Acoustic Learning, Inc.
Absolute Pitch research, ear training and more

Absolute Pitch Bibliography, 1876–1999

Please note that all English translations are the exclusive copyright of Acoustic Learning Inc and are not in the public domain.


Ellis, A.J.  (1876).  On the sensitivities of the ear to pitch and change of pitch in music Royal Musical Association Proceedings, 3, 1-32.

A product of its time which asks the question, "how well can people discriminate tones and intervals?"  There's a story at its conclusion which gives anecdotal support to current research:  the case of two tuning forks, which are tuned to the same pitch, but one of which is of slightly thinner metal.  That fork produced a slightly "sharper" sound, even though it was the same pitch, and people hearing both forks would judge it to be the higher.  Yet people with absolute pitch were not so fooled.  Anecdotally, this seems to support the idea that there are infinite variations of "height" for any given pitch, as well as the observation that absolute listeners attend to the fundamental frequency.


Von Kries, J.  (1892).  Über das absolute Gehör Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 3, 257-79.
Von Kries, J.  (1892).  About absolute hearing Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 3, 257-79.  Translated by Aruffo, C.


Naubert, A.  (1898).  Das Tonbewußtsein, seine Entwicklung und seine Pflege.  Der Klavierlehrer, 21, 117-8, 129-31. [I]


Jadassohn, S.  A Practical Course in Ear Training or A Guide for Acquiring Relative and Absolute Pitch.  (2nd edition, Campbell, L.R.B., ed. and trans.)  Leipzig: Breitkopf and Härtel.  (Translation published 1905)

A simple ear training method based on intervals and chords.  The author suggests that the origins of absolute pitch were in early childhood, when "impressions... are stronger and more lasting than those formed at any time of life," but that it could be learned in adulthood by memorizing one "fundamental" tone and relating all other tones to it.

Meyer, M.  (1899).  Is the memory of absolute pitch capable of development by training?  Psychological Review, 6, 514-516.


Abraham, O.  (1901).  Das absolute tonbewußtseinSammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, 3, 1-86.
Abraham, O.  (1901).  Absolute tone consciousness.  Translated by Aruffo, C.
Whipple, G.M.  (1901).  An analytic study of the memory image and the process of judgment in the discrimination of clangs and tonesAmerican Journal of Psychology, 12, 410-57.

This, combined with its 1902 conclusion, is the prequel to "Studies in pitch discrimination."  In this article, Whipple "...endeavored to present an exhaustive analytical investigation... of the mental processes involved in the discrimination of simple tones and clangs as conditioned by time-interval and by the mental constitution of the observer."


Whipple, G.M.  (1902).  An analytic study of the memory image and the process of judgment in the discrimination of clangs and tones (concluded).  American Journal of Psychology, 13, 219-68.

See above.


Whipple, G.M.  (1903).  Studies in pitch discriminationAmerican Journal of Psychology, 14, 289-309.


Auerbach, F.  (1906).  Das absolute Tonbewußtsein und die MusikSammelbände des Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, 8, 105-12.
Auerbach, F.  (1906).  Absolute tone consciousness and musicSammelbände des Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, 8, 105-12.  Translated by Aruffo, C.


Abraham, O.  (1907).  Das absolute Tonbewußtsein und die MusikSammelbände des Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, 8, 486-91.
Abraham, O.  (1907).  Absolute tone consciousness and musicSammelbände des Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, 8, 486-91.  Translated by Aruffo, C.
Boggs, L.P.  (1907).  Studies in absolute pitchAmerican Journal of Psychology, 18, 194-205.


Altmann, G.  (1908).  Das absolut GehörNeue Musik-Zeitung, 29, 493-94.
Liebscher, A.  (1908).  Zur Diskussion über das Thema "Absolutes Gehör"Neue Musik-Zeitung, 29, 494-5.
Müller, F.  (1908).  Das absolut GehörNeue Musik-Zeitung, 30, 57-8.
Reimann, L.  (1908).  Das absolut Gehör. Neue Musik-Zeitung, 29, 515-6.
Urbach, O.  (1908).  Das absolut GehörNeue Musik-Zeitung, 29, 425-8.
Urbach, O.  (1908).  Schlußwort zum "Absoluten Gehör". Neue Musik-Zeitung, 30, 58-9.


Wilson, C.W.  (1911).  The gift of absolute pitchMusical Opinion & Music Trade Review, 34, 753-4.

A non-scientific article by an author who has absolute pitch and thinks that no one else can learn it.  He illustrates the exact same situations that will be echoed in future decades:  absolute pitch is convenient as a pitch pipe, it makes transposition difficult, and hearing something out of tune is irritating.  He does describe one unusual example, in which he and a friend (also with absolute pitch) heard a piano which seemed to be playing in the key of G, but which they felt was an out-of-tune Ab.


Riemann, H.  (1912).  Tonhöhenbewußtsein und IntervallurteilZeitschrift Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, 13, 269-72.
Riemann, H.  (1912).  Tone consciousness and interval judgmentZeitschrift Internationalen Musikgesellschaft, 13, 269-72.  Translated by Aruffo, C.

I found this short article very difficult to translate-- and the translation may yet be highly inaccurate-- because the author has completely misunderstood Révész's description of "Quality" and "Height", and therefore his arguments seem to me to be complete nonsense.


Révész, G(1913).  Über die beiden Arten des absoluten GehörsZeitschrift International Musikgesellschaft, 14, 130-7.
Révész, G(1913).  About the two kinds of absolute hearingZeitschrift International Musikgesellschaft, 14, 130-7.  Translated by Aruffo, C.


Smith, F.O.  (1914).  The effect of training in pitch discrimination Psychological Monographs, 16(3), (Whole No. 69), 67-103.


Köhler, W.  (1915).  Akustische Untersuchungen III.  Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 72, 1-192.


Copp, E.F.  (1916).  Musical abilityJournal of Heredity, 7, 297-305.

From her experience in teaching small children, Copp argues that musical ability is not a genetic gift, but that it can be developed in any child through proper training.

Kramer, A.W.  (1916).  To teach absolute pitch by color sense.  Musical America, 25(1), 19.

A fellow named Maryon developed a method of learning absolute pitch by association with colors.  Kramer's article is a non-scientific essay-- practically an advertisement-- in which the author claims that because the "great English chemist" Sir William Crookes has scientifically demonstrated that auditory tone and visual color were actually the same thing, association of color and pitch will naturally lead to absolute pitch.


Baird, J.W.  (1917).  Memory for absolute pitch.  In Studies in Psychology, Titchner commemorative volume. Wilson: Worcester, 43-78.
Cameron, E.H.  (1917).  Effects of practice in the discrimination and singing of tones Psychological Monographs, 23(3) (Whole #100), 159-180.
Perfield, E.E.  (1917).  Absolute pitchThe Musician, 22, 413.

A music teacher expresses her anger at the existence of absolute pitch.


Rich, G.J.  (1919).  A study of tonal attributesAmerican Journal of Psychology, 30, 121-64.


Bacon, E.G.  (1920).  The effects of practice judgments of absolute pitch.  Doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, New York.
Kobelt, J.  (1920).  Das Dauergednächtis für absoluten TonhöhenArchiv für Musikwissenschaft, 2, 144-74.
Seashore, C.E.  (1920).  The inheritance of musical talentThe Musical Quarterly, 6, 586-98.


Gough, E.  (1922).  The effects of practice on judgments of absolute pitchArchives of Psychology, 7(47), 1-93.  (Link to scan)


Mal'tseva, E.A.  (1925).  Absoliutnyi slukh i metody evo razvitiia (absolute pitch and the methods of its development).  In:  Sbornik rabot, Gosudarstvennyi institut muzykal'noi nauki, Fiziologopsikhologicheskaia sektsia, Moskva, 33-55.

Maltzew, C.  (1925).  Absolutes Tonbewußtsein und die Methoden seiner Entwicklung.  Moskau 1925 (Russ. Sbornik Gimu, Nr. 1.)

Mull, H.K.  (1925).  The acquisition of absolute pitchAmerican Journal of Psychology, 36, 469-93.
Bartholomew, W.  (1925).  A study of absolute pitch ability.  MA thesis, George Washington University.


Harris, C.A.  (1926).  Can I develop absolute pitch?  The Etude, 44, 721-2.

The author suggests that absolute pitch can be developed by memorizing tones' physical positions on the piano keyboard.


Wellek, A.  (1927).  Das absolute Gehör und der Charakter der Töne und Tonarten Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft, 8, 267-70.
Wellek, A.  (1927).  Absolute hearing and the character of tones and keysZeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft, 8, 267-70.  Translated by Aruffo, C.

Wellek, A.  (1927).  Drei Typen des Absoluten Gehörs.  Monatsblätten des Anbruchs, 10.


Maltzew, C.v.  (1928).  Das absolute Tonbewußtsein Psychotechnische Zeitschrift, 3, 108-11.
Maltzew, C.v.  (1928).  Absolute tone consciousness Psychotechnische Zeitschrift, 3, 108-11.  Translated by Aruffo, C.
Triepel, H.  (1928).  Falsche Beurteilung Gehörter TöneArchiv für die Gesamte Psychologie, 66, 497-500.
Triepel, H.  (1928).  Incorrect judgment of perceived tonesArchiv für die Gesamte Psychologie, 66, 497-500.  Translated by Aruffo, C.
Truman, S.R. and Wever, E.G.  (1928).  The judgment of pitch as a function of the seriesUniversity of California Publications in Psychology, 3, 215-23.

These authors were mainly interested in the question, can pitch be judged absolutely?  Their premise was that, if a person was unable to hold a relative standard in memory, then they would have to start making absolute judgments as a matter of course.  Their conclusion?  Yes, pitch can be judged absolutely.

Ward, W.E.  (1928).  Absolute pitchMusical Times, 69(1025), 642.
Wever, E.G. and Zener, K.E.  (1928).  The method of absolute judgment in psychophysicsPsychological Review, 35, 466-93.


Gebhardt, M.  (1929).  Beitrag zur Eforschung des absoluten Gehörs im vorschulpflichtigen KindesalterArchiv für die Gesamte Psychologie, 68, 273-94.
Gebhardt, M.  (1929).  The contribution of absolute pitch research to compulsory preschool training Archiv für die Gesamte Psychologie, 68, 273-94.  (Translated by Aruffo, C.)
Hein, H.  (1929).  Über dei Möglichkeit eines allgemeinen latenten absoluten Tonbewußtsein Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft, 14, 414-9.
Ruckmick, C.A.  (1929).  A new classification of tonal qualitiesPsychological Review, 36, 172-80.
Weinert, L.  Unterschungen Über das absolute GehörArchiv für die Gesamte Psychologie, 73, 1-128.
Weinert, L.  Analysis of absolute pitchArchiv für die Gesamte Psychologie, 73, 1-128.  (Gisted translation.)
Wellek, A.  (1929).  Das Farbenhören im Lichte der vergleichenden Musikwissenschaft Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft, 11, 470-97.
Willgoose, F.L.  (1929).  Absolutely pitch and its attainment.  The Etude, 47, 144.

The author suggests that absolute pitch can be learned by first memorizing one tone and then attending to sounds in your environment, such as a clock tower, car horn, or mosquito buzz.  (No, that's not a typo-- the article is titled "absolutely pitch.") 


Chiloff, C.L.  (1930).  Des éléments de l'ouie absolueActa Oto-laryngologica, 14, 382-92.
Chiloff, C.L.  (1930).  The elements of absolute pitchActa Oto-laryngologica, 14, 382-92.  Translated by Aruffo, C.
Pratt, C.C.  (1930).  The spatial character of high and low tonesJournal of Experimental Psychology, 13, 278-85.

The authors asked their subjects to listen to tones and decide where those tones would be spatially located.  The subjects consistently identified "high" and "low" tones as high or low on the imaginary ruler provided, so the authors concluded that tones are perceived as having a spatial character.  However, as Dimmick (1934) would later demonstrate, this characteristic is not actually associated with physical space but with an arbitrary spectrum which can be mapped, analogously, to spatial representation.

Slonimsky, N.  (1930).  Absolute pitchThe American Mercury, 21, 244-7.

A non-scientific article which says the same things that articles today would say:  absolute listeners can recognize pitches; they don't like out-of-tune songs; they have difficulty transposing.

Wellek, A.  (1930).  Zur Typologie des Gehörs und des Musikerlebens überhaupt: neuestes über das absolute Gehör Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft, 13, 21-8.
Wellek, A.  (1930).  The typology of hearing and general musical experience: the latest on absolute pitch Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft, 13, 21-8.  Translated by Aruffo, C.


Petran, L.A.  (1932).  An experimental study of pitch recognition Psychological Monographs, 6, 1-124.

A thorough review of the existing literature of absolute pitch, plus a couple of experiments (one on hearing tones, one on production of tones).


Cheslock, L.  (1934).  Some notes on perfect pitchThe American Mercury, 31, 459-60.

A non-scientific article similar in style and content to Slonimsky's from 1930-- but more strongly emphasizing the non-musical nature of absolute pitch.

Dimmick, F.L. and Gaylord, E.  (1934).  The dependence of auditory localization on pitchJournal of Experimental Psychology, 17, 593-9.

The experimenters played "high" and "low" tones for their subjects, at high and low positions in a room, by using speakers that moved on noiseless pulleys.  They found that the subjects were indifferent to the vertical position of the tones, and thus did not consistently judge "high" tones to be physically "high" or "low" tones to be physically "low".  This experiment contradicts the hypothesis that tones are spatially "high" or "low", and strongly supports the notion that "high" and "low" are entirely arbitrary orientations.

Ekdahl, A.G. and Boring, E.G.  (1934).  The pitch of tonal masses American Journal of Psychology, 46, 452-5.

The authors played multitonal clusters to their subjects and observed that the subjects were confidently able to assign a single pitch value to the sound, even though the cluster was nonetheless perceived as a cluster and not a single tone.  The pitch value assigned was approximately the mean of the frequencies of all the tones being played.

Kelly, E.L.  (1934).  An experimental attempt to produce artificial chromesthesia by the technique of the conditioned responseJournal of Experimental Psychology, 17, 315-41.

The author attempted to teach subjects to associate colors and tones by playing tones and showing colors to passive observers.  At the conclusion of the experiment, "there was simply no observable evidence of any kind that the subjects had engaged in the experiment for the past seven weeks... Without question, the results turned out negative.  They are so distinctly so that the writer has no hesitancy in concluding that it is impossible to produce chromesthesis in normally non-synaesthetic adults by the technique of the conditioned response."  I would add that this is a methodical issue, and restate his conclusion by saying that trying to teach note-naming by color association is an entirely ineffective procedure.  (This, of course, has not stopped people from trying.)

Stevens, S.S.  (1934).  Tonal densityJournal of Experimental Psychology, 17, 585-92.

The author wants to show that "density" is a separate, recognizable aspect of tonal sound.  You can imagine what he's talking about if you think of a low piano tone and its loose, wide quality, versus a high piano tone with its tight, narrow feeling.  He spends eight pages describing his subjects' ability to perceive this "density" attribute-- verifying, in his view, that the attribute does exist-- but he doesn't know what the significance of this attribute might be.

Stevens, S.S.  (1934).  The attributes of tonesProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 20, 457-9.

The author claims that tones possess the attributes of "pitch, loudness, volume, and density," each of which he explores in his other papers from this same year.  In this particular paper, he observers that the apparent pitch of a tone will shift when its intensity is increased-- low tones get lower and high tones get higher-- and through experimentation determined that "the frequency at which pitch remains constant for all values of energy was found to lie between 3100 and 3300 cycles [musically, F7-G7]... It is significant that in this range of frequencies the sensitivity of the ear is maximal.  In other words, the pitch of a tone is shifted away from the region of greatest sensitivity when the intensity of the tone is increased and toward the the region of greatest sensitivity when the intensity is decreased."

Stevens, S.S.  (1934).  Are tones spatialAmerican Journal of Psychology, 46, 145-7.

The author wondered if tones would be perceived as "larger" or "smaller" based on their apparent "volume".  By all reports, they weren't.  The author suggests from his observations that tones do not represent spatial figures.

Turner, W.D. and DeSilva, H.R.  (1934).  The perception of color and contour: An unusual abnormal case.  American Journal of Psychology, 46, 537-57.

A detailed case study of a young man with color anomia.

Wedell, C.H.  (1934).  The nature of absolute judgment of pitchJournal of Experimental Psychology, 17, 485-503.

Wedell wondered if previous absolute-pitch training experiments were causing their subjects to memorize individual sounds, or if the subjects were using those sounds as absolute reference points for knowledge of the entire sound scale.  He devised a training experiment in which subjects used numbers to identify pitches (specifically, the number of the pitches' frequencies), and decided that they are learning a referent scale rather than isolated sensory experiences.  Here are his conclusions:
1.  Relatively unmusical observers can learn to increase their accuracy in assigning pitch numbers to pure tones.
2.  The greatest increase in ability takes place during the first few practice sessions.
3.  The limit of ability reached in this experiment was an average error of about three semitones.
4.  The course of the learning process is very irregular, and there are large individual differences.
5.  Unmusical observers can learn accurately and easily to recognize tones that are eight and one third semitones apart, but they fail to learn to judge the tones correctly when the interval is decreased to five and one half semitones or less.
6.  Observers build up a subjective scale in which they can place unfamiliar tones as accurately as familiar ones.
7.  Contrary to previous experimental results, the greatest average error was made in identifying tones from the middle of the scale, the size of the error gradually decreasing toward the ends.


