absolute pitch first emerges during beginning musical instruction; or, at least, it is not discovered until this age when musical notes are introduced.  In the case detailed here, this special gift was recognized by the end of the child's third year-- certainly an unusual case-- and after this great security of tone recognition was noted, the child was attentively observed and studied in his further development during the following two and a half years.  For this particular study, a great number of observations and records had been kept for the family members as well, so this study can offer a complete picture.  It is probably not necessary to emphasize that the family's personal records were not made without bias, with the idea that they would be used as the basis of a scientific investigation.  Generally I will make use of the personal reports only when they are relevant to the child's psychology, and when their contribution to the psychological description and scientific representation of the young personality is indispensably necessary.  I am thus limited to the facts connected with the ability of absolute pitch, and even those which touch the question of musical giftedness are included only when the topic of my investigation requires it.  Whereas it might be appropriate to refer to little A.R. (I will refer to this boy under study by his initials) as a "child prodigy" and compare him to the Spaniard "miracle child" Pepito Arriola [3], an investigation within that perspective lies outside my intention-- aside from the fact that our little A.R. does not at all present the impression of a miracle child.

In order to present a psychological investigation of A.R.'s absolute pitch feeling-- the sole reason for and purpose of this work-- it is best to begin with a general description of his absolute listening skill, then to supplement the picture with a representation of his overall mental condition, and finally offer a special examination to demonstrate the breath of his absolute pitch knowledge.

I.  Development of absolute pitch in A.R. during the preschool years

At the start of this investigation, it is necessary to investigate the moment when the perception and differentiation of sounds first occurred.  According to the highly precise records of the very musical mother, A.R. was able to distinguish violin and piano sounds at twenty-one months.  He was not merely aware of the difference between the two instruments, but when the boy was on walks he would name the instrument if he heard its music emanate from the houses on the street.  He knew the instruments because they were familiar sounds at home.  Three months later, at age two, he was able to distinguish a multiplicity of sounds from the xylophone.  Each time he heard them, he was able to tell whether he heard "one or many Bimbams".  Both observations are in themselves meaningless if they are not regarded as initial stages of a very important event which occurred a year later, shortly after A.R.'s third birthday.  At that time he recognized a new streetcar, that drove past the parents' house for the first time and could not be seen, solely by the sound of its signal bell.  Each time the new vehicle passed, he focused his attention on it and insisted on his judgment.  He met all objections with the imperturbable answer "I hear it!"  So clearly he had already grasped, at three years of age, a pitch difference that amounted to approximately a semitone.  Already, this noticeable confidence in sound judgments suggested sharp hearing and absolute pitch.  This view was strengthened two months later, when the parents moved to another city.  The novelty of all things might have completely absorbed his attention, and the new house was in a heavily trafficked area with much more noise which might have confused him.  But during one of his first days there, when a cyclist drove past the house and rang his bell, the boy stopped and called out "Like my little elephant."  The bicycle bell reminded him of the bell of a toy he had received as a gift one year earlier.  It is remarkable that the pitch comparison did not occur through simultaneous presentation; rather, the sound equivalence was spontaneously recognized from the memory of his toy.  Therefore, his pitch judgment had been based on his memory for sound.

The mother attempted to test this fact.  She would play a C and ask "did you hear that"? -- "Yes." -- "That is C." -- "Yes." -- "Do you recognize that again?" -- "Yes."  After one day, the boy could recognize a number of different tones, and was henceforth never confused in his pitch judgment.  He learned A and F quite easily, and with most tones it was enough to provide a name; only D and E were somewhat difficult.  He also initially confused C# and F#, but this mistake seems to be more closely related to the sounds of the names rather than the sounds of the pitches.  All other accidentals such as Ab and Bb he recognized immediately and without hesitation.  At three and a half years of age, he knew all the sounds in every octave, even after several weeks away from the instrument during which no training could occur because the only piano available was deeply out of tune.

