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

Oxytocin turns up the volume of your social environment

September 20, 2017
Before you shop for the "cuddle" hormone oxytocin to relieve stress and enhance your social life, read this: a new study from the University of California, Davis, suggests that sometimes, blocking the action of oxytocin in ...

Researchers develop new tool to assess individual's level of wisdom

September 20, 2017
Researchers at University of San Diego School of Medicine have developed a new tool called the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE) to assess an individual's level of wisdom, based upon a conceptualization of wisdom as a trait ...

Alcohol use affects levels of cholesterol regulator through epigenetics

September 20, 2017
In an analysis of the epigenomes of people and mice, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine and the National Institutes of Health report that drinking alcohol may induce changes to a cholesterol-regulating gene.

Self-control may not diminish throughout the day

September 20, 2017
After a long day of work and carefully watching what you eat, you might expect your self-control to slip a little by kicking back and cracking open a bag of potato chips.

One in four girls is depressed at age 14, new study reveals

September 20, 2017
New research shows a quarter of girls (24%) and one in 10 boys (9%) are depressed at age 14.

Tablets can teach kids to solve physical puzzles

September 20, 2017
Researchers confirm that when 4-6 year old children learn how to solve a puzzle using a touchscreen tablet, they can then apply this learning to the same puzzle in the physical world. This contradicts most previous research ...

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.