Boring, E.G. and Stevens, S.S.  (1936).  The nature of tonal brightnessProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 22, 514-21.

Stevens spent a couple years exploring subjective attributes of tones-- one of them "brightness."  In this paper, they test observers' ability to perceive this attribute; they conclude that it is essentially identical to "density", and assert that "density" is a more appropriate term.

Schirmann, C.F.  (1936).  The engima of perfect pitch.  Music Educators Journal, 22(4), 33.

The "enigma" is basically the perplexing and persistent question:  so what good is it, anyway?  Although this is not a scientific article, the author reports yet another attempt at teaching absolute pitch that was exactly as successful as every other attempt before or since.

Snow, W.B.  (1936).  Change of pitch with loudness at low frequenciesJournal of the Acoustical Society of America, 8(1), 14-19.

The author observed that, although there is a general downward shift in perceived pitch when a low tone's volume is increased, there was a significant difference between observers in the amount of shift.  This provides further support for the apparent fact that frequency is physical and pitch is psychological.


Bachem, A.  (1937).  Various types of absolute pitch.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 9(2), 146-151.

Bachem here makes a distinction between "genuine" absolute pitch, which is an immediate and accurate judgment of "tone chroma", and "pseudo" absolute pitch, which relies on other characteristics or factors such as tone height, relative association, or kinesthetic feeling (such as throat placement).  Within each group he makes further divisions indicative of the quality and speed of judgment.  He further speculates about ways that the ear's cochlear mechanism might cause absolute pitch.  This paper may represent the first usage of the term "chroma" to refer to absolute pitch sensation.


Wellek, A.  (1938).  Das absolute Gehör und seine Typen.  Zeitschrift für Angewandte Psychologie und Charakterkunde-Beihefte, 83, 1-368.


Lewis, D.  (1939).  Pitch as a psychological phenomenon.  Volume of Proceedings of the Music Teachers' National Association, 14, 121-33.

"My main purpose, throughout this discussion, has been to emphasize the fact that pitch is an attribute of auditory experience and that it is not determined in any simple manner by frequency or any other single characteristic of acoustic waves."


Bachem, A.  (1940).  The genesis of absolute pitch.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 11(4), 434-9.

A skeptical Bachem recreated the previous experiments by Meyer and Mull.  He claimed that, although the subjects became able to recognize and name tones, the subjects' ability to do so was slow and inefficient, and thus was clearly not comparable to those people who naturally possessed the ability.  Consequently, Bachem claimed that the ability could not be taught to adults and was, instead, purely hereditary.

Boring, E.G.  (1940).  The size of the differential limen for pitch.  American Journal of Psychology, 53, 450-5.

How many licks does it take to the center of a Tootsie pop?  Well, obviously, it depends on your methodology.  Boring wonders into how many pitch categories the human ear is capable of segmenting the musical pitch range, and discovers that it's also a matter of method-- who your subjects are, how you present tones to them, and how the judgments are solicited and processed, among other possible factors.  Boring suggests that the limit is more than a scientifically-demonstrated 1500 but considerably less than a physically-postulated 11,000.

Jeffress, L.A.  (1940).  The pitch of complex tones.  American Journal of Psychology, 53, 240-50.

That's "complex" as opposed to "sinusoidal"-- that is, a tone composed of various partials.  The authors wanted to find out if the "missing fundamental" effect was due to a pattern-completion effect, such as in vision when you see three L's and your mind turns them into a triangle.  Their results failed to support this hypothesis, but did provide further support for the idea that pitch is not determined by the "pattern of stimulation of the basilar membrane."

Komatsu, A.  (1940).  Experiment on training of discrimination in absolute pitch.  Kyoiku Shinri Kenkyu, 15, 203-5.
Petran, L.A.  (1940).  The nature and meaning of absolute pitch.  Volume of Proceedings of the Music Teachers' National Association, 3, 144-52. [I]

Seashore, C.E.  (1940).  Acquired pitch vs. absolute pitch.  Music Educators Journal, 26(6), 18.

Seashore says that "acquired pitch"-- that is, "a serviceable memory for the tones of the musical scale"-- is a fairly common ability which is not the same as "absolute pitch."  He briefly describes the difference between the two abilities.

Stevens, S.S. and Volkmann, J.  (1940).  The relation of pitch to frequency: A revised scale.  American Journal of Psychology, 53, 329-353.

An experiment designed to illustrate and support the principles of the mel scale.

Werner, H.  (1940).  Musical "micro-scales" and "micro-melodies."  Journal of Psychology, 10, 149-56.

Visual objects are recognizably the same when they are displaced in space or adjusted in size.  The author compares visual displacement to musical transposition, and wonders if (in terms of size) the contour of a visual object is comparable to the contour of a melodic form.  To test this, he "shrank" melodies into microtonal steps-- .12 of a semitone each-- and trained his subjects in this new scale.  After the training, the subjects did indeed adapt to the microscale, to the extent that they even seemed to perceive octave equivalence and typical major/minor patterns in the new scale.


Howells, T.H.  (1944).  The experimental development of color-tone synesthesia.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 34, 87-103.

The author wondered if Lowell's 1934 study was influenced by the fact that the subjects were passive, and constructed an experiment in which the subjects actively made pitch-color judgments.  He did seem to find improvement in pitch-color associations, but also discovered that (once the associations had been made) the perceived color was affected by the tone being played.

Jeffress, L.A.  (1944).  Variations in pitch.  American Journal of Psychology, 57, 63-76.

This study is a product of its time and its context-- that is, the author wanted to prove something about the place theory of pitch, but he makes assumptions about what he's arguing against and what he's attempting to support, and those assumptions make his publication confusing for a modern reader.  Suffice to say his results demonstrated that, by presenting the same frequencies to different ears at different times under different conditions, different pitches were perceived.

Turnbull, W.W.  (1944).  Pitch discrimination as a function of tonal duration.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 34, 302-14.

The author attempts to develop and test a mathematical formula which describes "the relationship between the duration of a tone and the ease with which its pitch can be distinguished."  All we need to know is that when duration or intensity decreases, the tones become more difficult to tell apart, but tones of only half a cycle can nonetheless be distinguished.


Wyatt, R.F.  (1945).  Improvability of pitch discrimination.  Psychological Monographs, 58(2), (Whole No. 267), 1-58.

In some respects this is yet another study which shows that adults who are trained in pitch discrimination become better at it-- although the study seems to make no distinction between pitch discrimination and pitch identification, and appears to consider pitch sensitivity to be measured by ability to notice small differences of pitch.  Where this study seems to differ from other musical-training studies is in its explanation of why certain subjects don't do as well as others-- rather than postulate physiological or psychological limits on human ability, Wyatt says instead that the training method is probably at fault, and that "remedial methods" should be developed for the subjects who show less capability with the standard method.  As far as I've seen, Wyatt is the first person to have explicitly suggested this.


Riker, B.L.  (1946).  The ability to judge pitch.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 36, 331-46.

The author tested both musical and unmusical observers to see how well they'd be able to recognize piano and pure-tone sounds.  The musical listeners, unsurprisingly, were better at it.  Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this study is the consistent observation that musical observers found it easier to recognize middle-range tones and non-musical observers found it easier to recognize the highest and lowest tones.  [The last few pages of this article were torn out of the copy I had.]


Neu, D.M.  (1947).  A critical review of the literature on "absolute pitch".  Psychological Bulletin, 44, 249-266.

After exhaustively examining the literature to date, Neu concludes that absolute pitch can be learned in childhood, and further asserts that the ability is "nothing more than a fine degree of accuracy of pitch discrimination."


Bachem, A.  (1948).  Chroma fixation at the ends of the musical frequency scale.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 20(5), 704-705.

Bachem conducted tests to discover that people with absolute pitch have trouble detecting the chroma of tones above 4000Hz (approximately C8), and that at 5000Hz the chroma "becomes stationary", although tone height is still perceptibly changing.  The data did not indicate a lower limit, but Bachem suggested this could be due to a "lack of proper equipment for filtering."

Bachem, A.  (1948).  Note on Neu's review of the literature on absolute pitch.  Psychological Bulletin, 45, 161-2.

Bachem points out that Neu has completely overlooked tone chroma and height as tonal attributes; he also reiterates his belief that absolute pitch is genetic, not learned.

Harris, J.D.  (1948).  Pitch discrimination and absolute pitch.  USN Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Research Report, Project NM 003 026, 30 January.

Neu, D.M.  (1948).  Absolute pitch: A reply to Bachem.  Psychological Bulletin, 45, 534-5.

Although Neu responds by claiming that tone chroma and height are physical properties of a tone and are therefore irrelevant-- an argument which I find uncompelling-- Neu also makes some important logical points which remain relevant:
"I have found no evidence for saying that two types of pitch [perception] are learned and the third is a gift."
"Failure to train an individual to have absolute pitch does not mean that it is inherited."


Bachem, A.  (1950).  Tone height and tone chroma as two different pitch qualities.  Acta Psychologica, 7, 80-88.

The author makes the case by describing different situations in which one of these qualities is perceptible (but not the other).


Brammer, L.M.  (1951).  Certain aspects of violinists' absolute pitch.  Volume of Proceedings of the Music Teachers' National Association, 43, 153-7.

Essentially a restatement of his other publication (and of the same experiment).  In this writing, though, he advances the notion that neither "absolute" nor "perfect" is a good term, because someone with the ability is no better at discriminating tones; in its place, he recommends the term "positive pitch".

Brammer, L.M.  (1951).  Sensory cues in pitch judgment.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 41, 336-40.

How do people make pitch judgments?  By asking his subjects to tune a string to A440, Brammer got the following responses:  absolute listeners used chroma, and non-absolute listeners used "reference tones, auditory imagery, and kinesthetic cues... the more accurate the [subject], the less he seemed to depend on these extraneous cues."

Carpenter, A.  (1951).  A case of absolute pitch.  Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 92-3.

In testing a "research student in zoology and a keen amateur pianist and singer", Carpenter discovered that the subject named the pitch class immediately, but volunteered the octave only after some hesitation.  Although the subject made no octave errors, the subject's behavior suggests to Carpenter a support for Bachem's view of chroma and height as two distinct tonal qualities.

Oakes, W.F.  (1951).  An alternative interpretation of "absolute pitch".  Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Sciences, 54, 396-406.

The "alternative interpretation" is that absolute pitch is a behavioral response to environment, rather than a "musical ability" or some genetic predisposition.  The author explains how, in his view, pitch-naming appears no different from other behavioral responses.  He also spends a good part of the paper dissecting the genetics argument, with this splendid little quote in the middle of it to illustrate the geneticists' reasoning:  "Why did the event occur?  Because the organism had a predisposition.  How do you know the organism had a predisposition?  Because the event occurred."

Rossman, I.L. and Goss, A.E.  (1951).  The acquired distinctiveness of cues:  The role of discriminative verbal responses in facilitating the acquisition of discriminative motor responses.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 42, 173-82.

If the title of this article sounds to you like learning to play the piano, then you see why this article intrigues me.  In it, the authors asked five groups of subjects to learn specific unique movements for each 12 different sounds (nonsense syllables) that had been paired with visual figures.  Those who were trained to know the verbal sound for each visual figure (phonemes and graphemes) learned the motor response significantly faster than those who did not.  It seems probable to me that-- whether the stimulus sound is a pitch or a letter-- these findings would very probably inform piano training methods.

van Krevelen, A.  (1951).  The ability to make absolute judgments of pitch.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 42, 207-15.

In two separate procedures, the author asked absolute listeners to recognize and produce certain musical tones.  The subjects were "more consistent" in recognizing than they were in production; if you accept that the subjects are categorizing tones rather than specifying a particular frequency, this result makes perfect sense.


Bachem, A.  (1954).  Time factors in relative and absolute pitch determination.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 26(5), 751-3.

Bachem asked his subjects to remember a target tone for time intervals of one second to one week.  For the shorter time intervals, there was little performance difference between subjects with or without absolute pitch; for the longer intervals, there was a marked difference, which Bachem attributes to different memory strategies (relative comparison versus chroma identification).

Christman, R.J.  (1954).  Shifts in pitch as a function of prolonged stimulation with pure tones.  American Journal of Psychology, 67, 484-91.

The author determined that playing a tone for a subject would change the subject's perception of any tone that followed.  Low tones made the next tone seem higher; high tones made the next tone seem lower.  The amount of shift depended on the intensity and duration of the first tone.

Cohen, J., Hansel, C.E.M., and Sylvester, J.D.  (1954).  Interdependence of temporal and auditory judgments.  Nature, 174, 642-4.

The authors simultaneously demonstrated that listeners altered their judgment of a pitch sound based on its temporal presentation (relative to other tones) but didn't alter their judgment based on its spatial presentation (again, relative to other tones).  The general thrust of the article's title represents what is, I think, support of the model of music as a wholly temporal structure.

Deutsch, M.  (1954).  Acquiring absolute pitch.  The Instrumentalist, 8(9), 16-17.

A non-scientific article in which the author recommends memorizing the sounds of tuning forks.

Hartman, E.B.  (1954).  The influence of practice and pitch distance between tones on the absolute identification of pitch.  American Journal of Psychology, 67, 1-14.

Using a tone-memorization strategy over an eight-week period, Hartman discovered that subjects were better at remembering the tones if the tones were spaced further apart.


Bachem, A.  (1955).  Absolute pitch.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 27(6), 1180-1185.

A reflection on Bachem's 1937 study.  This paper reiterates Bachem's main definitions (pseudo, quasi, and genuine absolute pitch), reasserts that tone chroma is the basis of absolute pitch ability, and reiterates his insistence that past "absolute pitch" training successes have taught pseudo-pitch and not the real thing.  The new feature here is that Bachem seems to have backed off from his insistence that the ability is solely a genetic endowment, as he acknowledges that early musical experience can be a factor.

Oakes, W.F.  (1955).  An experimental study of pitch naming and pitch discrimination reactions.  Journal of Genetic Psychology, 86, 237-59.

In this experiment, Oakes is responding mainly to Neu's 1947 assertion that absolute pitch seems to be a refined ability of pitch discrimination.  Oakes' experiment appears to adequately demonstrate that although pitch discrimination and pitch naming may be related skills, they are not the same skill (in that one is not a function of on the other).  Additionally, he finds this result:  "...the relationship between octave error incidence and accuracy at [pitch naming] is closer than that between half-step error incidence and accuracy at [pitch naming].  However, a relationship was found between both types of error and accuracy at [pitch naming]."


Brown, F.G. and Archer, E.J.  (1956).  Concept identification as a function of task complexity and distribution of practice.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 5, 316-21.

Subjects were asked to categorize random geometric shapes according to certain rules.  I noticed this article because one of its conclusions supports my assertion about absolute pitch learning: an increase in irrelevant stimulus information makes the task more difficult.  However, I notice two other observations which, if applicable, are intriguing-- that "positional" and "shade" qualities were the most difficult to judge.  This was particularly interesting to me, considering that relative pitch is traditionally taught as qualities of position and of "height" (which has been repeatedly demonstrated to be psychologically analogous to shade).

Meyer, M.  (1956).  On memorizing absolute pitch.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 28(4), 718-719.

This is the same Meyer who conducted the 1899 study, now responding to Bachem's 1955 publication.  In this short letter to the editor, Meyer says that Bachem is an idiot for proposing that "'genuine' absolute pitch memory... is not a memory of tone height at all but rather memory of 'a pitch quality common to all c's, all d's, etc.'"  About his own 1899 study, Meyer says "We never noticed any 'tone chroma', but perhaps we were just too dull for that."  Although Meyer meant this sarcastically, the irony is apparent.

Miller, G.A.  (1956).  The magical number seven, plus or minus two.  Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.
Simpson, R.H., Quinn, M., and Ausubel, D.P.  (1956).  Synesthesia in children:  Association of colors with pure tone frequencies.  Journal of Genetic Psychology, 88, 95-103.

Approximately 900 children were used as subjects.  Tones were played for the children, and the children were asked to name the colors which the tones made them think of.  Consistently, the children chose yellow and green for high tones, red and orange for middle tones, and blue and violet for low tones.  The association between "bright" colors and tones or "dark" colors and tones is evident.


Corso, J.F.  (1957).  Absolute judgments of musical tonality.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 29(1), 138-44.

Subjects at the college level were asked to identify the key signature of three different patterns:  an ascending scale, the same eight scale degrees played out of order, and I-IV-V-I chords.  The subjects, including one with absolute pitch, performed best with the ascending scale and worst with the randomized scale.  The results seem to imply some kind of structural cueing, rather than pitch choice, as that which establishes tonality.


Cramer, E.M. and Huggins, W.H.  (1958).  Creation of pitch through binaural interaction.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 30, 413-7.


Aizawa, M.  (1961).  An investigation of the judgment of absolute pitch by the group test.  Tohoku Psychologica Folia, 20, 1-12.