To avoid a possible misconception, it should be emphasized that A.R. was not encouraged or forced into musical training, neither at this time nor in the following years.  The parents' musicality merely made it possible for A.R.'s innate ability to develop even at such a young age.  They never compelled A.R. toward musical training.  The events of absolute listening were essentially an enjoyable discovery or game which the child himself usually initiated.  The parents did not want to force music onto the child and thus ruin his interest in it; rather, they wanted him to find his own way to music, promoting his musical growth by example and discussion.  Therefore, the child's attempts at absolute listening occurred irregularly, only when an opportunity offered itself.  Nevertheless, he easily learned to play all the semitones of the central octave and, within half a year, could already recognize A on the violin as well as A, G, and D on the cello.  At the same time, he began to pay greater attention to music and would notice certain tones from individual pieces, such as the C in the 12th and 13th variation of Beethoven's "32 variations for Piano" or the F played by the organ at the end of the B-minor Intermezzo of Brahms, op. 117.  A diminished seventh in the Chaconne of Bach-Busoni (edition Breitkopf und Härtel, page 6) would make him laugh, and he would want to hear this slumping sound again and again.  At this time, three and a half years old, he could infallibly recognize certain piano music even after some time had passed, such as Bach's famous C-major prelude in the "Well-Tempered Klavier" or the aforementioned Variations by Beethoven.  If he heard music while he was falling asleep, he would not fall asleep until he had been told what it was.  The next day he would still be able to recognize the tune.  If a string quartet was playing in the house, he would not go to sleep, but would put himself under a chair, listening, and sometimes fall asleep there.

Toward the end of his fourth year, he began to sing.  He would sing the entire day, high and low sounds, in many octaves.  He would usually sing existing melodies, almost always in the correct key.  He did not easily sing independently; without the aid of piano accompaniment, he would often stumble (although not always in the same places)-- however, he would notice immediately ("wrong") and become angry about it.  Obviously, this defective singing was not based on listening and musical awareness, but rather on difficulty of production.  He did not have full control of his vocal organs.  The discrepancy between the internal ear and the singing disappeared  over the next few months as his motor skills developed, particularly after a violent bout of whooping cough.  One proof that the boy's awkward singing was based on untrained laryngeal muscles was that the boy, at four years and two months, could sing C and A on demand, and could sing each melody in exactly the correct key.  Today (at five and a half years) singing melodies without accompaniment no longer presents him with any difficulty, and if he fails it is because of an inexact knowledge of the melody as it was originally written.  The melody is always the essential matter.  Transposition of sounds into his vocal register were easily accomplished by age four, and each tone was confidently sung.  If he missed one tone, he would immediately correct himself ("that was F, not E").  In the course of one and a half years, he has learned a series of simple children's songs.  Although he often sings, he attends principally to the melody, and the correct lyrics are a minor matter.  Often, these melodies are only starting points for his own invented melodies.  When he was once reproached for singing a melody wrongly, he answered with certainty, "That's not wrong, I'm just singing a different melody," and at other times when he sang the well-known Mayfly song he would comment "I'm singing with spare parts" as he produced variations of the tune.  In his singing, he is more often inventing than repeating; the simple reproduction of melodies does not interest him.  He deliberately alters them and becomes interested in the change.  This must therefore be a characteristic of the activity of his internal ear.

We mentioned above that, at four years of age, A.R. could already identify all tones of the middle octave and recognize musical pieces he had previously heard.  His development can be traced from there in three different directions.  After the beginning of A.R.'s development, he was afflicted with a violent whooping cough which caused an interruption of musical stimuli; but it should be noted that this did not create a backward step, but a time of internal reflection.  Great progress appeared in the weeks after this interruption.  First, his hearing ability had extended into the lower tones.  It was not yet completely secure in the higher ranges, but from the high octave downward he recognized them all.  This change happened practically overnight.  Psychologically, this fact is probably explained by his transposition of the tones into his higher vocal register.  He needed only to hum the tone to transpose it into a different octave.  Now he differentiates masculine or feminine voices ("it was said this way, but lower") and compares the pitches of car horns to his singing voice ("it was a G, but lower").  He also felt the "brightness" differences between the individual octaves.  It seems probable that he also associated the tones with color concepts, as he occasionally described F as blue and C as red.  He never spoke of colors except with C and F; I have speculated that he favored C and F, as they were components of his earlier favorite pieces (Beethoven's variations and Brahms Intermezzo in B-minor), and red and blue are his favorite colors, and so the color associations were naturally made.  Moreover, I can easily imagine that anyone could perceive the Beethoven variations as "red" and the Brahms intermezzo as "blue".  In any case, with this development of his ear, he became very interested in piano sounds.  He acquainted himself with the keys under very little guidance, counted the number of C's and F's, wanted to play "Little Children" with a finger, and soon tried to transpose it into a different key.  Within a short time he was quite competent in all areas of the keyboard.

