Perfect pitch: Knowing the note may be in your genes

October 23, 2012

People with perfect pitch seem to possess their own inner pitch pipe, allowing them to sing a specific note without first hearing a reference tone. This skill has long been associated with early and extensive musical training, but new research suggests that perfect pitch may have as much to do with genetics as it does with learning an instrument or studying voice.

Previous research does draw a connection between early and the likelihood of a person developing , which is also referred to as absolute pitch. This is especially true among speakers of tonal languages, such as Mandarin. Speakers of English and other non-tonal languages are far less likely to develop perfect pitch, even if they were exposed to early and extensive musical training.

"We have wondered if perfect pitch is as much about ," said Diana Deutsch, a professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego. "What is clear is that musically trained individuals who speak a non-tone language can acquire absolute pitch, but it is still a remarkably rare talent. What has been less clear is why most others with equivalent musical training do not." Deutsch and her colleague Kevin Dooley present their findings at the 164th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), held Oct. 22 – 26 in Kansas City, Missouri.

To shine light on this question, the researchers studied 27 English speaking adults, 7 of whom possessed perfect pitch. All began extensive musical training at or before the age of 6. The researchers tested the subjects' memory ability using a test known as the digit span, which measures how many digits a person can hold in memory and immediately recall in correct order. They presented the digits either visually or auditorily; for the auditory test, the subject listened to the numbers through headphones, and for the visual test the digits were presented successively at the center of a .

The people with perfect pitch substantially outperformed the others in the audio portion of the test. In contrast, for the visual test, the two groups exhibited very similar performance, and their scores were not significantly different from each other. This is significant because other researchers have shown previously that auditory digit span has a genetic component.

"Our finding therefore shows that perfect pitch is associated with an unusually large memory span for speech sounds," said Deutsch, "which in turn could facilitate the development of associations between pitches and their spoken languages early in life."

Explore further: Is there a central brain area for hearing melodies and speech cues? Still an open question

Related Stories

Is there a central brain area for hearing melodies and speech cues? Still an open question

November 29, 2011
Previous studies have suggested a particular hotspot in the brain might be responsible for perceiving pitch, but auditory neuroscientists are still debating whether this "pitch center" actually exists. A review article discusses ...

Recommended for you

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tausch
not rated yet Oct 24, 2012
"Our finding therefore shows that perfect pitch is associated with an unusually large memory span for speech sounds," said Deutsch, "which in turn could facilitate the development of associations between pitches and their spoken languages early in life."


This is correct. (All the way up to the last eight words..."pitches and their spoken languages early in life.")

You wanted to say:
"...sound and 'silence' - (an auditory limit resolution) which starts at conception, continues throughout gestation, and is ready at birth to experience sound through the medium air."

Your welcome.

One obvious 'genetic' component is auditory resolution.
There are inaudible wave lengths of sound no human can perceive to hear. (You can 'feel' this - see the paragraph below.)

You stand far away from launch pad lift offs because the inaudible acoustical wave lengths of the sound produced will rip you apart.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.