The authors wondered how absolute pitch ability could be tested when nobody is really sure how to define the ability.  They gamely ran groups of children, of different ages, through tone-naming tests; although they didn't reach any monumental conclusions, they noticed that pitch identification seemed to be different than pitch discrimination, and that across all categories girls were better than boys at naming tones.

Beck, J. and Shaw, W.A.  (1961).  The scaling of pitch by the method of magnitude estimation.  American Journal of Psychology, 74, 242-51.

Caroll, J.B. and Greenberg, J.H.  (1961).  Two cases of synesthesia for color and musical tonality associated with absolute pitch ability.  Perceptual and Motor Skills, 13, 48.


Jeffress, L.A.  (1962).  Absolute pitch.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 34(7), 987.

A brief note arguing against the genetic theory of absolute pitch acquisition; Jeffress compares this ability to the imprinting shown in ducklings, and carries it through to this conclusion (which is essentially the same as Levitin's, nearly four decades later):  "The very circumstances which have caused people to believe the trait to be inherited are those which would bring about its 'imprinting'.  The children of people having absolute pitch are sure to be examined early for the existence of the trait and their first fumbling steps rewarded."

Lundin, R.W. and Allen, J.D.  (1962).  A technique for training perfect pitch.  Psychological Record, 12, 139-46.

The technique was that of playing recorded piano tones and asking the subject to press buttons corresponding to the letter name of the tone.  Subjects showed improvement in their identification ability.

Salzer, F.  Structural Hearing. Dover, NY.


Bekesy, G.  (1963).  Three experiments concerned with pitch perception. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 35(4), 602-6.

Although all three experiments were designed to support place theory (pitch perception as a localized excitation of the basilar membrane), the experiments did demonstrate (with sound filters and other effects) that "pitch" is more than just the fundamental spectral frequency of a sound.

Campbell, R.A. and Small, A.M.  (1963).  Effect of practice and feedback on frequency discrimination.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 35(10), 1511-1514.

The frequency discrimination was a same/different task:  was the variable tone the same as the standard?  The authors had two groups of subjects; one group was given feedback in their initial session, and the other group received it starting with their second session.  The first group's performance was worse than the second group's.  This is in accordance with Gibson's observations of perceptual learning-- feedback is not necessary, she noticed, because the subject self-corrects based on the evidence from further trials; the main consequence of overt feedback is its effect on the learner's morale.

Lundin, R.W.  (1963).  Can perfect pitch be learned?  Music Educators Journal, 49(5), 49-51.

A non-scientific description of his 1962 procedure.

Ward, W.D.  (1963).  Absolute pitch.  Sound: Its Uses and Control, 2(3), 14-21; 2(4), 33-41.

A review of the literature to date.


Shepard, R.N.  (1964).  Circularity in judgments of relative pitch.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 36(12), 2346-53.

See October 26.


Bergan, J.R.  (1965).  Pitch perception, imagery, and regression in the service of the ego.  Journal of Research in Music Education, 13(1), 15-6.

The main experiment here demonstrates that people who have more vivid imaginations have better recall for musical tones.  I'm more intrigued by his statement about a sound image continuum:  "as more and more qualities were subtracted from [an auditory] image, it would tend to stand less and less for a particular sound and in this respect become more general or abstract."

Fisher, F.  (1965).  Perfect pitch can be learned.  Piano Teacher, 8, 17-20.

In this non-scientific article, the author describes how, when he was a child, his father deliberately taught him to have absolute pitch.  First he was taught middle C by gold stars placed on the piano, and then his father drilled him in identifying different notes.  The author had fully learned absolute pitch by the time he was six years old.  The author goes on to suggest that any person should be able to learn absolute pitch by first memorizing a single tone, then another, then another.

Korpell, H.S.  (1965).  On the mechanism of tonal chroma in absolute pitch.  American Journal of Psychology, 78, 298-300.

If an absolute listener is recognizing "tone chroma"... well, then, what is "tone chroma"?  Korpell asked absolute listeners to identify tones which had fundamental frequencies that did not match their overtone structure.  The subjects made judgments based on the spectral frequency rather than the tonal structure.  Korpell thus concluded that "tone chroma" arises from the spectral frequency of a sound.

Talley, H.  (1965).  The question of absolute pitch.  Clavier, 4(1), 52.

An unscientific article that says the usual things:  might be inborn, but possibly learned, and relative pitch is more important to music.

Terman, M.  (1965).  Improvement of absolute pitch naming.  Psychonomic Science, 3, 243-4.

Using a variation of Lundin's 1962 method-- introducing periods of silence to minimize relative judgments-- Terman reproduced the result that adult subjects could indeed improve their pitch-naming abilities.


Aiken, E.G. and Lau, A.W.  Memory for the pitch of a tone.  Perception and Psychophysics, 1, 231-3.

Geschwind, N. and Fusillo, M.  (1966).  Color-naming defects in association with alexia.  Archives of Neurology, 15, 137-46.

A case study of a man with color anomia.  The man was able to perceive colors perfectly well, but had no connection between the colors and their names.  His behavior in visual matching and identification tests was similar to a non-absolute listener performing auditory matching and identification tests.

Slonimsky, N.  (1966).  Colors and keys.  Medical Opinion & Review, 2(1), 24-31.

The author asserts that different key signatures are evocative of particular colors, and proceeds to make assignations.

Slonimsky, N.  (1966).  The perfect pitch.  Medical Opinion & Review, 1(6), 92-96.

A non-scientific article with the author's comments about what the ability is and how it's used.  Same old stuff, for the most part, except that he does ask the question, why do people with absolute pitch become musicians when people who have absolute color don't become artists-- and why do those same people start out as "prodigies" and then fail to become masters?  I'd answer him that people with absolute pitch learn to think in music, and they learn an instrument for the sake of expressing those thoughts; an initial competence does not translate to masterful performance developed over time.  Slow and steady wins that race.

Sutcliffe, J.P and Bristow, R.A.  (1966).  Do rank order and scale properties remain invariant under changes in the set of scaled stimuli?  Australian Journal of Psychology, 18, 26-40.

Although I'm skeptical of the authors' choice of evaluated stimuli-- photographs of men, which were to be ranked according to their "attractiveness"-- their abstracted conclusions seem, nonetheless, to be valid.  Most pointedly, they describe how "if a series of different stimuli are presented, the judge's attention may be drawn to those dimensions in respect of which the stimuli vary.  Over a series of presentations he may build up inductively a dimensional reference frame.. [which] can serve as a basis for the judgment of stimuli which are presented subsequently."  Their experiment showed, additionally, that "the choice of criteria for judgment varies with context"-- an observation which directly supports my suggestion that note-memorization strategies may be drawing a listener's attention to the wrong criteria.

Wickelgren, W.A.  (1966).  Consolidation and retroactive interference in short-term recognition memory for pitch.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 72, 250-9.

A simple experiment:  play a target tone of x seconds duration, followed by an interference tone of y seconds duration, followed by a comparison tone of z seconds duration.  Two results did occur just as you might expect:
- When x is longer, the "memory trace" is stronger and the comparison tone is more accurately identified.
- When y is longer, the interference is stronger and the comparison tone is harder to identify.
The "consolidation" referred to in the title is this: comparison tones within 10 Hz (cycles per second) were generally judged to be identical to the target, while comparison tones of 15Hz or greater were generally recognized as different.


Bergan, J.R.  (1967).  The relationships among pitch identification, imagery for musical sounds, and musical memory.  Journal of Research in Music Education, 15(2), 99-109.

An extension of his 1965 study; this time, he tests not only imagery but musical memory as well.  Again, people who had better capacity for imagery were better able to remember tones.  He argues that pitch identification is critical to musicianship because that's what allows a musician to generate his performances; more practically, he states that being able to identify tones must involve being able to imagine them in some way.

Gibson, E. J.  Principles of Perceptual Learning and Development.  New York: Meredith Corporation.


Cuddy, L.L.  (1968).  Practice effects in the absolute judgment of pitch.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 43(5), 1069-1076.

The author conducted experiments to determine if, through repetitive exercises, adult listeners would be able to improve their ability to remember certain tones.  She discovered that yes, it was possible.  Additionally, it seemed that listeners with musical training improved more than those without, and piano students improved more readily than those who played other instruments.

Gardner, M.  (1968).  More on perfect pitch.  The Instrumentalist, 23(5), 26.

A non-scientific article with the usual stuff about what perfect pitch is.  Essentially the same as the American Mercury articles from the 30s (or any articles that still appear today).

Geschwind, N. and Levitzky, W.  (1968).  Human brain: Left-right asymmetries in temporal speech region.  Science, 161(3837), 186-7.

An observation that the left planum temporale is usually one-third larger than the right.

Killian, R.  (1968).  Perfect pitch-- inherent or acquired?  The Instrumentalist, 23(3), 34-36.

A non-scientific article in which a music instructor recommends listening to a tuning fork to memorize pitches.

Vianello, M.A.B. and Evans, S.H.  (1968).  Note on pitch discrimination learning.  Perceptual and Motor Skills, 26, 576.

The authors conducted a note-memorization study and confirmed three hypotheses:
1.  Absolute pitch discrimination improves as a function of experience even without knowledge of results
2.  Once this improvement has occurred, feedback will cause further improvement
3.  Performance differs across subjects.


Sergeant, D.  (1969).  Pitch perception and absolute pitch:  Some aspects of musical development.  Ph.D. thesis, University of Reading.

Sergeant, D.  (1969).  Experimental investigation of absolute pitch.  Journal of Research in Music Education, 17(1), 135-143.

This paper is cited in most modern treatments of absolute pitch.  In it, Sergeant asserts that although many people have debated whether absolute pitch is learned or genetic in origin, and have argued about whether or not absolute pitch can be learned, nobody has actually attempted to understand its "true nature."  Sergeant devised experiments to test the most prominent theories of the time.
- To determine the onset of absolute pitch, Sergeant sent questionnaires to musicians and analyzed their self-reports.  This analysis might have been the first direct evidence of the strong relationship between early musical training and absolute pitch ability.  Furthermore, this data provided "no evidence... to support hereditarian theories," but people continue to debate the genetic/training issue all the same.
- He tested the "chroma" theory-- the listener's sensitivity to the harmonics of the musical sound (not the sensory quality of the pitch frequency)-- and determined that chroma, by this definition, "is not a decisive cue in the making of an absolute judgment of pitch."
- He tested the theory that the absolute listener has a superior physical mechanism for hearing, and discovered no significant difference in hearing sensitivity between absolute and non-absolute listeners.
- He tested the theory that absolute pitch is actually a relative pitch judgment, in which the listener compares each tone to an internalized standard (such as A440).  Although he does not detail the precise method, he says that he engaged subjects in either a discrimination (relative) task or a denomination (naming) task, and the scores were uncorrelated; he took this to mean that relative and absolute skills are indeed separate.
- He asked absolute listeners to name tones, and learned that they were better at naming tones from the instruments that they used as children, even if they later switched to different instruments.  They were also better at identifying tones within their own vocal ranges.  He concluded that early experience of hearing and producing tonal music was the most influential in developing absolute pitch.
- He asked musicians (absolute and non-absolute listeners) to indicate whether familiar pieces were being played in the correct key.  Their responses indicated that, unless absolute interpretation is explicitly applied, "...the attention of the mature musician's mind is centered upon other aspects of the music which have greater relevance for him."  This, I think, is reflected in Foxton et al (2003), in that aural perception is either global or local but not both; Sergeant simply points out that the mature musician does not use absolute pitch, implying that the immature (child) musician would.
- Altogether, Sergeant concludes that there appears to be a strong connection between early musical training and absolute pitch development-- and that its existence "...can be accounted for by factors within the normal frontiers of the developmental processes of childhood."


Brady, P.T.  (1970).  Fixed-scale mechanism of absolute pitch.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 48(4B), 883-887.

The author trained himself to identify pitches by memorizing a middle C and the harmonic scale-degree sounds based on middle C.  As long as he was able to retain his sense of key signature, he was able to name pitches with high accuracy, but when distracting sounds were played his ability disappeared.  His process, results, and experience suggest to me that he did not teach himself absolute pitch; rather, he learned what can be termed "harmonic relative pitch."

Cuddy, L.L.  (1970).  Training the absolute identification of pitch.  Perception & Psychophysics, 8, 265-269.

Cuddy used two different tone-memorization strategies:  one which trained all nine scale tones (tonic and octave both included) with equal attention, and another in which three reference tones were directly trained with the rest of the scale to be inferred.  This reflects Cuddy's opinion that absolute pitch is a relative, structural judgment based on internal references.  She found that although all listeners did improve in the equal-weight training, musicians improved more readily and more completely in the referent training.  She concluded that this meant absolute-pitch training should focus on structural comprehension.

Deutsch, D.  (1970).  Tones and numbers: specificity of interference in immediate memory.  Science, 168(3939), 1604-5.

Subjects were asked to remember a single pitch sound.  They were then played either six musical tones or six phonemic language sounds, followed by a musical tone, and asked to judge whether the final musical tone was the same or different.  The language sounds caused little interference; the musical sounds caused severe interference.  The author concludes that the musical tones "obliterates memory of musical pitch".  I seem to recall that this effect does not occur in subjects with absolute pitch, nor does it occur when I conduct the same experiment on myself but attempting to remember phonemic or interval sounds, so I'd append that the question of what is being remembered is significant to these experimental results.

Deutsch, M. (1970).   Elements of Solfeggio: Sight Singing and Absolute Pitch.  New York: Malru Music Publishers.  [I]

Gainza, V.H. de.  (1970).  Absolute and relative hearing as innate complementary functions of man's musical ear.  Council for Research in Music Education Bulletin, 22, 13-16.

A non-scientific article by a music teacher with absolute pitch.  She has observed her own children and noted that the young listener is attracted by isolated sounds; she hypothesizes that there is a transition from isolated sounds to sound relationships, and suggests that all people have "rudiments" of both absolute and relative pitch.

Stanaway, R.G., Morely, T., and Anstis, S.M.  (1970).  Tinnitus not a reference signal in judgments of absolute pitch.  Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 22, 230-38.

The conclusion stated in the title is based on the authors' assessment of one subject who had both tinnitus (a constant ringing in his ears) and absolute pitch.  The results indicated that the subject was not using his tinnitus as a reference tone; it is possible to use these results to support the idea that absolute pitch judgements are not based on reference to a single internalized standard tone.


Attneave, F. and Olson, R.K.  (1971).  Pitch as medium: a new approach to psychophysical scaling.  American Journal of Psychology, 84, 147-166.

The main point of this article is to illustrate how the musical scale is indeed a legitimate scale, in the sense that each span of measurement can be considered "the same" at any point along the spectrum of values.  By analogy:  if you think of a yardstick, you would perceive that the distance between the markings "42 inches" and "50 inches" is the same as the distance between "2 inches" and "10 inches."  Likewise, the "distance" between any two pitches of the musical scale would seem to be identical.  The authors argue that this scaling is what makes transposition possible, and specifically describe this effect as the "morphophoric function of pitch."

Cuddy, L.L.  (1971).  Absolute judgment of musically-related pure tones.  Canadian Journal of Psychology, 25, 42-55.

Cuddy asked musicians and non-musicians to make absolute judgments of sine waves.  She discovered that when the tones were in musical structures (such as a triad) the musicians enjoyed an advantage in identification, but the non-musicians performed the same way regardless of how the tones were presented.

Siegel, J.A.  (1971).  The nature of absolute pitch.  Doctoral dissertation, University of Michigan.

A treatment of four hypotheses of absolute pitch ability:
- "Super discrimination", meaning an ability to make fine distinctions between any musical frequencies
- "Local discrimination", meaning an ability to make fine distinctions between certain chunks of musical frequency
- "Pitch memory", meaning an ability to remember tones in long-term storage
- "Subjective standard", meaning a handful of tones are memorized, and other tones are related to them.
Siegel conducted an experiment to test the subjective standard.  Although the experimental data failed to support the hypothesis, Siegel maintained that subjective standard was still the most likely explanation.  (Current research appears to indicate that all four of these hypotheses are unlikely.)

Wynn, V.T.  (1971).  "Absolute" pitch a bimensual rhythm.  Nature, 230(5292), 337.

This researcher believes that the chemical changes of the menstruation cycle have an effect on women's absolute pitch perception.


Cuddy, L.L.  (1972).  Comment on "Practice effects in the absolute judgment of frequency" by Heller and Auerbach.  Psychonomic Science, 28, 68.

Cuddy defends her support of a method which emphasizes a reference tone; she cites Brady's 1970 experiment and asserts that "It is becoming increasingly apparent that the development of a subjective reference standard is critical for accurate pitch judgment."

Deutsch, D.  (1972).  Octave generalization and tune recognition.  Perception & Psychophysics, 11, 411-12.

The example used in this article is currently found as the "mysterious melody" on Deutsch's website.  She discovered that, when a familiar tune was played in different octaves, people recognized it easily; but when the individual tones were selected from random octaves, the melody became unrecognizable.  Once they were told what melody they were listening to, they were able to use octave generalization to confirm the song's identity.

Fullard, W., Snelbecker, G.E., and Wolk, S.  (1972).  Absolute judgments as a function of stimulus uncertainty and temporal effects:  Methodological note.  Perceptual and Motor Skills, 34, 379-82.