There is still a third way in which A.R.'s sound consciousness had expanded in this time of external rest.  At four years, six months, he could distinguish three tones, if one better than the other.  Soon he had given these tones distinct personalities.  F major was the problem-free child, E-flat major the friendly and distinguished mother, D-major the more stern father, and C-sharp major an eccentric musical friend of the family who can only be characterized by this unusual sound.  He asked for help playing triads, and with his little fingers he combined the designated tones and attempted to strike them energetically.  In a short time, he attained an awareness that allowed him to translate the violin tones to the piano keyboard.  When a well-known trio of Beethoven's was being played, and A.R. was told that it was Beethoven, he answered simply, "No, that is D-major."

Directly after this leap forward in his absolute listening ability, A.R. approached four and three-quarters years of age, which one may call "the first puberty".  The physical development followed the intellectual, and the child becomes a young lad with boyish habits.  His vocal range extended greatly upward.  After overcoming his illness, he wanted to become a greater part of the family circle, and he already had a special world around himself.  Doors and windows had their own names; with his sharp hearing he would test, judge, investigate, and name everything that surrounds him after the sound it made.  Thus he refers to a G-major-car and a G-bell, his baby sister cries C and a bee hums B, and a house where the daughter sings becomes "A-flat."  For him, the world is full of sounds.

The moment finally came to introduce little A.R. to systematic development of his musical inclination.  His success showed that it was not premature to begin his first piano instruction at five years old.  Because the mother herself possessed the ability to teach him, she could guide him with highly individualized training.  At the beginning, ten minutes daily sufficed.  Everything was played from memory and by ear.  Today, half a year later, our five-and-a-half year old plays several lengthy children's songs with both hands, such as "Cuckoo, Cuckoo" or "The Mayfly" from the Humperdinck book of children's songs all in their original keys (only one chord, for technical reasons, had to be transposed); a Bach minuet in G-major, a Ländler piece in B and a Schubert waltz in D-major [4], and the major scales of C, G, D, A, E, and F (played with two hands).  Once he became acquainted with the notes, he could begin playing with any of them.

The successes of the beginning instruction are essentially based on his excellent musical memory, that is, his memory for the single sounds ("tone bodies") as well as melodies and harmonies ("tone shapes").  Hearing and pitch memory does not work mechanically, however; it is a conscious application.  He hears with his intellect.  Thus, in the evening, he recalls precisely what he played that morning ("with the right hand C-E, D-B, C; with the left hand C-G, F-G, C-E").  His ear already recognizes the "tone shape" and can analyze it intellectually.  One especially interesting observation was that, once he was shown the D-major scales (C-major and G-major were already familiar), he figured it out himself.  After a preliminary question of "Then is D the C?", he assumed an expression of intense concentration; then, very slowly but without stopping, he played the D-major scale.  He stressed C# particularly strongly in order to emphasize it meaningfully.  He therefore recognizes the scale as a unit of specific tone sequences, where in certain places step variations occur.  He does not feel these things with unconscious instinct, but consciously recognizes it and applies that knowledge.  Without this rational mental activity, judgments such as this would be impossible:  "If the factory whistle whistles in C, and I change it to B, then if it whistled B, that would become an A," or on an old, detuned piano, "This C is actually a B," or even "The D in [Schubert's D-major] waltz is C in C-major, and a normal B is a C# in D-major."  All these statements are strictly logical.  They show how the ear perceptions are received and judged; for A.R., the ear is an organ of the intellect.

