Study Finds Some People Can Be Trained to Have "Perfect" Pitch

Author: 
Jann Ingmire | UChicago News
Photo Credit: 
Michele Ursino

If you’re a musician, this sounds too good to be true: UChicago psychologists have been able to train some adults to develop the prized musical ability of absolute pitch, and the training’s effects last for months.

Absolute pitch, commonly known as “perfect pitch,” is the ability to identify a note by hearing it. The ability is considered remarkably rare, estimated to be less than one in 10,000 individuals. It has always been a very desired ability among musicians, especially since several famous composers, including Mozart, reportedly had it. The assumption has been that this special talent has a critical period to be established in childhood based on early musical training and that it was not possible for adults to acquire this skill.

In this new study published by the journal CognitionHoward Nusbaum, professor of psychology, and colleagues tested how much an individual’s general auditory working memory capacity can predict the success of acquiring absolute pitch. Other UChicago authors on the paper are psychology doctoral student Stephen C. Van Hedger, post-doctoral scholar Shannon L.M. Heald and College undergraduate Rachelle Koch.

This study follows up from the group’s previously published study, which shows that people with absolute pitch can be “retuned” in about 45 minutes of listening, demonstrating that absolute pitch is not so absolute. The new study shows that people without absolute pitch have the ability to learn notes quickly as well. A 2013 study from Harvard University researchers reported that a drug commonly used to treat epilepsy could effectively reopen a critical period of learning ability, allowing a person to learn skills like absolute pitch. The current UChicago study does not use medications to train the brain to learn absolute pitch skills to a comparable degree.

“This is the first significant demonstration that the ability to identify notes by hearing them may well be something that individuals can be trained to do,” said Nusbaum. “It’s an ability that is teachable, and it appears to depend on a general cognitive ability of holding sounds in one’s mind.”

 

- Read the full article here: http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2015/05/28/acquiring-perfect-pitch-may-be-possible-some-adults#sthash.U7sMgMqW.dpuf

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