This study is more like a Simon game:  subjects hear 4-6 different tones and press light-up buttons in response.  The research aimed to discover how many different tones the subjects could competently juggle.

Heller, M.A. and Auerbach, C.  (1972).  Practice effects in the absolute judgment of frequency.  Psychonomic Science, 26, 222-4.

Using a method similar to Cuddy's (1968), the authors trained adults to identify tones.  From the subjects' responses, they concluded that the subjects were not memorizing tones, but were developing a relative range into which the tones could be placed and evaluated.  Furthermore, the authors challenged Cuddy's suggestion that subjects who receive feedback when learning random tones (as opposed to learning only a single tone) would not improve.

MacNamara, J.  (1972).  Cognitive basis of language learning in infants.  Psychological Review, 79, 1-13.

"The main point of the paper is that infants learn their language by first determining, independent of language, the meaning which a speaker intends to convey to them, and then by working out the relationship between the meaning and the expression they heard."

Rakowski, A.  (1972).  Direct comparison of absolute and relative pitch.  In Bilsen, F.A. (ed), Symposium on hearing theory 105-108.  Eindhoven, The Netherlands: Instituut voor Perceptie Underzoek.

The author asked subjects with and without absolute pitch to listen to a tone and then, after some delay, tune a sound to the same pitch they had previously heard.  Predictably, the absolute listeners were better at this task than the non-absolute listeners, and used a consistent strategy where the non-absolute listeners did not.  He makes the additional observation, though, that even when explicitly instructed to try to remember the exact tone, absolute listeners persisted in remembering the nearest pitch class and providing a response that was relative to that class (e.g. "a little higher than B").

Santa, J.L. and Ranken, H.B.  (1972).  Effects of verbal coding on recognition memory.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 93, 268-78.

Their data show that verbal labels make it easier to recognize abstract shapes (such as graphemes).  Combined with Siegel and Siegel's publication from this same year, I suspect this implies a virtuous cycle in which the existence of a set of graphemes allows absolute judgment of auditory pitch to occur, and then continued recognition of the graphemes allows the ability to develop.

Siegel, J.A.  (1972).  The nature of absolute pitch.  In I.E. Gordon (ed.), Studies in the Psychology of Music, Vol. 8.  Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

A condensed version of her doctoral dissertation from the previous year.

Siegel, J.A. and Siegel, W.  (1972).  Absolute judgment and paired-associate learning: Kissing cousins or identical twins?  Psychological Review, 79, 300-316.

"Paired-associate learning" is, well, the learning of associated pairs-- such as the letter name of a pitch sound.  Absolute judgment of any kind is a paired-associate task, according to the authors, because it involves the association of some absolute value with a descriptive indicator.  The authors show that absolute judgment can be improved by "chunking" (organizational strategies), and point to other studies which show how people are better able to make pitch judgments when the pitches they learn are spaced further apart.

Wynn, V.T.  (1972).  Measurements of small variations in "absolute" pitch.  Journal of Physiology, 220, 627-37.

Wynn believes that absolute pitch perception can be influenced by chemical cycles in the body-- particularly the women's menstruation cycle.  This publication presents and comments on such data.


Corliss, E.L.  (1973).  Remark on "Fixed-scale mechanism of absolute pitch."  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 53(6), 1737-9.

Corliss has absolute pitch.  This letter to the editor comments both on Brady's 1970 paper and on conversations that Corliss had with Brady.  Corliss says that Brady's experience and understanding of "absolute pitch" is not the same as hers, and she illustrates various differences.  (I believe Brady's training to be harmonic relative pitch, so this does not surprise me.)

Cuddy, L.L., Pinn, J., and Simons, E.  (1973).  Anchor effects with biased probability in absolute judgment of pitch.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 100, 218-20.

Cuddy repeated her tone-memorization training task with new subjects; this time, although she trained them with all tones of the scale, she played one more frequently than the others.  Her data appeared to indicate that the emphasized tone became a perceptual "anchor" which became a reference tone for the other tone judgments.

Elliott, L.  (1973).  Imagery versus repetition encoding in short- and long-term memory.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 100(2), 270-6.

Imagery is better.  This has clear implications for remembering musical pieces, because it's easier to remember a musical idea than it is to remember a series of individual notes.

Sergeant, D. and Roche, S.  (1973).  Perceptual shifts in the auditory information processing of young children.  Psychology of Music, 1(2), 39-48.

The authors asked differently-aged groups of children, from 3 to 6 years old, to remember and sing melodies, measuring the children's accuracy in melodic shape, interval size, tonality, and "pitching" (singing in the original key).  These criteria were selected because they are either conceptual, relational, or sensorial.  From the resultant data, "it must be concluded there there is a close inverse relationship" between a child's ability to think conceptually and their ability to retain or reproduce accurate pitch information.  That is, the older a child got, the worse they became at "pitching" in favor of retaining the conceptual components of a tune.

Van Lancker, D. and Fromkin, V.  (1973).  Hemispheric specialization for pitch and "tone": evidence from Thai.  Journal of Phonetics, 1, 101-9.

These authors don't need no fancy brain-scans-- they presented sounds to left and right ears and recorded which ear showed an advantage for processing particular sounds.  Their data shows the same result as Gandour's brain scans would thirty years following:  "...pitch discrimination is lateralized to the left hemisphere when the pitch differences are linguistically processed."

Witelson, S.F. and Pallie, W.  (1973).  Left hemisphere specialization for language in the newborn: Neuroanatomical evidence of asymmetry.  Brain, 96(3), 641-6.

Back in the days when scientists had to cut up dead brains instead of scanning live ones, these authors examined the brains of deceased infants who had died of natural causes, prior to any linguistic experience; they discovered that the left side of the planum temporale was already significantly larger than the right.

Wynn, V.T.  (1973).  Absolute pitch in humans:  Its variations and possible connections with other known rhythmic phenomena.  Progress in Neurobiology, 1(2), 111-50.

The "rhythmic phenomena" he's referring to are human hormonal and chemical cycles-- mainly the female menstrual cycle.  Fortunately, this publication seems to be the last word on this particular subject.


Baggaley, J.  (1974).  Measurement of absolute pitch.  Psychology of Music, 2(2), 11-17.

The author suggests that in order to distinguish between real and "pseudo" absolute pitch ability, a test should analyze not only the subject's accuracy but also their swiftness of response.

Deutsch, D. and Roll, P.L.  (1974).  Error patterns in delayed pitch comparison as a function of relational context.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 103(5), 1027-34.

The subjects were played a standard tone and a comparison tone; however, there were some extra tones thrown in before the comparison tone.  Sometimes the extra tones reoriented the listener to a different key signature, and sometimes they didn't; in every case, there was a significant tendency to judge the tones by their scale degree quality rather than their absolute sound.

Harris, Georgina Bernice.  (1974).  Categorical perception and absolute pitch.  Master's thesis, University of Western Ontario, Canada.

The author speculated that if absolute listeners were listening categorically, then the function of their responses to a magnitude-judgment task would take on a step appearance instead of a curved one.  And it did.  One of the more interesting results is that when she explicitly instructed the absolute listeners to remember a tone only by its exact magnitude, they nonetheless persisted in remembering it as being slightly sharp or flat versus a standard musical tone.

Leshowitz, B., and Green, D.M.  (1974).  Comments on "Absolute judgment and paired-associate learning: Kissing cousins or identical twins?" by J.A. Siegel and W. Siegel.  Psychological Review, 81, 177-9.

The authors argue that Siegel is promoting a misconception of memory for sensory stimuli.

Siegel, J.A.  (1974).  Sensory and verbal coding strategies in subjects with absolute pitch.  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 103, 37-44.

Subjects with and without absolute pitch were asked to remember and compare tones which were within or across specific pitch categories.  That is, the two comparison tones were either 1/10 of a semitone apart or were a full pitch class different.  When presented with two different tones within the same pitch class, absolute listeners used a sensory memory strategy, and their performance declined to match that of the non-absolute subjects.

Siegel, W. and Siegel, J.A.  (1974).  The role of memory in stimulus identification:  A reply to B. Leshowitz and D.M. Green.  Psychological Review, 81, 180-2.

A defense of their earlier paper, asserting that their hypotheses and conclusions are valid.

Siegel, W., Siegel, J.A., Harris, G., and Sopo, R.  (1974).  Categorical perception of pitch by musicians with relative and absolute pitch.  (Research Bulletin No. 305).  University of Western Ontario: London, Ontario.


Carroll, J.B.  (1975).  Speed and accuracy of absolute pitch judgments: Some latter day results. Educational Testing Service Research Bulletin (RB-75-35). Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Fulgosi, A., Bacun, D., and Zaja, B.  (1975).  Absolute identification of two-dimensional tones.  Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 6, 484-6.

The authors began with the statement " seems reasonable to expect that the ability of subjects to identify two-dimensional tones (tones differing in pitch and loudness) should be better than their ability to identify one-dimensional tones."  The authors expected that, by adding a second dimension, their subjects would become able to recognize more tones.  But the authors hadn't counted on the result that the subjects recognized tones that differed only in loudness (and not pitch) as different tones.  So the subjects may have been able to recognize a greater quantity of tones, but the loudness variable gave them more tones in the same pitch classes, so recognition of pitch chroma was not improved.

Fulgosi, A. and Zaja, B.  (1975).  Information transmission of 3.1 bits in absolute identification of auditory pitch.  Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 6, 379-80.

The term "bits" is a measurement of the quantity of information that the listener can remember.  The normal level is 2.3 "bits", which equates to remembering five tones.  At the beginning of this experiment, subjects were at this level, but by its end, they were able to identify nine different tones (3.1 "bits") and a couple had reached 11 tones (3.4 "bits").  However, despite the improvement thus noted, the conclusion may be questionable:  were the tones truly separated into nine different categories, or were there five categories of contrasting pairs?  This question may be irrelevant; I only mention it because the authors seem to be advancing the notion that tone memory has an unusual ability to retain multiple categories.


Eaton, K.E. and Siegel, M.H.  (1976).  Strategies of absolute pitch possessors in the learning of an unfamiliar scale.  Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 8, 289-91.

The authors wondered what would happen if they asked absolute and non-absolute listeners to identify the pitches of a non-traditional scale, so they divided an octave into unusual steps and gave the tones new letter labels (K through W).  All subjects, in both groups, improved with practice; however, the absolute listeners learned the tones by comparing the new tones with their familiar categories while the other listeners learned the tones by straight memorization.  Interestingly, "[n]one of the AP subjects realized that three of the tones (K, O, and W) were precisely in tune with the musical scale with which they were highly familiar."


Chang, H. and Trehub, S.E.  (1977).  Infants' perception of temporal grouping in auditory patterns.  Child Development, 48, 1666-70.

The authors played melodies for infants and measured the infants' heart rates to achieve "same" or "different" responses (the head-turning response, which these same authors used in 1984, was not yet standard).  Although they couldn't be sure of why they got the results they did-- overall temporal patterning or simple recognition of a pause-- the authors did confirm that infants were definitely able to detect temporal differences in melodies which were otherwise identical.

Chang, H. and Trehub, S.E.  (1977).  Auditory processing of relational information by young infants.  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 24(2), 324-31.

Like their other study in this same year, the authors played melodies for 5-month-old infants to achieve same/different judgments.  This time, though, they were assessing transposition rather than temporal differences.  It turns out that the infants did recognize a transposed melody as "same", while another melody with the same pitches was considered "different".  (I confess some relief that the term "relative pitch" appears nowhere in this report.)

Chi, J.G., Dooling, E.C., and Gilles, F.H.  (1977).  Left-right asymmetries of the temporal speech areas in the human fetus.  Archives of Neurology, 34, 346-8.

By cutting up fetuses (stillborns and other unfortunates) the scientists discovered that, in 54% of their brains, there was "[g]reater size and number of the right transverse temporal gyri and a longer temporal plane on the left..."  Although this does mean that 46% of them didn't have this particular asymmetry, and 18% of them were actually reversed, there is nonetheless evidence for inborn asymmetry of the linguistic areas of the brain.

House, W.J.  (1977).  Octave generalization and the identification of distorted melodies.  Perception & Psychophysics, 21, 586-9.

In response and in contrast to Deutsch's 1972 "mysterious melody" article, House conducted an experiment which seemed to suggest that subjects were able to use octave generalization to recognize a scrambled tune.

Siegel, J.A. and Siegel, W.  (1977).  Absolute identification of notes and intervals by musicians.  Perception & Psychophysics, 21, 143-152.

Musicians identified musical sounds categorically, without being overpowered by context effects, "...and the resulting identification functions were similar to those which have been previously obtained for speech."  Non-musicians' identification of the same stimuli was unreliable and greatly influenced by context.  "These findings suggest that musicians acquire categories for pitch that are functionally similar to phonemic categories for speech."

Vernon, P.E.  (1977).  Absolute pitch: a case study.  British Journal of Psychology, 68, 485-9.

The case study here is the author himself.  Vernon is 71 years old at the time of writing, and he perceived that his absolute pitch ability had drifted upwards by a whole tone.  The study exists to evaluate the author's perceptual drift, statistically as well as anecdotally.  Based on his own experience, Vernon states that a perceived pitch may not necessarily be the same as the pitch received at the cochlea, and he speculates that this may be because of a stiffening of the basilar membrane.


Deutsch, D.  (1978).  Octave generalization and melody identification.  Perception & Psychophysics, 23(1), 91-2.

Deutsch points out that Hull's experiment of the previous year made one error:  the subjects were given too strong a clue in the names the tunes they could be hearing.  Deutsch argues that the subjects used octave generalization to confirm, but not recognize, the melodies.

Deutsch, D.  (1978).  Pitch memory:  An advantage for the left-handed.  Science, 199(4328), 559-60.

Deutsch has conducted almost a dozen studies on various permutations of the same task:  play a standard tone, play a bunch of interfering tones, and play a comparison tone.  Most of the other studies (which are generally not included on this page) test different types of interference, but this one paid attention to different types of subjects.  The left-handed subjects were markedly better than the right-handed; furthermore, among ambidextrous subjects, those who favored the left hand were also better than those who favored the right.  This naturally suggests a difference in brain-processing organization for musical pitch that is somehow correlated with handedness.

Dowling, W.J.  (1978).  Scale and contour:  Two components of a theory of memory for melodies.  Psychological Review, 85, 341-54.

Through direct experiment and reference to other experiments, Dowling illustrates how contour and scale are perceptually independent but functionally interdependent.

Gandour, J. and Harshman, R.  (1978).  Crosslanguage differences in tone perception:  A multidimensional scaling investigation.  Language and Speech, 21(1), 1-33.

Gregory, Andrew H.  (1978).  Perception of clicks in music.  Perception & Psychophysics, 24, 171-4.

Listeners consistently misjudged when a click occurred in music.  Based on phrase boundaries or to which ear it was presented, the click usually appeared to the listener to occur somewhere other than where it was actually presented.  This provides additional evidence for the inference of pitch and phoneme sounds based on structural perception.

Idson, W.L. and Massaro, D.W.  (1978).  A bidimensional model of pitch in the recognition of melodies.  Perception & Psychophysics, 24, 551-65.

The authors found that, as long as contour was preserved, melodies were recognizable even if the octaves of the individual tones were scrambled.  They suggest that perhaps the tone chroma allows "tagging" of each tone to a particular position which then becomes a reference for the rest of the melodic tones; the effect of contour subsequently suggests which direction one travels around the pitch circle.


Christensen, I.P. and Huang, Y.L.  (1979).  The auditory tau effect and memory for pitch.  Perception & Psychophysics, 26, 489-94.

Subjects listened to three tones in order:  1000Hz, a middle tone, and 3000Hz.  The subjects were told to adjust the middle tone until it was precisely in the middle of the other two (in terms of pitch height).  The researchers found that when the second tone was played sooner-- nearer in time to the first tone-- subjects adjusted the second tone to be too high, and when the second tone was played later, it was adjusted to be too low.  A possible explanation for this is that each note has a certain "energy" that degrades in memory over time (this is what the researchers suggested).  I wonder if there are tonal orientation and rhythmic effects which are unaccounted for.

Kallman, H.J. and Massaro, D.W.  (1979).  Tone chroma is functional in melody recognition.  Perception & Psychophysics, 26(1), 32-36.

Following Deutsch's "mysterious melody", the authors confirmed that octave-generalized melodies were nonetheless recognizable.  They concluded that their subjects used octave-generalized tone chroma to judge intervals and reinterpret melodic contour.

Krumhansl, C.L.  (1979).  The psychological representation of musical pitch in a tonal context.  Cognitive Psychology, 11, 346-374.

An exploration of the observation that, in a tonal context, there are many characteristics of a musical tone which are perceived as "pitch".  The author subsequently argues for a more complex definition of "pitch", because she has shown that pitch in a tonal context is defined by more than height and chroma.  Although I agree that there is great value in detailing the effects of tonal context on pitch perception, I suspect that in from absolute perspective it may be more appropriate to discuss these effects as separate from rather than incorporated with pitch.  On the other hand, this might be indicative of the appropriateness of the term "pitch" for the overall sensation of tone while "chroma" refers to the objective pitch class.