His sense of small variations in tuning also increased during his fifth year.  Repeatedly, he would correct sounds on string instruments; he would say "The C was impure," followed by "the E and the F-sharp, also."  With his grandfather (who also has absolute pitch), he plays a matching game with two tuning forks whose pitches do not exactly agree.  Here are a few more observations among the many we could mention-- he hears a cricket chirp on the walk and comments "that is not actually a pitch, but only whistling; it is like a C-sharp, but there is no such pitch as that on the piano," and then he tells his mother at home about the "cricket noise". 

He must determine what sounds he hears.  The urgent activity of the ear is insatiable.  Bells, cars, motors, humming bees, ventilators, vacuum cleaners, everything is subordinate to his judgment.  When a vacuum cleaner was brought into the house, he placed himself beside it on the ground and hummed the two sounds he could most prominently hear (motor and container resonance)-- "the ventilator is B-flat, now B, now it's somewhere in the middle."  When a car drives past him, he says "that is a B", and when it honks he says "now it is an A."  He also notices the difference in pitch as a result of its movement.  When two children laugh on the street, he will say "one has E, the other F."  He travels on the "G-sharp train" or, for the return journey, the "G-train."  He knows the four doorbells in his house; he knows the pitch of each and names them immediately as he hears them.  He makes value judgments of the sounds; ugly sounds do not please him, and he makes visual judgments based on the sounds he hears.  He has no interest in a pendulum clock because its strike is "old and tinny."  Between two pocketwatches, he selects the one based on the following criteria:  "This clock is more beautiful; the other one only ticks, but this also produces a sound," because opening its cover makes a springing noise.  Finally, he made the following curious judgment:  "the motorcycle went by so quickly that it made a B."  Does he perhaps perceive the B as a reference tone and is drawn toward the C?  A whole series of psychological processes prefaces this judgment.

A.R. now has complete security in his absolute hearing.  If he makes a mistake, it is carelessness, and if he pays attention to the problem it immediately improves.  He very easily recognizes seconds (C-D, F-G) and dissonant semitones (B-flat and B, C and C-sharp), which he names without any delay.  He is not as good at naming harmonious sounds; sometimes he must sing the tones to be certain.  He is aware of the tangle of overtones and undertones and can be confused by them ("I hear G... and something else too").  It is psychologically interesting that the mistakes he makes with seconds usually lies between the tones he hears.  Because he knows that F-A is a third, he has also called E#-G a third, without realizing that E# is simply F.  Whether the unconscious development of this association can be explained psychologically, physically, or physiologically, is beyond my ability to say.

I conclude this first part of the work by mentioning that little A.R. can flawlessly identify the pitches in organ playing, string quartet, and in multi-part singing with instrumental accompaniment (e.g Brückners Tantum ergo in D-major).  I was, unfortunately, not able to verify whether the singers in the a capella choir, singing an F-major song, had sharpened to F#-major by the end.  Tempo, key signature, and melody seemed to be identical, but A.R. could not be swayed from his insistence that the choir had finished in F#-major and not F [5].

II.  Total structure of the developing personality

Absolute pitch is a special aptitude.  Because any investigation of a special aptitude requires attention to the connection between aptitude and the personality within which it rests, it is necessary to draw a picture of the developing personality of our little A.R.  Only the unitas personae may explain the riddles of all noticeable characteristics and abilities.  What we may examine are the effects of education and environment, external and internal factors, and influences of outside development.  All these stand in implicit connection with the developing personality, and can each be identified and appreciated.

At the conclusion of this writing, A.R. was five and a half years old.  His personality is still yet at the beginning of its development; nevertheless, his individuality appears in many aspects.

A.R. is physically healthy and well-developed.  He provides the impression of being happy and well-cared-for.  He is attractive, with a long face and strongly arched head.  Apart from the violent whooping cough suffered at age 4, he has been spared any serious illness, including rickets.  Biologically, he has a favorable history; his father and mother both come from strong, healthy families, in which hereditary diseases are not generally present.

The family environment, in which A.R. is the oldest child, guarantees the best care, good education, and encouragement of all his intellectual inclinations without overlooking the necessity of physical training.  The house fosters an intellectual atmosphere with warm enthusiasm for music.  The parents express pure joy in music.

The father, a school administrator, obviously does not earn his livelihood from music.  However, throughout his life he has held dear an outspoken interest in the literature and philosophy of music.  He loves music with an unusual tenderness.  For him, music is not a pastime or pleasure, but rather a revelation of the divine within a person, a holy voice speaking across eternity.  This penetrating view of music may be largely a paternal inheritance; his grandfather was also passionately devoted to music, although a strong aptitude for visual arts drew him in another direction.  The internal expression of music certainly relates reciprocally with his understanding of the beauty of sound and his ability to hear the purity and beauty of musical compositions.

While the father encourages and enthuses more, the mother is the musical heart of the family.  In her early years, her family pressured her into musical training; later she received multiyear conservatory education in music.  Although she adored violin, she was not allowed to learn it as a child, and she took to the piano and cello with zeal.  She found quartet playing delightful because she possessed a strong relative ear and good memory for melody.  As a child, she effortlessly sang songs and arias from memory in various parts and harmonies.  As a result of her education and apprenticed skill, little A.R. could have no better music instructor than his own mother  Without pressure or overwork, his abilities can benefit properly from her guidance.  It is an excellent testimony for the apprenticeship approach that the little piano player perceives it a terrible punishment if the mother must withhold the piano lesson, for he loves music and would gladly play for the entire lesson, even without the vigorous enthusiasm of the father.  The musical environment has a strong effect on this boy.

Also, both grandfathers were very close to music.  On the father's side, it was more occupation than familial pressure; nevertheless, it is on this side that the grandfather possesses absolute pitch (on the basis of being able to name tones) as a result of daily organ games [6].

On the mother's side, the grandfather's original love of music was significant.  She did not prefer violin playing because of strenuous activity at the violin, but because of his predeliction for good instruments and his generous attention to the continued musical education of his daughter.

Comprehensively, it can be said that A.R's family background offered favorable conditions for his musical education.  Additionally, we must add that the boy's character promises gifted advancement.

A Binet-Simon intelligence test showed an advantage of one and a half years.  This is not necessarily indicative of unusual intelligence, but can be attributed to the family environment.  However, the boy is currently advanced beyond his contemporaries, and an intellectual increase could yet be easily induced.  A favorable further development promises the ability of concentrated thinking.  If the boy focuses, his output is astonishing.  His vocabulary and ability to express himself are unusual.  Concrete modes of expression and word formation are not unexpected at this age, but he creates new idioms daily, almost hourly.   Concept and fantasy intertwine in a lively manner; he may speak of a thistle as a "stinging house", or a dandelion as a "snow hat".  A light bulb becomes a "light boiler", and a radio an "air telephone".  A spiral staircase could be referred to as a "folding stair", and barbed wire "untouchable wire".  He also has command of abstract terms; if he has forgotten what he wanted to say, he will say that it "seeped away"; if he puts a stick into the water, it will "seem other."  When he opens an umbrella, he says "now I make a star," and closing it, "Now it is lame again!"  He has also said "my night ears are bad, and I don't hear anything, but my day ears hear wonderfully."  These few examples should be sufficient to show the flexibility of the boy's expressiveness.

His musical memory is remarkable.  He recognizes melodies and harmonies and can name the individual notes at any time.  The strongly intellectual bent of his musical memory is evident in yet another manner--  although he rapidly learns verses, he cares little about the wording, and persistently makes unusual word substitutions even when this can turn the entire song into nonsense.  He has proven that he can learn lyrics when it is important, but generally he does not have the ambition to burden himself with the words.

In linguistic activity, however, the rational trumps the musical.  That is, if the sound of the verses were irrevocably impressed upon the ear then nothing would change it; but we heard him sing a new melody over a well-known text.  The alteration is intended, consciously and voluntarily.  The active attention is noticeable in both cases.