Morais, J., Cary, L., Alegria, J., and Bertelson, P.  (1979).  Does awareness of speech as a sequence of phonemes arise spontaneously?  Cognition, 7, 323-31.

No, it doesn't.  People appear to gain phonemic awareness by learning to read.  This study contains the experiment with the Portuguese illiterates which I refer to occasionally.


Bever, T.G.  Broca and Lashley were right:  Cerebral dominance is an accident of growth.  In Caplan, D (ed.) Biological Studies of Mental Processes, 186-230.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

The authors write generally about the left side's "relational" processing skills and the right side's "holistic" processing skills.  They explain that the use of either side is not dependent on the quality of a sensory input but the processing task which is applied to it.  This implies the hypothesis that, in any sensory modality, there is a right-to-left shift as learning occurs-- and the authors did find that musically naive listeners demonstrated a left-ear advantage for melody recognition, while trained musicians showed the opposite.

Massaro, D.W., Kallman, H.J., and Kelly, J.  (1980).  The role of tone height, melodic contour, and tone chroma in melody recognition.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 6, 77-90.

The authors taught their subjects to recognize certain melodies, and then they applied different transformations of height, contour, and chroma to those melodies.  They concluded that all three components contribute to melody recognition, with contour and height being the most significant.

Woods, B.T.  Observations on the neurological basis for initial language acquisition.  In Caplan, D (ed.) Biological Studies of Mental Processes, 149-58.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

I picked out this article for the following quote:  "While our studies fail to support the hypothesis that the right hemisphere... has an early active role in speech, they have shown a time-of-lesion-dependent effect of right-hemisphere lesions on language..."  That is, the earlier that the right-brain is damaged, the more likely it is to affect language functions.  This would seem to support the hypothesis that the right brain transforms sound sensation into time-invariant information before handing it over to the left side; it would also support the speculation that sensation is initially processed by the right side, which then recruits the left side to make sense of it, so that sensory learning proceeds from the right to the left side.


Bertoncini, J. and Mehler, J.  (1981).  Syllables as units in infant speech perception.  Infant Behavior and Development, 4, 247-60.

This article provides evidence that "the syllable is the natural unit of speech segmentation and processing."

Costall, A., Platt, S., and MacRae, A.  (1981).  Memory strategies in absolute identification of "circular" pitch.  Perception & Psychophysics, 29, 589-93.

How would people be able to identify absolute tones if, by using Shepard tones, there were no "highest" or "lowest" pitches?  Answer: by attempting to count the number of pitch categories between the tones.

Deutsch, D.  (1981).  The internal representation of pitch sequences in tonal musicPsychological Review, 88, 503-22.

The author's work supports a model of hierarchical organization for tonal music, from global structure to individual component.

Goldberg, E. and Costa, L.D.  (1981).  Hemisphere differences in the acquisition and use of descriptive systems.  Brain and Language, 14(1), 144-73.

I may come back to this study for further detail-- in the meantime, here is its conclusion:  "In the process of acquisition of a new descriptive system, the right hemisphere plays a critical role in initial stages of acquisition, whereas the left hemisphere is superior at utilizing well-routinized codes.  This leads to a right-to-left shift of hemisphere superiority as a function of increased competence with respect to a particular type of processing."

Lockhead, G.R. and Byrd, R.  (1981).  Practically perfect pitch.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 70(2), 387-9.

Musicians with absolute pitch were shown to accurately name 99% of piano tones when tested; when listening to sine waves, the same listeners achieved only 58% success.  They reported using a two-step process, first identifying the tone's pitch class and then its octave.

MacRae, A.  (1981).  Memory strategies in absolute identification of "circular" pitch.  Perception and Psychophysics, 29, 589-93.

Haack, P.A., and Radocy, R.E.  (1981).  A case study of a chromasthetic.  Journal of Research in Music Education, 29(2), 85-90.

Although chromesthesia has seemed decreasingly relevant to my studies, this article offers the unusual twist that while the woman's ability to provide verbal labels for each pitch deteriorated with age and lack of practice, the colors evoked by the pitches remained consistent and were strongly perceived.


Balzano, G.J. and Liesch, B.W.  (1982).  The role of chroma and scalestep in the recognition of musical intervals in and out of context.  Psychomusicology, 2(2), 3-31.

Yet another blow to "distance" perception of intervals.  The authors asked their subjects to identify intervals that were played both harmonically and melodically (that is, together or as separate tones.  They found that the subjects made different kinds of errors depending on how the intervals were presented, and their data "...strongly indicate that the conception of musical intervals as one-dimensional perceptual objects varying only in width is inadequate."

Deutsch, D.  (1982).  The influence of melodic context on pitch recognition judgment.  Perception & Psychophysics, 31(5), 407-10.

Basically, when people are presented with the same tones in different key contexts, they think that the tones are different.  This suggests that they are perceiving scale-degree qualities as part of their perception of "pitch".

Hall, D.E.  (1982).  Practically perfect pitch: Some comments.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 71(3), 754-5.

Hall whines about the use of the term "perfect pitch" instead of "absolute pitch", and then complains that Lockhead and Byrd's tests made no attempts to confound relative pitch identification.

Lockhead, G.R.  (1982).  Practically perfect performance.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 71(3), 755-6.

In response to Hall's complaints, Lockhead says that "perfect" and "absolute" are interchangeable for his purposes; furthermore, the drop from 99% to 58% was significant regardless of whether the subjects were using absolute or relative strategies.

Oura, Y. and Eguchi, K.  (1982).  幼児の絶対音感訓練プログラムと適用例.  Ongaku Kyouiku Kenkyu (Music Education Research), 32, 162-171. (in Japanese)
Oura, Y. and Eguchi, K.  (1982).  Absolute pitch training program for children.  Ongaku Kyouiku Kenkyu (Music Education Research), 32, 162-171 (Translated by Aruffo, C.)
Shepard, R.N.  (1982).  Geometrical approximations to the structure of musical pitch.  Psychological Review, 89, 305-33.

An explanation of various ways to conceive of pitch and pitch structure:  helix, double helix, spiralled torus, chroma circles, and more.

Terhardt, E. and Ward, W.D.  (1982).  Recognition of musical key:  Exploratory study.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 72(1), 26-33.

Non-absolute musicians were generally able to identify whether a sounded melody absolutely matched the printed score they were given.  Terhardt and Ward fail to determine how the identifications were made.


Block, L.  (1983).  Comparative tone-color responses of college majors with absolute pitch and good relative pitch.  Psychology of Music, 11(2), 59-66.

In weekly sessions, subjects were asked to assign colors to the 12 pitch classes.  Absolute listeners were significantly more consistent in their assignments than were non-absolute listeners.

Fulgosi, A., Knezovic, Z., and Zarevski, P.  (1983).  Amount of information transmitted in absolute judgments of pitch calculated according to the majority rule.  Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 21, 193-4.

The authors claim that their study demonstrates how the "amount of information transmitted" is different from subject to subject-- or, in other words, that different people are better or worse at identifying tones after some training.

Terhardt, E.  (1983).  Absolute and relative pitch revisited on psychoacoustic grounds.  Proceedings of the 11th International Congress on Acoustics, 4, Paris, 427-30.

Terhardt suggests that normal and absolute listeners are different "not [because] the former are completely ignorant of absolute pitch, but that they restrict their processing of absolute pitch to temporal periods of the order of one minute (short-term memory) and do not categorize pitches in order to retain them in long-term memory."

Terhardt, E. and Seewann, M.  (1983).  Aural key identification and its relationship to absolute pitch.  Music Perception, 1, 63-83.

"It is thus concluded that both AP possessors and non-AP-possessors depend on absolute pitch information when identifying musical key; however, they employ different perceptual modes:  AP possessors primarily identify individual notes, while non-AP-possessors unconsciously deduce from a series of notes a feeling of key."


Balzano, G.J.  (1984).  Absolute pitch and pure tone identification.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 75(2), 623-5.

Subjects with absolute pitch were able to identify sine tones.  They aren't as good at it as with musical pitch, but they can do it, further supporting that the fundamental frequency is the "chroma" by which absolute listeners identify tones.

Demany, L., and Armand, F.  (1984).  The perceptual reality of tone chroma in early infancy.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 76(1), 57-66.

The authors played different melodies to infants; the melodies had the same pitches, but in different octaves.  When contour was violated, the babies responded as though the melodies were novel; when contour was maintained, the babies judged the melodies to be the same (even in different octaves).

Deutsch, D., Moore, F.R., and Dolson, M.  (1984).  Pitch classes differ with respect to height.  Music Perception, 2, 265-71.

The authors played Shepard tones for their subjects and discovered that different people have different "bottom notes" on their pitch (chroma) circle.  That is, when you take out obvious octave clues, different pitch classes will be "higher" than others depending on who you ask.  Deutsch has also illustrated this repeatedly with her tritone paradox.

Goldman, E.H.  (1984).  The effect of original and electronically altered oboe, clarinet, and French horn timbres on absolute pitch judgments.  Doctoral dissertation, University of Oregon.

The author varied elements of timbre such as decay, peak, and clipping to see if these elements affected pitch judgments.  They didn't.  The author found no significant differences between the modified and the normal timbres.

Гребельник С.Г.  (1984).  Формирование у дошкольников абсолютного музыкального слуха. Вопросы психологии, 2, 90-8.
Grebelnik, S.G.  (1984).  Training preschoolers to develop absolute musical pitch.  Psychology, 2, 90-8.  (Translated by Christopher Aruffo).

According to Cohen (1990), Grebelnik's procedure was to have his preschoolers memorize 11 different folk melodies, one for each scale tone.  The training "transferred to identification of piano tones well above chance."

Klein, M., Coles, M., and Donchin, E.  (1984).  People with absolute pitch process tones without producing a P300.  Science 223(4642), 1306-9.

The "P300" is better defined in Hantz's 1992 paper, as "a positive wave occurring approximately 300 msec after the onset of a task-relevant, infrequent, or surprising stimulus... [it is] invoked whenever there is a need to update a model of the environment in working memory."  In other words, the P300 appears in response to an infrequent (or "oddball") event.  The absolute listeners' lack of P300 in a note-naming task led the authors to suggest that "[s]everal accounts of the AP phenomenon suggest that subjects with this skill have access to permanently resident representations of the tones, so that they do not need, as the rest of us do, to fetch and compare representations for novel stimuli.  Our data are consistent with the interpretation that the P300 is a manifestation of such comparisons."

Trehub, S.E., Bull, D., and Thorpe, L.A.  (1984).  Infants' perception of melodies: the role of melodic contour.  Child Development, 55, 821-30.

To "extend previous research on infants' perception of melodies," the authors determine whether the head-turn testing method for infants is reliable (it is) and then present the infants with various melodies.  Some melodies preserve contour; others break it; still others maintain the pitch information but in different octaves.  The authors discovered that the infants judged melodies to be different when either the contour or the range was broken.  When the contour was not broken, but pitches were changed, the infants thought the melodies to be the same.

Zakay, D., Roziner, I., and Ben-Arzi, S.  (1984).  On the nature of absolute pitch.  Archive fur Psychologie, 136, 163-66.

A simple experiment with nine absolute listeners, confirming that there is a Stroop-like interference effect when word names do not match the pitches at which they are sung.


Clarkson, M.G. and Clifton, R.K.  (1985).  Infant pitch perception: Evidence for responding to pitch categories and the missing fundamental.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 77(4), 1521-8.

Apparently, 7-month-old infants are also subject to the missing fundamental effect.

Costall, A.  (1985).  The relativity of absolute pitch.  In P. Howell, I. Goss, and R. West (eds.), Musical Structure and Cognition, pp. 189-209.  London: Academic Press.

Cross, I., Howell, P., and West, R.  (1985).  Structural relationships in the perception of musical pitch.  In P. Howell, I. Goss, and R. West (eds.), Musical Structure and Cognition, pp. 121-142.  London: Academic Press.


Deutsch, M.  Absolute pitch.  Down Beat, 53(1), 54-55.

A reprint of his 1954 article.


Barkowsky, J.M.  An investigation into pitch identification behavior of absolute pitch and relative pitch subjects.  (1987).  Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The author subjected both absolute and relative listeners to a note-naming task.  The conditions of the tests were neither novel nor unusual, and the results were entirely unsurprising.

Galaburda, A.M., Corsiglia, J., Rosen, G.D., and Sherman, G.F.  (1987).  Planum temporale asymmetry, reappraisal since Geschwind and Levitsky.  Neuropsychologia, 25(6), 853-68.

This paper offers an important developmental perspective:  "Changes away from asymmetry... involve increase in the smaller side [of the planum temporale], rather than decrease in size of the larger."  It's not insignificant that these authors have done additional research in dyslexia (I recognized Galaburda's name from Music & Dyslexia) because dyslexics typically have symmetrical plana.  I see this raising a valuable question:  does the dyslexic brain become dyslexic because its holistic processors (right) are too strong, allowing the symbolic processors (left) to become lazy, or does the right side grow to compensate for an anatomically weak (if physically larger) left side?  And why, then, are people with absolute pitch possessed of an unusually large left side, if asymmetry occurs through the growth of the ordinarily smaller side?

McGeough, C.S.W.  (1987).  Absolute pitch and the perception of sequential musical intervals.  Master's thesis, University of British Colombia (Canada).

The author noted that, in attempting to identify intervals, absolute listeners have the option of identifying the tones and inferring the intervals.  Her data show that this does not generally happen-- absolute listeners did evaluate the intervals directly-- and the one of her subjects who did identify the tones instead did not do so consistently, but switched between strategies in no apparent pattern.

Rakowski, A. and Morawska-Büngeler, M.  (1987).  In search of the criteria for absolute pitch.  Archives of Acoustics, 12, 75-87.

The authors asked subjects (with and without absolute pitch) to attempt the following three tasks:  identifying a heard tone, producing a named tone, and tuning a variable sound source to a named pitch.  The strategies used by the absolute listeners revealed significant differences in the nature of how the tones were perceived and how they were represented in memory.

Steblin, R.  (1987).  Towards a history of absolute pitch recognition.  College Music Symposium, 27, 141-153.

A summary of some perspectives on the nature of absolute pitch, followed by anecdotal reports about famous historical composers who had absolute pitch.

Trehub, S.E.  (1987).  Infants' perception of musical patterns.  Perception & Psychophysics, 41, 635-41.

"For the most part, infants focus on relational aspects of melodies, synthesizing global representations from local details... Infants have difficulty retaining exact pitches except for sets of pitches that embody important musical relations."

Trehub, S.E., Thorpe, L.A., and Morrongiello, B.A.  (1987).  Organizational processes in infants' perception of auditory patterns.  Child Development, 58, 741-9.

The authors provide evidence for the single, simple conclusion that infants "categorize sequences of sounds on the basis of global, relational properties such as melodic contour."  The experiment demonstrated only the infants' sensitivity to melodic contour, although the text suggests ways that this might be applicable in attending to and decoding audible speech.

Ueda, K. and Ohgushi, K.  (1987).  Perceptual components of pitch: spatial representation using a multidimensional scaling technique.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 82(4), 1193-1200.

Using Shepard tones, the authors provide further evidence that pitch class and tone height are separate attributes of tone.


Deutsch, D.  (1988).  The semitone paradox.  Music Perception, 6, 115-32.

In this experiment, Deutsch used Shepard tones to further demonstrate that pitch class judgments are independent of relative "height", but do nonetheless carry an implied height in their position on the "pitch circle".

Greenberg, S.N.  (1988).  Are letter codes always activated?  Perception & Psychophysics, 44(4), 331-338.

The author's experiment instructed readers to pay attention either to words or to letters.  He found that if a person was instructed to read letters, it interfered with their ability to perceive the words; if instructed to read words, it suppressed perception of the letter sounds.

Miyazaki, K.  (1988).  Musical pitch identification by absolute pitch possessors.  Perception & Psychophysics, 44(6), 501-512.

The purposes of the study were explained as:
1.  to develop an experimental task which clearly separates AP possessors from non-possessors
2.  to evaluate how accurately AP possessors can categorize... when a semitone is finely divided
3.  to estimate the range and position of musical pitch categories of AP possessors along a frequency continuum.
For purpose #1, the author apparently succeeded by presenting complex sounds which were musically ambiguous (that is, not distinctly recognizable as musical tones).  AP possessors were able to detect the tone chroma; non-possessors had no musical reference and their performance was recognizably poorer.  For the other purposes, the author discovered that AP listeners generally had biases towards white piano tones, and tended to categorize rather than make specific chromatic judgments.

Nakajima, Y., Tsumura, T., Matsuura, S., Minami, H., and Teranishi, R.  (1988).  Dynamic pitch perception for complex tones derived from major triads.  Music Perception, 6, 1-20.

The authors created triad chords with odd spectral envelopes in order to further demonstrate pitch circularity.  With the chords, they found that some subjects perceived an octave shift, and other subjects perceived an inversion of the chords.

Profita, J. and Bidder, T.G.  (1988).  Perfect pitch.  American Journal of Medical Genetics, 29(4), 763-71.

The authors analyzed the familial appearance of absolute pitch in 35 different subjects (representing 19 different families).  The analysis generated a pattern which the authors believe could be explained by genetic inheritance.

Welsch, G.F.  (1988).  Observations on the incidence of absolute pitch in the early blind.  Psychology of Music, 16(1), 77-80.

The author notes that absolute pitch is more prevalent in the blind population, and further describes how the ability exists in many different manifestations which are not as easily found in sighted subjects... because he wonders why people aren't bothering to study this.

Zatorre, R.J.  (1988).  Pitch perception of complex tones and human temporal-lobe function.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 84(2), 566-72.

Zatorre's subjects were patients who had (or hadn't) undergone lobectomies.  He played complex tones for them and, from their responses, suggested that "Heschl's gyri and surrounding cortex in the right cerebral hemisphere play a crucial role in extracting the pitch corresponding to the fundamental from a complex tone."


Halpern, A.R.  (1989).  Memory for the absolute pitch of familiar songs.  Memory and Cognition, 17, 572-81.

Subjects were able to retain and reproduce absolute pitch information in familiar songs-- but "this should not be taken to mean that everyone has a mild case of what is traditionally called AP," because there was no evidence of a stable pitch identification process.

Johnson, J.S. and Newport, E.L.  (1989).  Critical periods in language learning: the influence of maturational state on the acquisition of English as a second language.  Cognitive Psychology, 21, 60-99.

The authors examined existing evidence, and also conducted their own experiment to find a correlation between exposure to a new language and command of its grammatical structure.  The authors do not support the idea of an absolute "critical period" in which learning must occur, but rather, "...our results are most naturally accommodated by some kind of maturational account... that there is maturational change in a specific language acquisition device... [a]lso consistent with our results are views which hypothesize more general cognitive changes over maturation... [f]rom this view, an increase in certain cognitive abilities may, paradoxically, make language learning more difficult."

Michalski, R.S.  (1989).  Two-tiered concept meaning, inferential matching, and conceptual cohesiveness.  In Similarity and Analogical Reasoning, S. Vosniadu and A. Ortony (eds.), pp.122-145.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

"Inference allows us to remember less and know more."  The human mind operates with efficiency; if just by knowing A we can reasonably and quickly deduce B, C, D, E and F, then we will remember A and "forget" the rest.  A person may thus "significantly reduce the amount of storage required without affecting the performance accuracy of the concept description."  The perspective of the "two-tiered" model, in which any concept has a base memory representation and components inferred from that base, may help explain why the human mind suppresses the perception of individual characteristics of objects.

Miyazaki, K.  (1989).  Absolute pitch identification:  effects of timbre and pitch region.  Music Perception, 7(1), 1-14.

Absolute listeners found it easiest to identify piano tones, followed by complex tones and then sine tones.  Non-absolute listeners weren't very good at any of the three timbres.  It seemed clear that the absolute listeners were using pitch class to make their judgments, although timbre gave useful clues.

Pantev, C., Hoke, M., Lütkenhöner, B., and Lehnertz, K.  (1989).  Tonotopic organization of the auditory cortex: Pitch versus frequency representation.  Science, 246(4929), 486-8.

By performing brain-scans of listeners who heard either complex tones (virtual pitch) or simple tones (spectral pitch), Pantev and his group determined that the tonotopic-map area of the primary auditory cortex is activated by pitch, rather than frequency, thus implying that pitch formation activity takes place in the subcortical areas of the brain.

Rips, L.J.  (1989).  Similarity, typicality, and categorization.  In Similarity and Analogical Reasoning, S. Vosniadu and A. Ortony (eds.), pp.21-59.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The author illustrates how there are many different types of categorization, and that an object's category depends on the frame within which it is being evaluated.  That is, "...concepts are to be taken to be minitheories about the nature of the categories they describe.  Categorizing an object is then a matter of applying the relevant theory."  In other words, we create categories based on what we believe we're perceiving.

*Rush, M.  (1989).  An experimental investigation of the effectiveness of training on absolute pitch in adult musicians.  Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State Univ.

Smith, L.B.  (1989).  From global similarity to kinds of similarity:  the construction of dimensions in development.  In Similarity and Analogical Reasoning, S. Vosniadu and A. Ortony (eds.), pp.146-78.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

According to this chapter, our minds naturally learn to recognize objects first, followed by our recognition of the objects' characteristics.  That is, we learn whole-object identity before we are able to identify its parts.  It is then in the identification of parts that we become able to identify dimensions of objects and classify the objects categorically according to these dimensions.  She specifically mentions how children consistently prefer whole-object identities to characteristic divisions.  This would seem to contradict the fact that children perceive characteristic information more readily than relational information, but she explains that children must learn to integrate their perception of characteristic with their comprehension of object-- in other words, they can perceive an object (and all its characteristics) without knowing which specific characteristics define the object.

Takeuchi, A.H.  (1989).  Absolute pitch and response time: The processes of absolute pitch identification.  Master's thesis, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.  (abstract currently unavailable)

Zatorre, R.J. (1989). Intact absolute pitch ability after left temporal lobectomy. Cortex, 25, 567-580.

Zatorre managed to catch this subject before he went under the knife.  Consequently, there are four tests:  two before surgery and two after.  The post-surgical charts show an initial reduction in ability, but full reclamation of absolute pitch by one year's time.  In the surgical procedure, it doesn't seem as though the planum temporale was removed, but some language areas were definitely excised; the most likely explanation is that other parts of the brain were recruited and trained to take on the functions lost to the lobectomy.

Zatorre, R. and Beckett, C.  (1989).  Multiple coding strategies in the retention of musical tones by possessors of absolute pitch.  Memory and Cognition, 17(5), 582-9.

The authors asked absolute listeners to remember tones, and then attempted various ways of confounding that memory with interference tasks.  From their results, they concluded that the absolute listeners were remembering more than just the tones' letter names.


Cohen, A.J. and Baird, K.  (1990).  Acquisition of absolute pitch:  the question of critical periods.  Psychomusicology, 9(1), 31-37.

The authors attempted to study Eguchi's method by implementing it at a Canadian school.  They failed to produce results.  The author speculates that this failure is due to a methodical difference-- training three times a week instead of once a day, and failing to integrate the method with a greater program of musical training-- and discusses, theoretically, why the method should work with a more thorough approach.

*Krumhansl, C.L.  Cognitive foundations of musical pitch.  (Vol. 17)  New York: Oxford University Press.

Krumhansl, C.L. and Jusczyk, P.W.  (1990).  Infants' perception of phrase structure in music.  Psychological Science, 1(1), 70-73.

Trehub (87) had already shown that infants perceived relative contour of musical sound; Krumhansl and Jusczyk wondered whether infants were sensitive to segmentation within that contour.  Their data showed that "infants prefer to listen to musical passages that are interrupted at phrase boundaries compared to ones interrupted in the middle of phrases."  This seems to offer additional support for the idea that children's perception of music begins at the holistic level and finds its way inward.

Miyazaki, K.  (1990).  The speed of musical pitch identification by absolute pitch possessors.  Music Perception, 8(2), 177-88.

The subjects he tested recognized the white piano tones faster and more accurately than the black ones.  Miyazaki attributes this to training methods which emphasize C-major sounds, but it is also possible that it's a statistical effect as demonstrated by Simpson and Huron (1994).

Newport, E.L.  (1990).  Maturational constraints on language learning.  Cognitive Science, 14(1), 11-28.

The basic suggestion here is that adults are not as good at learning language because they're already too good at processing language.  The author suspects that children, who haven't developed their linguistic skills, are more able to abstract the components and structures demanded by different languages, and adults, who already "know" the components and structures of language, find it more difficult to step backwards and redevelop those basic processes.

Repp, B.H., and Lin, H.  (1990).  Integration of segmental and tonal information in speech perception:  A cross-linguistic study.  Journal of Phonetics, 18, 481-95.

The authors wondered:  do tone-language speakers integrate tone sounds (F0) and formant sounds (F1+) more completely than non-tone speakers?  The authors presented their English and Chinese subjects with nonsense syllables and discovered no difference between the two groups.  This is in accordance with Gandour's work which shows that tone speakers only activate pitch processing when the pitch is presented in the context of their own language, and may further contribute to the idea that pitch sound is a kind of sub-phoneme in tone languages.

White, D.J., Dale, P.S., and Carlsen, J.C.  (1990).  Discrimination and categorization of pitch direction by young children.  Psychomusicology, 9(1), 39-58.

From the results of their experiment, the authors conclude that younger children are unable to categorize pitch direction.  I suspect an inherent problem in the probability that children may not connect the sensation of pitch "direction" with a specific motor response (I think of the violin teacher whose preschool students didn't know which way to move their fingers to correct a wrong note), so they may not be able to adequately convey what they do in fact hear; but in any case, the scientists did notice that younger children categorized by absolute features more readily than by relational ones.


Benguerel, A.P. and Westdal, C.  (1991).  Absolute pitch and perception of sequential musical intervals.  Music Perception, 9, 105-120.

The authors began with the premise that absolute listeners categorize pitch and relative listeners categorize intervals.  Therefore, they surmised, if tones were mistuned so that the tones formed certain intervals directly but different intervals by their pitch categories, absolute and non-absolute listeners would give different judgments.  The results showed this not to be the case, as only one absolute subject gave the expected (pitch-based) answers, and even then only occasionally.  The experimenters thus concluded that absolute listeners were using "relative pitch" to judge intervals.  Does this contradict Miyazaki's work?  Not necessarily.  These authors make no distinction between harmonic and distance listening; and their "sequential" intervals are what I would call "melodic", namely, played ascending or descending, which would facilitate distance listening.  Perhaps the absolute listeners were making harmonic judgments which would be affected by Miyazaki's out-of-tune conditions.

Chouard, C.H. and Sposetti, R.  (1991).  Environmental and electrophysiological study of absolute pitch.  Acta Oto-laryngologica, 111, 225-30.

If there's any significance to this study, I can't find it; the authors repeat Profita and Bidder's questionnaire from a couple years prior, and they observe that the "echo of otoacustic emissions", or EOE-- whatever that is-- is higher in absolute listeners than in relative listeners.  They don't bother to explain what EOE is or why a larger value is significant, and their conclusions don't seem compelling enough that I'd want to find out; but this is the only study I've seen that mentions EOE, so I don't want to ignore it completely.

Nering, M.E. (1991).  A study to determine the effectiveness of the David L Burge technique for development of perfect pitch.  Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Canada.

Takeuchi, A.H. and Hulse, S.H.  (1991).  Absolute pitch judgments of black- and white-key pitches.  Music Perception, 9(1), 27-46.

The authors noted that, in Miyazaki's experiments, he asked his subjects to identify tones by pressing the corresponding key on a piano-like keyboard-- on which the black keys are smaller and further away from the subject.  Could it be, they wondered, that people identified black keys more slowly because the black keys are more difficult to reach?  They conducted an experiment where all the buttons were equally easy to reach, and discovered that "white" keys were still identified more quickly.


Bialystok, E.  (1992).  Symbolic representation of letters and numbers.  Cognitive Development, 7(3), 301-16.

I find this paper significant for its three-stage description of how a child learns a set of symbolic graphemes, such as the alphabet or the set of cardinal numbers:
1.  Learning to recite the sequence
2.  Learning the written forms which are associated with each element in the sequence
3.  The graphemes become "understood [as] symbols whose function it is to refer to specific values."
This is, in short, the Taneda method's approach to absolute pitch.

Hantz, E.C., Crummer, G.C., Wayman, J.W., Walton, J.P., and Frisina, R.D.  (1992).  Effects of musical training and absolute pitch on the neural processing of melodic intervals.  Music Perception, 10(1), 25-42.

The authors studied the P300 wave while their subjects identified musical intervals.  I transferred their full definition of the P300 to my summary of Klein et al's 1984 paper, but in short, the P300 appears to be the brain's response to a novel stimulus which must be analyzed.  As such, their finding seems logical:  "training increases the amplitude and shortens the latency of the [P300]."  However, they found that absolute pitch ability reduces the amplitude (and latency), or even eliminates the P300 altogether.  From this evidence, the authors suspect that absolute pitch makes it possible for the subject to use a long-term memory strategy rather than a strategy that relies on working memory.

Kuhl, P., Williams, K., Lacerda, F., Stevens, K., and Lindblom, B.  (1992).  Linguistic experience alters phonetic perception in infants by 6 months of age.  Science, 255(5044), 606-8.

The authors arrived at this observation (which Kuhl also reported in The Scientist in the Crib) by testing both American and Swedish infants in a head-turning task.

Miyazaki, K.  (1992).  Perception of musical intervals by absolute pitch possessors.  Music Perception, 9, 413-426.

Miyazaki's broad theme is "absolute pitch as an inability."  His experiment here has shown that, when played intervals that are slightly out-of-tune from a standard C-major context, musicians with absolute pitch identify intervals more slowly than those without.  Musicians without absolute pitch suffer no degradation in response time.  Miyazaki takes this to mean that absolute pitch interferes with relative pitch ability, and (in keeping with his theme) that this harms their musicianship.  Myself, I wonder if this effect is similar to hearing a word pronounced in an unfamiliar accent; you recognize it, but its unfamiliar quality forces you to take a moment to fit it into the proper category.  If so, then one may draw the opposite conclusion from Miyazaki's-- that the relative listeners, in failing to detect any difference between the two conditions, thereby demonstrate their musical perception to be inferior.

Price, C., Wise, R., Ramsay, S., Friston, K., Howard, D., Patterson, K., and Frackowiak, R.  (1992).  Regional response differences within the human auditory cortex when listening to words.  Neuroscience Letters, 146(2), 179-82.

"This study demonstrates for the first time that time-dependent sensory signals (heard words) detected in the primary auditory cortices are transformed into a time-invariant output which is channeled to a functionally-specialized region-- Wernicke's area [left planum temporale].  Wernicke's area is therefore distinguished from other areas of the auditory cortex by direct observation of signal transformation rather than by association with a specific behavioral task."

Wayman, J.W., Frisina, R.D., Walton, J.P., Hantz, E., and Crummer, G.C.  (1992).  Effects of musical training and absolute pitch ability on event-related activity in response to sine tones.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 91(6), 3527-31.

This study essentially replicates the results of Klein et al's 1984 study with somewhat altered conditions:  there was no practice session and no feedback given to the subjects.  These researchers also failed to find a correlation between "AP test scores and either P3 amplitude or latency," but suggest that this is a procedural issue rather than a fundamental one.

Wynn, V.T.  (1992).  Absolute pitch revisited.  British Journal of Psychology, 83, 129-31.

Wynn wanted to discover whether age caused perceptual drift in absolute pitch ability.  He tested three of the same subjects who had participated in his 1971 study, as well as a subject from Carpenter's 1951 study.  With this sample, he found "no consistent drift with age," instead finding that his subjects' abilities tended to be affected by the same kinds of physical stresses and influences as they had been in the original study.

Zatorre, R.J., Evans, A.C., Meyer, E., and Gjedde, A.  (1992).  Lateralization of phonetic and pitch discrimination in speech processing.  Science, 256(5058), 846-9.

A PET brain-scan study which observed four important generalizations:
- Meaningless noise is processed in the primary auditory cortex
- Meaningful noise (e.g. speech) is processed in the secondary auditory cortex
- The phonemic sound of a syllable pair is processed in the left hemisphere
- The pitch sound of a syllable pair is processed in the right hemisphere
Regarding the last two observations-- the subjects heard the same syllables, but were asked to pay attention to either the consonant sound or the fundamental pitch sound (F0).  This means that the areas are activated when there is a judgment to be made; it does not provide comment on whether the areas are activated automatically.


Demany, L., and Semal, C.  (1993).  Pitch versus brightness of timbre:  Detecting combined shifts in fundamental and formant frequency.  Music Perception, 11(1), 1-14.

The authors varied chroma and height (which they referred to as "F0" and "Fc") to see if the two attributes would be independently evaluated. Although there were only 3 subjects, each subject showed a completely different level of integration for the two attributes, prompting the authors to speculate that "[t]hese effects... may have their origins in attentional 'biases' rather than in genuine sensory mechanisms."

McAdams, S. and Bigand, E., eds.  (1993).  Thinking In Sound: the Cognitive Psychology of Human Audition.  Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Miyazaki, K.  (1993).  Absolute pitch as an inability.  Music Perception, 11(1), 55-72.

The author observed that absolute pitch tests had generally been conducted in "amusical conditions", without relative contexts, and devised a test to determine whether an absolute listener's ability to judge relative intervals would be affected by different key contexts.  He found that for key contexts which were not C, the results for absolute-pitch subjects were comparable to those subjects who had no musical experience.  The author suggests that absolute listeners may attempt to use absolute pitch skills to accomplish relative tasks.

Rakowski, A.  (1993).  Categorical perception in absolute pitch.  Archives of Acoustics Quarterly, 18, 515-23.

The author tested two absolute listeners by playing tones which were a quarter-tone apart, and "the between-category discrimination... markedly exceeded the within-category discrimination, which signaled the existence of categorical perception."

Sakakibara, A.  (1993).  How well do absolute pitch possessors identify tone height and tone chroma?:  Effects of training to acquire absolute pitch.  Japanese Journal of Educational Psychology, 41(1), 85-92.

Shigeno, S.  (1993).  The interdependence of pitch and temporal judgments by absolute pitch possessors Perception and Psychophysics, 54(5), 682-92.