I believe the important trait is a predeliction or logical word position and sentence formation.  A.R. loves those things which are orderly and exact ("Mommy, the rooster is beautiful; it rises at 4 o'clock and sleeps again at 4 o'clock; that twice 4 o'clock is wonderful."  This is a typical example of his attitude).  One may rely on the fact that he puts all things into their correct places, organizing them exactly straight next to each other.  In the same way he places the words by their sense, not by their sound.  A certain pedantry may lie within this habit, but the positive trait is of great value.  Love of order and accuracy are as characteristic as reliability and a feeling of duty.  He follows orders conscientiously; one may depend on him.  His personal cleanliness, care, and attentiveness is not always present, as a certain measure of independence and stubbornness, but his overall compliance and readiness, his insight and indulgence under reasonable circumstances, all originate from the same basis and are firmly embodied in his inner nature.

In spite of this conservative trait, A.R. is a mobile, spirited lad with a luxurious imagination, living heart and delicate soul; he is a bright child in thought, play, and soul.

As I have already emphasized, music is not the main focus of his interest.  His passion belongs to machines and trains.  Since his second year he has adored the steam engine.  He refers to everything as steam or electric.  He "goes to bed electrically" and thinks of little else but railroads, trains, and electric current.  His curiosity for these things is insatiable.

From this fog of steam and electricity another interest appeared, island-like, only to disappear again.  At three years old, he was eagerly interested in flowers, plants, and mushrooms, because of an old illustrated botany book which he inadvertently acquired.  In a short time, he became acquainted with approximately 120 botanical names, a respectable achievement for his age.  He retained the names in memory without difficulty.  Usually it sufficed for him to hear the names once, similar to the sounds on the piano.  He would bring the book with him everywhere each day, naming the flowers therein, and was satisfied with a couple new names each day.  His botanical study was part of his daily activity, and he was disappointed if he was denied it.  In his fifth year, his interest in construction reached its high point with toy blocks-- but here, his independent invention superceded his reproduction, as with the singing.  He preferred self-invented or arbitrarily changed melodies to well-known and learned tunes.  Productivity thus joins with play as characteristic of his mental attitude, standing equal to each other in his productive capacities.

Even if his principal interest is in childlike play and not music, he always feels musicality as close to himself and would rue its absence.  His good ear forms a solid connection to the world of sounds and noises and its disconnection would have a strong repercussion on his psychic state.  He is unusually sound-sensitive.  He listens gladly to beautiful sounds, while mistuned sounds disturb and torment him; harsh voices and "ugly sounds" will make him hold his ears and run away.  He is not generally fearful, but rather courageous, but the evening bells make him anxious "because it always says something."

Serious reprimand, blame, and insults are so unpleasant for him that he will not listen or will chastise himself.  Physical punishment is not as painful to him as a strong word.  A great intensity of internal sympathy is generated by his sensitive ear, and if he receives a communication of strange sorrow and misfortune he will cry violently and will not eat.  He is brave and courageous in the face of a known situation, or careful and reserved when facing the unknown, and when someone criticizes he withdraws and makes his points mindfully.  What other children easily accept or dismiss is heavy and problematic for him.

So the profile of A.R. already shows a strong individualized stamp that demonstrates prudent leadership in his development and education.

III.  Experimental ear test

To supplement the previous observations with a scientific base, an expanded test of A.R.'s absolute hearing ability is essential.  At the time of the test he was exactly five and a half years old.  The test was conducted without special preparation or practice, so that the idea of his being specially coached for the test would be dismissed from the start.  Rather, the opposite is the case; for at least six weeks before the systematic testing he played with no musical instruments.  If he, of his own inclination, occasionally identified the pitches of bells or car horns, it was not part of an intentional drill or deliberate training.  Accordingly, the results of the experimental test are to be looked at as spontaneous, and its answers provided through the child's natural abilities.  They document how deeply and securely the absolute pitch consciousness is rooted.

All trials were conducted in within a week.  The boy was not aware that he was being tested; he was simply asked to listen and hear, so that the attention he gave to the test was not more than his ordinary effort.