These experiments seem to demonstrate that, unlike ordinary listeners, absolute listeners' judgment of pitch is not affected by mental "grouping" with the prior or subsequent pitch-- unless the pitches cannot be easily categorized.  I wonder if the author's conclusion would be altered if she considered the pitch sounds to represent implicit movement rather than absolute spatial positions.

Takeuchi, A.H. and Hulse, S.H.  (1993).  Absolute pitch.  Psychological Bulletin, 113(2), 345-61.

The authors did their best to summarize all the issues and effects surrounding the phenomenon of absolute pitch-- and, considering that this article is referenced by just about every absolute-pitch-related article that came after it, they seem to have done a pretty good job of it. 

Tervaniemi, M., Alho, K., Paavilainen, P., Sams, M., and Näätänen, R.  (1993).  Absolute pitch and event-related brain potentials.  Music Perception, 10, 305-16.

"In summary, with AP and non-AP groups... differences were not found in auditory information processing... it might be concluded that pitch discrimination and identification are based on different brain mechanisms."

Wynn, V.T.  (1993).  Accuracy and consistency of absolute pitch.  Perception, 22(1), 113-21.

A short study of whether the subjects' absolute listening abilities varied over their lifespans.  Answer:  apparently not.


Barnea, A., Granot, R., and Pratt, H.  (1994).  Absolute Pitch-- Electrophysiological evidence.  International Journal of Psychophysiology, 16(1), 29-38.

This article takes a swipe at the other studies which claimed that absolute listeners "did not produce a P300".  The authors believed that certain logical omissions had been made:  for example, if absolute listeners don't produce a P300 because they can name tones, what does that say about other sensory-naming and linguistic tasks?  In their experiment, these authors conducted a brain-scan that was distributed across the scalp, and their results led them to suggest that "...[absolute listeners] use the same internal language as [non-absolute listeners], when possible, but the brain activity involved is distributed differently between these groups."

Burns, E. and Campbell, S.  (1994).  Frequency and frequency-ratio resolution by possessors of absolute and relative pitch:  examples of categorical perception?  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 95(5), 2704-19.

See November 6, 2006.

Clausen, H.H.  (1994).  A psychophysiological study of pitch naming and memory.  Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois at Chicago.

The author conducted sensory-response experiments which measured the P300 and N100 event-related potentials.  The author concludes that [her] data supports a model of categorical pitch perception and eliminates models of superior sensory or auditory processing ability.

Crummer, G., Walton, J., Wayman, J., Hantz, E., and Frisina, R.  (1994).  Neural processing of musical timbre by musicians, nonmusicians, and musicians possessing absolute pitch.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 95(5), 2720-7.

A brain-scan study in which the authors tested subjects of varying musical ability.  The better the subject's musical ability, the better they were at discriminating timbre, and the absolute listeners were the best of all.

Foundas, A.L., Leonard, C.M., Gilmore, R., Fennell, E., and Heilman, K.M.  (1994).  Planum temporale asymmetry and language dominance.  Neuropsychologia, 32(10), 1225-31.

This is the only report I've seen of a subject who processes language sounds in the right planum temporale.  The investigators don't say anything more about the subject except that the subject was left-handed.  This article is a terrible tease-- it doesn't draw any conclusions, and doesn't have enough data to make a solid point, but only suggests that there might be a relationship between handedness, planum temporale asymmetry, and language lateralization.

Jancke, L., Schlaug, G., Huang, Y., and Steinmetz, H.  (1994).  Asymmetry of the planum parietale.  Neuroreport, 5, 1161-3.

"[O]ur extended sample confirms that the direction of [planum parietale] asymmetry is opposite to that of the [planum temporale].  However, it should be emphasized that the degrees of asymmetry of both of these structures were only weakly correlated."

Karma, K.  (1994).  Auditory and visual temporal structuring: How important is sound to musical thinking?  Psychology of Music, 22(1), 20-30.

If you define "musical thinking" as "temporal patterning" then the author demonstrates how people can create mental temporal structures visually, without any sound involvement at all.  The experiment replaced high/low pitches with bright/dark colors and replaced sound volume with spatial volume (i.e. surface area), and discovered that these were adequate to create "melodies" for the observers.

Lamont, A. and Cross, I.  (1994).  Children's cognitive representations of musical pitch.  Music Perception, 12(1), 27-55.

The authors found a "clear developmental change" which they described as follows:  "...children 7 years old and older demonstrate a sensitivity to the diatonic collection in general... This sensitivity becomes more specific with age:  by 8 or 9 years, the conception of scalarity includes some indication of relative functions, and by age 11 years, these functions are clearly internalized."

Levitin, D.J.  (1994).  Absolute memory for musical pitch: evidence from production of learned melodiesPerception and Psychophysics, 56(4), 414-23.

This is a study that needed to be done; I've seen people (non-scientists) come up with this idea themselves and want to test it.  Levitin asked subjects to sing two familiar songs.  40% sang the correct pitch of one song; 12% got it exactly right for both; 44% came within 2 semitones both times.  Whether or not this is an expression of "absolute pitch ability" is debatable.

Matias, E., MacKenzie, I.S., and Buxton, W.  (1994).  Half-QWERTY:  a one-handed keyboard facilitating skill transfer from QWERTY Proceedings of the INTERCHI '93 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 88-94.  New York: ACM.

The paper shows that the process of "playing" sounds on a keyboard is mapped to which finger is used to press the key, rather than where the key is spatially located.

Morais, J. and Kolinsky, R.  (1994).  Perception and awareness in phonological processing:  The case of the phoneme.  Cognition, 50, 287-97.

A follow-up to their 1979 paper-- the one with the Portuguese illiterates-- in which they suggest that phonemes do exist, perceptually, at least as an unconscious process.

Simpson, J. and Huron, D.  (1994).  Absolute pitch as a learned phenomenon: Evidence consistent with the Hick-Hyman law.  Music Perception, 12, 267-70.

The Hick-Hyman law "relates the reaction time for a given stimulus to its expected frequency of occurrence."  In this case, the Hick-Hyman law would predict that people with absolute pitch will most quickly identify the tones which occur most frequently in their culture's music.  The authors analyzed samples of "Western music" to determine which pitches occurred most frequently, and compared that analysis to the response times of musicians with absolute pitch.  As they predicted, the correlation was strong.  However, the authors take a flying leap of logic when they conclude that this means that "absolute pitch is acquired through ordinary exposure to the pitches of Western music" (my emphasis); a genetic proponent could just as easily argue that exposure to music generates perceived categorical identities for the inherited ability.

Tiitinen, H., May, P., Reinikainen, K., and Näätänen, R.  (1994).  Attentive novelty detection in humans is governed by pre-attentive sensory memory.  Nature, 372(6501), 90-92.

The authors measured the "mismatch negativity" brainwave, or MMN, of subjects listening to standard and deviant tones.  They discovered that when the subjects weren't paying attention, the size of the MMN was directly proportional to the difference between the standard and deviant tone.  When the subjects were paying attention, the characteristics of their responses (such as latency) seemed to be directly dependent on the characteristics of the MMN.  The authors thus conclude that the information on which the attentive judgments are made is collected pre-attentively.

Trainor, L. and Trehub, S.  (1994).  Key membership and implied harmony in Western tonal music: Developmental perspectives.  Perception & Psychophysics, 56(2), 125-35.

For my purposes, the most important result of this experiment is its demonstration of a perceptual shift between ages 5 and 7.  5-year-olds were most influenced by key signature sound and not by harmony; 7-year-olds showed influences of relative harmony.  This is significant for Taneda's claim that "after age 5, results are not guaranteed."

Zatorre, R.J., Evans, A.C., and Meyer, E.  (1994).  Neural mechanisms underlying melodic pitch perception and memory for pitch.  Journal of Neuroscience, 14(4), 1908-19.

In a group of "musically unselected" subjects-- none of whom had absolute pitch-- brain scanning revealed that active attention to pitch caused activation of right-hemispheric areas.  Regardless of left/right usage, however, the authors' observations led them to the following thoughts (these are quotes, but with my emphases):
- neural processes in the primary cortices may differ, depending on the ultimate use of the extracted information.
- during active listening, in which pitch information, specifically, must be acted upon... only the most relevant stimulus features are selected for further processing.
- the perceptual information required was already extracted, probably automatically, during the passive listening phase.


Giard, M-H,. Lavikainen, J., Reinikainen, K., Perrin, F., Bertrand, O., Pernier, J., and Näätänen, R.  (1995).  Separate representation of stimulus frequency, intensity, and duration in auditory sensory memory: an event-related potential and dipole-model analysis.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 7(2), 133-43.

I keep talking about how a musical "tone object" is a collection of different characteristics, and therefore memorizing tones is not the same as learning pitch.  This study does me the courtesy of demonstrating how each of a tone's characteristics does in fact have a "separate neural representation in sensory memory."

Hantz, E.C., Kreilick, K.G., Braverman, A.L., and Swartz, K.P.  (1995).  Effects of musical training and absolute pitch on a pitch memory task: An event-related potential study.  Psychomusicology, 14, 53-76.

This paper shows that musicians with absolute pitch "produce a P300"-- that is, they use their short-term memory for pitch memory tasks.  This finding contradicts the conclusion (but not the observation) of other papers whose subjects did not produce a P300; the conclusion was that, because the absolute-pitch subject did not produce a P300, they must be using long-term memory to evaluate new sensory (pitch) input.

Howe, M.J.A., Davidson, J.W,. Moore, D.G., and Soloboa, J.A.  (1995).  Are there early childhood signs of musical ability?  Psychology of Music, 23(2), 162-76.

This study took the form of a questionnaire distributed to musicians and their parents.  The "most successful" musicians tended to begin listening to music at a younger age, and were more likely to have a keyboard instrument in their home when they were growing up-- but the only statistically significant correlate of high musical ability was this:  singing by the child.  This makes a great deal of sense to me, because singing is the only activity which requires internal auralization of musical sound.

Kemler-Nelson, D.G., Jusczyk, P.W., Mandel, D.R., Myers, J., Turk, A., and Gerken, L.A.  (1995).  The head-turn preference procedure for testing auditory perception.  Infant Behavior and Development, 18(1), 111-6.

Basically, the head-turn procedure works, and this article explains how.

Miyazaki, K.  (1995).  Perception of relative pitch with different references: some absolute pitch listeners can't tell musical interval namesPerception & Psychophysics, 57(7), 962-970

The author conducted experiments with absolute listeners to discover if their performance was affected by different relative contexts.  He determined that absolute listeners showed significant declines in performance when the reference context was not C.  He suggests that this could be because absolute listeners recognize certain intervals absolutely (by their pitch components) when oriented to C, and other contexts require the use of a fully relative perception which is comparatively weak.

Schlaug, G., Jäncke, L., Huang, Y., and Steinmetz, H.  (1995).  In vivo evidence of structural brain asymmetry in musicians Science, 267(5198), 699-701.

A brain scan study which shows that musicians with absolute pitch have an increased leftward asymmetry of the planum temporale.  ("In vivo" means "in a living body.")  They also cite earlier studies which show that asymmetry can be evidenced in the gestation period-- which lends support to the idea of a biological predisposition for absolute pitch.  I'll still keep the question in mind, though:  is it an enlarged left side which prompts the ability to develop, or an inadequate right side which stimulates the left?  ...or both?

Winkler, I., Tervaniemi, M., Huotilainen, M., Ilmnoniemi, R., Ahonen, A., Salonen, O., Standertskjöld-Nordenstam, C-G., and Näätänen, R.  (1995).  From objective to subjective: pitch representation in the human auditory cortex.  Neuroreport, 6(17), 2317-20.

The authors did a brain-scan study using both virtual pitch (the missing-fundamental effect) and spectral pitch (a normal tone sound).  According to their data, "subjective features, such as pitch, are formed from objective stimulus parameters (i.e., the spectral contents of a sound) before storing acoustic information in memory."  That's my emphasis-- it seems to me that the significance of this finding is that it demonstrates how the characteristics of a tone are interpreted before being committed to short-term memory.


Binder, J.R., Frost, J.A., Haromeke, T.A., Rao, S.M., and Cox, R.W.  (1996).  Function of the left planum temporale in auditory and linguistic processing.  Brain, 119(4), 1239-47.

Another unusual perspective on planum-temporale asymmetry.  Through fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) brain scanning, the authors found in the planum temporale equivalent activations for both language and tone tasks.  They interpret their results to mean that, contrary to everything I've read to date, the planum temporale is not language-specific-- furthermore, they suspect that the left-side asymmetry "does not produce language lateralization" but is in fact caused by surrounding structures which are language-specific.

Cariani, P.A. and Delgutte, B.  (1996).  Neural correlates of the pitch of complex tones:  I.  Pitch and pitch salience.  J Neurophys, 76, 1698-716.

Davidson, J.W., Howe, M.J.A., Moore, D.G., and Soloboda, J.A.  (1996).  The role of parental influences in the development of musical performance.  British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 14, 399-412.

This work was based on a survey interview rather than an experimental procedure.  As such, the only conclusive result is that "the most successful young musicians get more help and encouragement than others."  Their results couldn't tell whether the stronger cause of good musicianship was the child's innate ability or the parental belief in the child's innate ability-- a lack of evidence which is itself telling.

Hirsh-Pasek, K. and Golinkoff, R.  (1996).  The Origins of Grammar: Evidence from Early Language Comprehension.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

If at some point it is conclusively proven that spoken language and music are not merely similar, but identical, the detailed information in this book will be useful.  Until then, I'll merely take from it the philosophical point made in its conclusion:  "In this book we have attempted to make the case that [the listener's] comprehension can serve as a window onto the developing language system in the same way that language has been viewed as a window onto the mind."

Levitin, D.J.  (1996).  Memory for musical tempo:  additional evidence that auditory memory is absolute Perception & Psychophysics, 58, 927-935.

This study follows a procedure similar to his 1994 publication, except that this time he paid attention to the subjects' use of rhythm and tempo.  When the subjects were asked to imagine that a familiar song was actually playing, and then asked to sing the song, they typically did so in a tempo identical to the original.

Pantev, C., Elbert, T., Ross, B., Eulitz, C., and Terhardt, E.  (1996).  Binaural fusion and the representation of virtual pitch in the human auditory cortex.  Hearing Research, 100, 164-70.

The tonotopic map is activated in the region of the perceived pitch rather than the spectral pitches which are physically present.


Clausen, H. and Miller, L.K.  (1997).  Pitch identification in children and adults: Naming and discrimination.  Psychology of Music, 25(1), 4-17.

More evidence that white keys are more quickly identified than black ones, in both children and adults; plus, adults are better at naming tones than are children.

Crozier, John B.  (1997).  Absolute pitch:  Practice makes perfect, the earlier the better.  Psychology of Music, 25(2), 110-119.

A summary of research in support of unlearning theory, plus an inconclusive experiment.  In his summary, the author details certain critical factors, or absence of such factors, that could naturally contribute to learning or unlearning of absolute pitch.  Then, his experiment instructed preschoolers and adolescents to memorize a specific tone (A440) by playing the tone and asking them to hum it.  The results were "more complex" than he expected.  He expected that all listeners might start out at chance levels, and one group improve more rapidly than the other-- but the adolescents started off at higher than chance levels and failed to improve, while the preschoolers started off at chance levels and then "caught up" to the adolescents.  Therefore, "all that can be concluded at this point is that pre-schoolers' identification performance has significantly improved as a result of training."
[I would explain the adolescents' lack of improvement by pointing out that Crozier used a memorization task rather than a perceptual discrimination task (see Russo 2003), and I'd suggest that the preschoolers' improvement is due to their brains' greater plasticity.]

Gordon, R.S.  (1997).  Cortical dynamics associated with absolute pitch processing.  Doctoral dissertation, Simon Fraser University.

Hantz, E.C., Kreilick, K.G., Marvin, E.W., and Chapman, R.M.  (1997).  Absolute pitch and sex affect event-related potential activity for a melodic interval discrimination task.  Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 102(1), 451-60.

Absolute musicians showed no ERP difference from relative musicians in an interval-recognition task.  Why the title implies that it did, I'm not sure, except perhaps for the sake of getting published.

Langner, G.  (1997).  Neural processing and representation of periodicity pitch.  Acta Oto-laryngologica Supplement, 532, 68-76.

Langner, G.  (1997).  Temporal processing of pitch in the auditory system.  Journal of New Music Research, 26, 116-32.

Here, Langner advances a theoretical discussion of the neuronal model later demonstrated by Patterson (2002) and others.  Specifically, he says that pitch information is a temporal calculation rather than a direct perception.  I was intrigued that he shows diagrams which are essentially equivalent to those I produced in September 2002-- but placing the wave diagram right next to the bar chart of the frequency components, which makes quite clear that the composition of each wave is entirely different.  I appreciate this paper's sensible connection between pitch perception and so-called tone height:  "temporal information about periodic signals is... transformed in the central auditory system by neuronal correlation mechanisms into spatial information-- represented in neuronal maps."

Langner, G., Sams, M., Heil, P., and Schulze, H.  (1997).  Frequency and periodicity are represented in orthogonal maps in the human auditory cortex: evidence from magnetoencephalography.  Journal Comp Physiol [A], 181, 665-76.

Schneider, W., Küspert, P., Roth, E., and Visé, M.  (1997).  Short- and long-term effects of training phonological awareness in kindergarten: evidence from two German studies.  Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 66(3), 311-40.

A battery of assertions and support for the idea that early phonological training strongly influences acquisition of literacy.  If the same conditions are parallel in music, then this paper is a goldmine for arguments that support absolute pitch and ear-training education as a necessary precursor to musical training.

Trehub, S., Schellenberg, G., and Hill, D.  The origins of music perception and cognition:  A developmental perspective.  In I. Deliege and J. Sloboda (eds.), Perception and Cognition of Music, 103-128.  East Sussex:  Psychology Press Ltd.

A summary of research regarding how small children perceive music.  I'm relieved that it doesn't bother with the terms "relative pitch" and "absolute pitch", which I believe are inappropriate for describing small children's perception; instead, it uses examples to make these specific points, each in its own section:
- Infants are music listeners
- Infants are sensitive to melodic contour
- Infants and young children are sensitive to octaves
- Infants and young children are sensitive to simple frequency ratios
- Infants are sensitive to some, but not other, properties of harmony
- Infants have musical preferences.


Baharloo, S., Johnston, P.A., Service, S.K., Gitschier, J., and Freimer, N.B.  (1998).  Absolute pitch: an approach for identification of genetic and nongenetic componentsAmerican Journal of Human Genetics, 62(2), 224-31.

The authors conducted a survey of people with absolute pitch ability and attempted to identify familial patterns which could be related to a genetic trait.  They believe to have found information which will guide further research.  Noting that most students who complete musical training do not have absolute pitch, they claim genetics as the most likely explanation for those that do-- ignoring the fact that there are different types and qualities of early musical instruction.

Bahr, N.  (1998).  Pitch discrimination skill: a cognitive perspective.  Paper presented at Annual Conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education.

A brief review of literature, combined with the results of a questionnaire answered by both absolute and non-absolute listeners describing how they perceive and analyze music psychologically.  The authors claim that "[t]he questionnaire data supports the notion of a potent early learning role in the development of AP or RP."

Besson, M., Faita, F., Peretz, I., Bonnel, A-M., and Requin, J.  (1998).  Singing in the brain: Independence of lyrics and tunes.  Psychological Science, 9(6), 494-8.

Out-of-tune tones and semantically incongruous words (such as "He takes coffee with cream and dog") each cause different and distinct brainwave patterns.  Recognizing this, the authors tested four conditions of operatic singing:  a tuned note with a congruent word, a mistuned note with a congruent word, a tuned note with a non-congruent word, and a mistuned note with a non-congruent word.  The brain scans indicated that yes, there were two processes going on.  I'm pleased to see that this article demonstrates separate mental processes for the literal and musical attributes of vocal sound (as opposed to vocal vs. instrumental sound).

Castro-Caldas, A., Petersson, K.M., Reis, A., Stone-Elander, S., and Ingvar, M.  (1998).  The illiterate brain:  Learning to read and write during childhood influences the functional organization of the adult brain.  Brain, 121(6), 1053-63.

The title states their assertion.  How they tested it:  they asked literate and illiterate adults to repeat words and pseudo-words.  The literate subjects showed no difference between the two types of sound.  The illiterates, however, had more difficulty repeating nonwords, and their brains activated different areas in the attempt.  Because of the other brain-scan studies which show that musicians' brains are differently organized than non-musicians, it is plausible to imagine that this type of study would be applicable to musical literacy.

Chen-Hafteck, L.  (1998).  Pitch abilities in music and language of Cantonese-speaking children.  International Journal of Music Education, 31, 14-24.

Drayna, D.  (1998).  Genetics tunes in.  Nature Genetics, 18(2), 96-7.

A brief article, prompted by Baharloo's article from this same year.  The author describes Baharloo's article and offers a handful of references which observe pitch perception.

Gandour, J., Wong, D., and Hutchins, G.  (1998).  Pitch processing in the human brain is influenced by language experience Neuroreport, 9(9), 2115-9.

This brain scan study shows that speakers of tonal languages process language-specific pitch information in the language areas of the brain, and non-tonal-language speakers don't.  Furthermore, speakers of tonal languages don't process musical pitch information as language.  See also September 27.

Goldstone, R.L.  (1998).  Perceptual learningAnnual Review of Psychology, 49, 585-612.

A discussion of [the?] four mechanisms of perceptual learning:  Attentional weighting, stimulus imprinting, differentiation, and unitization.

Griffiths, T.D., Büchel, C., Frackowiak, R.S.J., and Patterson, R.D.  (1998).  Analysis of temporal structure in sound by the human brain.  Nature Neuroscience, 1(5), 422-7.

The authors suggest a new conception of pitch-- a temporal structure rather than a frequency composition.  They use complex noise patterns and functional imaging to define and advance a temporal, rather than spectral, model of pitch perception.  See November 26.

Gregersen, P.K.  (1998).  Instant recognition: The genetics of pitch perception.  American Journal of Human Genetics, 62(2), 221-3.

A short comment acknowledging that absolute pitch is a mental ability, not a physical one, and suggesting that associated factors may indicate a "substantial genetic component."

Heaton, P., Hermelin, B., and Pring, L.  (1998).  Autism and pitch processing:  A precursor for savant musical ability?  Music Perception, 15, 291-305.

Autistic children and non-autistic controls were asked to associate tone sounds with animal pictures.  The autistic subjects succeeded than the control group.  Therefore, "[i]t appears from the present results that an autistic tendency towards segmented information processing leads in turn to stable long-term representations, with a capacity both for pitch memory and pitch labeling being demonstrated."

Kersten, A.W., Goldstone, R.L., and Schaffert, A.  (1998).  Two competing attentional mechanisms in category learning.  Journal of Experimental Psychology:  Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 24(6), 1437-58.

The authors' experiment shows that "persistence operates primarily at the level of attributes, whereas contrast operates at the level of attribute values."  If learning absolute pitch is forming categorical divisions along a spectrum, then this article shows why traditional note-naming methods will never work.  Note-memorization can only make a person able to detect the attribute of pitch as a "category" of sound stimulus; it can't help them make categorical divisions along the pitch spectrum.

Pantev, C., Oostenveld, R., Engelien, A., Ross, B., Roberts, L.E., and Hoke, M.  (1998).  Increased auditory cortical representation in musicians.  Nature, 392(6678), 811-4.

Musicians demonstrated a greater cortical organization for piano tones than did non-musicians, and the younger the musician was when he began training, the greater the cortical response.  This "raise[s] the possibility that musical experience during childhood may influence structural development of the auditory cortex."

Zatorre, R.J., Perry, D.W., Beckett, C.A., Westbury, C.F., and Evans, A.C.  (1998).  Functional anatomy of musical processing in listeners with absolute pitch and relative pitch.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 95(6), 3172-7.

The short page count represents a fairly specific examination of the cerebral blood flow generated by absolute and relative (normal) listeners.  Absolute listening "would not appear to involve differences at the level of the initial stages of perceptual analysis," supporting the view that the ability is inherently a psychological and not a physiological issue.  Activation in the right hemisphere was similar for both groups in a tone-and-noise task, but the absolute group failed to show right-side activation in an interval-labeling task.  This last result prompted the authors to suggest that, as the P300 studies have also suggested, absolute listeners use long-term pitch memory and do not update working memory when presented with an isolated reference tone.  [By the way, I'm using "hemisphere" generically; the authors did specify which part of the left or right brain was activated.]  Their final conclusion is significant for those who claim that absolute pitch interferes with musicianship (as opposed to those who, like me, suggest that such interference results from a lack of training):  "The findings of the present study suggest that no one regional activation pattern is unique to AP.  Rather, the areas recruited depend on the task demands, and the availability of specific processing mechanisms."  This also could lend support to the weak-right theory of absolute-pitch development.


Bischoff, L.A.  (1999).  Absolute pitch and the P300:  A neuromusicological study.  Doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

According to Klein (1984), the brains of absolute listeners do not produce a P300 event in note-naming tasks, where others normally will.  To address studies which seemed to contradict Klein's results, Bischoff hypothesized that results were a consequence of subjects' different mental strategies in analyzing musical sound.  The experiment supports the hypothesis.

Costa-Giomi, E.  (1999).  The effects of three years of piano instruction on children's cognitive development.  Journal of Research in Music Education, 47(3), 198-212.

This experiment attempted to investigate the so-called "Mozart effect" over a longer period of time.  They recruited 117 fourth-grade children to participate and gave them all three years of "piano training".  I put that in quotes because at no point do the authors indicate a specific type or method of piano training, nor how qualified any of the teachers may have been, nor really any details about the instruction itself.  As such, their results are questionable, because "piano training" rather than genuine musical experience may have been responsible for the results they achieved:  "At the beginning of the project, when children were enthusiastic about the new activity and acquired piano skills faster and more easily, their cognitive abilities improved.  After the initial enthusiasm disappeared and progress in learning the piano required more effort and intense involvement, the continuous effect of musical instruction on cognitive development became more dependent on students' dedication to the task."
The evidence I am aware of typically indicates that a student who is truly learning to play an instrument will discover that the process of playing it becomes easier, not harder, with continued instruction.  Although doggedness is still necessary for continued improvement, this kind of result makes me highly suspect of the quality of the training.

Deutsch, D. (editor)  The Psychology of Music (2nd ed) New York:  Academic Press.

This book is considered the publication which established the field of "music cognition".  It contains a series of articles covering the basic categories of study within the field.

Gregersen, P.K., Kowalsky, E., Kohn, E., and Marvin, E.W.  (1999).  Absolute pitch: prevalence, ethnic variation, and estimation of the genetic component.  American Journal of Human Genetics, 65(3), 911-13.

A short survey of 2707 adult music students, with attention to Asian vs non-asian and type of musical schooling.  The authors acknowledge that their data is preliminary, and indicate that because absolute pitch ability is usually identified through musical performance, the subjects of their surveys and experiments are generally going to be musicians, which makes it difficult to tell whether the subjects' ability is due to genetic contribution or musical training.

Griffiths, T.D., Johnsrude, I., Dean, J.L., Green, G.G.R.  (1999).  A common neural substrate for the analysis of pitch and duration pattern in segmented sound?  Neuroreport, 10(18), 3825-30.

The authors address the idea that rhythm and pitch are processed by similar neural processes.  Although the question mark at the end of their title indicates that their data is inconclusive, the hypothesis seems reasonable; after all, pitch is a rhythmic pulse that simply proceeds too quickly for our minds to separate into individual cycles.  We've all heard, at one time or another, a steady beat which accelerates into a recognizable pitch (for example, think of hand-starting a gas lawnmower or speedboat motor).  This also makes me think of my own observation that pitch seems to be affected by the rhythmic structure of a phrase, where the downbeat can seem to be higher in pitch.

Hirata, Y., Kuriki, S., and Pantev, C.  (1999).  Musicians with absolute pitch show distinct neural activities in the auditory cortex.  Neuroreport, 10(5), 999-1002.

There have been plenty of papers which suggest that, in an absolute listener's brain, the left planum temporale is active in labeling tones.  This study is the first I've seen which observes left-side activity and speculates that "musicians with absolute pitch may have distinct neural processing of musical tones in the left auditory cortex" (my emphasis).

Huettel, S.A., and Lockhead, G.R.  (1999).  Range effects of an irrelevant dimension on classification.  Perception and Pscyhophysics, 61(8), 1624-45.

When an irrelevant dimension is changed, it's more difficult to make a same-different judgment.  For example, the loudness of a tone may be altered significantly while the chroma remains constant.  These authors acknowledge this effect (called "Garner interference") but also demonstrate that the effect does not happen when subjects are asked to repeat their response.  This, they say, suggests that "[s]ubjects do not initially analyze each stimulus into its attributes and process each independently.  Rather, subjects compare each stimulus with what went before it."

Jancke, L., Mirzazade, S., and Shah, N.J.  (1999).  Attention modulates activity in the primary and the secondary auditory cortex: a fMRI study in human subjects.  Neuroscience Letters, 266(2), 125-8.

Subjects listened to language sounds.  Some were asked to pay attention to the sounds; others listened passively.  The scans showed an undeniable increase in auditory cortex activity when the subjects were "paying attention", although it was not clear what function the extra activity performed.  The authors noted that the left cortex was more active than the right, and the primary more than the secondary, but concluded that this bias could be due to the experiment's use of simple language sounds as stimuli (as opposed to complex or non-language sounds).

Levitin, D.J.  (1999).  Absolute pitch:  Self-reference and human memoryInternational Journal of Computing and Anticipatory Systems, 4, 255-66.

A summary of Levitin's understanding of absolute pitch.  The point for which he argues most strongly is that absolute pitch is not a result of "more highly developed perceptual mechanisms" but is an issue of memory and linguistic coding.

Liegeois-Chauvel, C., deGraaf, J.B., Laguitton, V., and Chauvel, P.  (1999).  Specialization of left auditory cortex for speech perception in man depends on temporal coding.  Cerebral Cortex, 9(5), 484-96.

A brain-scan study which demonstrates that the left hemisphere is responsible for temporal coding (rapid changes in sound).  This function is applicable to more than just language sound, they claim, but its application to consonants and stops is evident.

Mottron, L., Peretz, I., Belleville, S., and Rouleau, N.  (1999).  Absolute pitch in autism: a case study.  Neurocase, 5, 485-501.

This report presents an example of an autistic person who was fully competent in perceiving and producing global and relational musical structures.  From this example, the authors assert that absolute pitch in autism is not likely to occur because of a deficit in global-processing skills, but from a "cognitive inflexibility" in not being able to ignore pitch information.

Preis, S., Jancke, L., Schmitz-Hillebrecht, J., and Steinmetz, H.  (1999).  Child age and planum temporale asymmetry.  Brain and Cognition, 40, 441-52.

From a statistical sample of children aged 3-14, the authors discovered no correlation between aging and changes in planum temporale asymmetry.  They did discover a significant gender distinction, in that girls displayed stronger leftward asymmetry, but the causes were unknown.  The authors were left with a chicken-and-egg problem:  does functional differentiation develop from "preset" genetic asymmetry, or does asymmetry develop from functional specialization?

Sakakibara, A.  (1999).  絶対音感習得プロセスに関する縦断的研究.  Japanese Journal of Educational Psychology, 47, 19-27.  (In Japanese)
Sakakibara, A.  (1999).  A longitudinal study of a process for acquiring absolute pitch.  Japanese Journal of Educational Psychology, 47, 19-27.  (Translated by Aruffo, C.)

Abstract:  "A 3-year-old was trained to acquire absolute pitch every day for 19 months. Following Eguchi (1991), the training was to identify 9 kinds of chords which would lead to the acquisition of absolute pitch. Results showed that 2 strategies were observed in the training process: one depending on tone height, and one depending on tone chroma. The process of acquiring absolute pitch was found to consist of the following four stages: Stage 1, using height strategy; Stage 2, noticing chroma; Stage 3, confusing height and chroma; and Stage 4, identifying pitch accurately depending on both height and chroma."

Tervaniemi, M.  (1999).  Pre-attentive processing of musical information in the human brain.  Journal of New Music Research, 28(3), 237-45.

This experiment appears to be an important demonstration of EEG data.  In it, the author first supports an argument that mismatch negativity (MMN) is the brain activity which determines pre-attentive auditory perception, and then uses the MMN to generate the following observations about pre-attentive sound processing:
- AP subjects do not differ from non-AP subjects
- The "missing fundamental" effect charts differently than an actual fundamental tone
- Complex sounds and simple sounds are represented in different areas of the auditory cortex
- Language and musical sounds are represented in different areas of the auditory cortex
It seems, from her observations, that a sound stimulus is pre-attentively coded by the auditory cortex for its complexity and quality (or mode), and then it is interpreted neurally.

Trehub, S.E., Schellenberg, E.G., and Kamenetsky, S.B.  (1999).  Infants' and adults' perception of scale structure.  Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 25(4), 965-75.

This seems to support W.A. Mathieu's harmonic scale lattice (which I described in Phase 7).  Infants and adults both found it easier to detect mistunings to an "unequal-step" major scale versus an "equal-step" scale-- but an "unequal-step" scale (that is, the normal major scale, which consists both of full-tone and semitone steps) is unequal only in terms of numerical frequency.  As Mathieu illustrates, and as you might know yourself from a circle of fifths, the harmonic steps of a major scale are equal.  A mistuning would be more apparent with "unequal" steps because the full pattern is more regular.

Zatorre, R.J.  (1999).  Brain imaging studies of musical perception and musical imagery.  Journal of New Music Research, 28(3), 229-36.

This two-part study is thrilling in its simplicity.  First, the author tested subjects to see what areas of the brain were activated when listening to musical melodies.  Then, he tested subjects to see what areas of the brain were activated when imagining musical melodies.  Although the locations of activity have some significance for brain mapping, I was more interested in the latter case.  With the imagined melodies, Zatorre observed that activity increase "occurred exclusively in association cortex... support[ing] the idea that primary sensory regions are responsible for extracting stimulus features from the environment, whereas secondary regions are involved in higher-order processes, which might include the internal representation of complex familiar stimuli."

Keep reading into the 21st century!