In the first trial, he identified single tones played on a grand piano.  I played a total of 70 tones, 10 within each octave.  The intervals of 10 successive sounds each exceeded an octave, but this did not create a problem, as he preferred especially difficult leaps.  The result was flawless, with each tone correctly identified.  The answers were provided so quickly that the entire trial was concluded in a few minute.  Usually they were provided directly, spontaneously, without any reflection.  Only in three attempts did he hesitate-- twice in the lowest octave and once in the highest-- but after an initial hesitation they were correctly identified.  The first trial therefore appears to demonstrate that A.R.'s absolute listening is not restricted to the common middle-octave sounds, but rather all pitches along the entire musical spectrum.

The second trial was a continuation of the first, under new constraints.  While all the single tones remained in the diatonic system, unusual intervals were selected during the single-tone trials (such as diminished or augmented).  For the second trial, more harmonious intervals were selected and grouped into seven series of ten tones each.  These extended up and down the chromatic scale.  Yet all tones were correctly identified, without exception, with the same swiftness as the previous trial.  This trial shows that A.R.'s listening ability can operate in tonal and atonal conditions with great certainty, and can correctly interpret and name successive semitones.

The next trial used unusually large intervals.  The interval between each two successive sounds exceeded an octave; sometimes two, three, or five octaves.  I selected chromatic scale, diminished, and augmented intervals, such as B0 to B2 or F#3 to F0.  Of twenty tones, nineteen were recognized with absolute certainty; only Bb0 was designated as B0 and not corrected in spite of repeated attempts.  This is not necessarily a hearing error, however, because the Bb0 tone on the piano actually seems to be somewhat detuned, so that it closely resembles the B0.  This provides additional proof that A.R's absolute hearing extends even into the lowest musical regions, because A and B were repeatedly identified correctly when they were presented with a strong attack, and he did not even need to sing them to determine their pitch.  Only in some cases did he need to sing back any of the tons.  Usually, he correctly grasped the pitches without repeating them in the middle octave, showing that his internal representation of pitch is unaffected by the octave.  This fact also shows how the absolute judgment relates to the quality of the sound [7] from its position within the chromatic scale, and not on the basis of the overall sound height.  This psychological determination of the nature of A.R.'s absolute listening was further confirmed in the following trial.

Ten tones were played on each of three different string instruments-- violin, viola, and cello.  A.R had the task of playing the same tones at the grand piano, without actually speaking the names of the tones.  Between receiving the tone from the string instrument and the active reproduction of that tone on another instrument lie an entire series of psychological processes, including perception of the sound, apperceptive knowledge of the pitch, and simultaneous abstraction of the instrument's timbre into a certain sound region (octave), and the association of the tone's contents with the tones in active consciousness, so that the striking of a certain key will surely reproduce the sound imagined in his mind.  This quantity of psychological processes gave the boy no difficulties; rather, he was so confident of his ability that he would repeatedly retract his finger from the key corresponding to the string tone and strike the same tone in a different octave without error or hesitation.  Although this complicated the experiment, this voluntary octave transposition suggests additional confirmation of my previous statement, which is that A.R. recognizes pitches based on their sound quality rather than their absolute height.  This trial also shows another aspect of the ability, which is that the ability is independent of instrument timbre and presentation.  Fully musical tones are as easily recognized as truncated or harsh sounds.  There is no doubt that the boy can make absolute pitch judgments of orchestral sounds, but he can also recognize bells, car horns, steam pipes, ventilators, wine glasses, room clocks, etc. with his attentive ear.

The abstraction of timbre from the absolute pitch judgment does not mean that A.R. is not cognizant of complex sounds.  This fact was flawlessly assessed through the fifth trial.  Ten different major and minor triads were played in different octaves, with no favor shown to any particular root tone.  Quickly, spontaneously, and effortlessly, A.R. distinguished between major and minor.  The determination of root as well as structure doubtless occurred from a total impression, from which the components of the chord are inferred.  It requires a memory of the chordal sound to be able to recognize the features of root and structure; without these, the complex sounds dissolve into single and unrelated components.  Afterward, I let A.R. play triads on the grand piano, and after a series of corrections in the single components of the triads, he succeeded in reproducing the chord sounds which were present in his memory.

There are two questions which present themselves.  One is, can A.R. recognize the pitches of tones when other confusing tones are played simultaneously?  The (somewhat obvious) answer was achieved through a series of successful trials; the absolute ear of A.R. can recognize an unlimited number of tones in spite of consonant or dissonant sounds being added in.

The second question is more significant:  to what extent is A.R. able to analyze seconds and thirds?  I began to test him with pertinent intervals, from seconds through sevenths, leaving the root tone unchanged while varying the upper tone.  He very easily recognized the seconds and thirds, but the remaining intervals required increased attention and effort.  I tried again, this time varying both top and bottom tones, and in this trial he succeeded only through increased attention and greater repetition; sometimes the intervals had to be struck loudly two or three times.  It was notable that in both attempts the bottom tone was first recognized in the third and fourth, but the higher tone came first for fifths, sixths, and sevenths.

In order to further test his efficiency of analysis, I played dissonant triads which Geza Revesz describes as a "test of musicality", such as F#-C-D, C#-F-G, B-C#-F, and E-F-A.  In each case he recognized and identified all three components.  If one takes into consideration the fact that the boy was never coached to analyze consonant triads, it is all the more remarkable that he is so able to analyze dissonant chords.

Undoubtedly, A.R.'s ear is able to interpret and deconstruct the most difficult complex sounds into its single components.

General view

The absolute ear of five-and-a-half year old A.R. shows unusual development.  At the very least, it provides extraordinarily favorable prerequisites for musical activity of any type.

The full musical effects achieved by this outstanding ability is beyond the scope of this work, and musical training and education is necessary if this precious gift is to be properly nurtured.

[1] Vgl. dazu K. Marbe, Über Persönlichkeit, Einstellung, Suggestion und Hypnose. Zsch. f. d. ges. Neurol. und Psychiatrie. Bd. 94. 1924. (Festschrift für Robert Sommer.) S. 359 ff.-- Derselbe, Über Einstellung und Umstellung. (Nach einem auf dem Psychologenkongreß München 1925 gehaltenen Vortrag.) Zsch. f. angew. Psychol. Bd. 26. 1926. S. 43 ff.-- Derselbe, Der Psycholog als Gerichtsgutachter im Straf- und Zivilprozeß. Stuttgart. 1926. (Kap. 8: Gutachten in einem Mordprozeß. Gnadengesuch.) S. 68 ff.-- L. Sell, Persönlichkeitsbeschreibung eines normalen zwölfjährigen Knaben. (Ein Beitrag zur wissenschaftlichen Persönlichkeitsforschung.) Zsch. f. angew. Psychol. Bd. 29. 1928. S. 463 ff.-- M. Schorn, Zur Psychologie des frühbegabten Kindes. Zsch. f. Psychol. Bd. 105. 1928. S. 302 ff.

[2] H. König, Zur experimentellen Untersuchung der Musikalität. Würzburger Dissertation 1925.-- Derselbe, Über das musikalische Gedächtnis.
Zsch. f. Psychol. Bd. 108. 1928. S. 195 ff.

[3] C. Stumpf, Akustische Versuche mit Pepito Arriola. Zsch. f. angew. Psychol. Bd. 2. 1909. S. 1 ff.

[4] Entnommen aus: Frida Löwenstein, Der erste Klavierunterricht. Hrsg. von F. Vieweg, Berlin-Lichterfelde.

[5] In der Zwischenzeit habe ich durch eine Mittelsperson von dem Kapellmeister erfahren, daß der Chor tatsächlich um einen halben Ton gestiegen war.

[6] Vgl. hierzu G. Revesz , Prüfung der Musikalität. Zsch. f. Psychol. Bd. 85. 1920. S. 179 ff.

[7] 1) Vgl. G. Revesz, Prüfung der Musikalität. Zsch. f. Psychol. Bd. 85. 1920. S. 179 ff.

[8] G. Revesz, a. a. O.