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Absolute Pitch / Relative Color

Hmmm ....  There's so much here, and I'm way over my head, but I'll try
out some of the points ...

>Date:    Sat, 5 May 2001 18:24:47 +0200
>From:    Martin Braun <nombraun@POST.NETLINK.SE>
>Subject: Re: Absolute frequency / Perfect Pitch ??
>the term "absolute" in absolute pitch does not refer to a standard pitch,
>but to an absolute memory of pitch. What goes into this memory is a matter
>of learning.

... my question was about using the 'pscho-metric' term "pitch" rather
than 'frequency'. Since 'pitch' a function of frequency, and in certain
cases amplitude and spectrum, how does the individual with "absloute
pitch" determine whether the 'frequency' is the same, but the pitch
perception has changed due to (say) an increase in amplitude.

>Absolute memory in this case means long-term memory. "Normal" persons,
>those >without absolute pitch, only have a short-term memory of pitch
>(called >relative pitch).

Thank you for an operational definition of "normal". <yikes!!>

Is "photographic memory" a method of instantly storing all information in
long-term memory?

I'm not sure that I find your explanation of 'relative pitch' to be
complete. It strikes me that in both cases, the 'determinant' of absolute
/ relative pitch (sic) has just been pushed back one level in the
perceptual system.

Are you proposing that there is a "frequency template" which individuals
with 'absolute pitch' have available, but somehow this "frequency
template" has become a "comparative template" in relative pitch?

>To give an example from vision where things are the other way: Most of us
>have an absolute memory of color. We don't have to put a red ball on a green
>table in order to see that it's red.

Um .... three primary colors (...sorry I'm somewhat weak on color
perception) ... but I don't need to hear a low (frequency) note to
determine what is middle-register and what is high register. Where does
the ability to discriminate two registers (high / low) become the ability
to identify (remember) 5 registers (low, mid-low, mid, mid-high, high)?

Is this some form of _very_ gross "absolute pitch"? and to continue your
analogy, there are many reds perceived as 'red', as there are many "low
frequencies" which would be perceived as in the 'low register'.

It is also possible to have a sound with (sine tone) components of 120Hz,
984.6Hz and 2,309Hz, and 'segregate' three frequencies (even with only
one functional ear). Would the analogy be a light source that had some
red, some blue and some green? Would the mind segregate the three lights
sources ... eg a computer monitor?


>Date:    Sat, 5 May 2001 22:40:36 +0100
>From:    Christian Spevak <christian@SPEVAK.DE>
>Subject: Re: Absolute frequency / Perfect Pitch ??

>Has anybody heard of people having an "absolute" perception of (shades of)
>colors? Maybe painters? Ok, this is an auditory list...

I had a sight-singing teacher who (it appears) had perfect (oops!
absolute!) pitch, absolute taste and absolute color. She was able to
identify the ingredients in food. She did a lot of embroidery, with
_many_ colors of threads, but would shop for 'replacement' threads
without a 'sample' of the color -- she just seemed to have an 'absolute
sense' of what the color was.

There is also the story of a Montreal composer / arranger / pianist who
has "absolute time". He wrote a piece for orchestra where in the first 16
measures the strings hold one note for 16 bars, while the winds play a
lot of fast notes. (This was for the opening of the 1976 Olympics in

The work was recorded in two sessions: strings first and then the winds
were dubbed in. It seems he recorded the strings -- without a
click-track!! -- first, and the next day went in and recorded the winds.
They were exactly together after 16 measures, even though there was no
'metric indication' of the tempo in the string part. There are also
stories about his phenomenal photographic memory for other things too.

>Date:    Sun, 6 May 2001 00:32:54 +0200
>From:    Martin Braun <nombraun@POST.NETLINK.SE>
>Subject: Re: Absolute frequency / Perfect Pitch ??
>Christian Spevak wrote:
>"Has anybody heard of people having an "absolute" perception of (shades of)
>colors? Maybe painters?"

>But Christian, this is not possible. There are millions of colors. Most of
>us, however, would have an absolute memory of 12 colors. Color circles of 12
>colors are quite common and can be learned in a few minutes.

I am reluctant to state what is and is not "possible" regarding human
perception and memory. There are conductors who have hundreds of pieces
in their memory (eg George Szell, Fritz Reiner ... ) and composers who
remember most (all?) of their works (JS Bach, Haydn, Mozart ... to name a
few. There are probably several millions of individual elements to be
remembered. At an average of (say) 3 elements per second, there are
10,000 elements in an hour, 100,000 in 10 hours (about 180,000 in The
Ring), or some 2,000,000 (or more) in the 'complete' recorded works of Bach.

>The 12 tones of our octave can not be learned in years (with extremely rare
>exceptions), once you are older than 5-7 years.

I'm not quite sure where this statement fits in  .... it assumes octave
equivalence (for one thing). I met a violinist whose 'absolute pitch'
stopped at G below middle C.

I have met students who didn't think they had any form of 'absolute
pitch', but upon certain kinds of testing, revealed 'other traits'. An
example is a bass player who I auditioned 3 weeks ago. I suspected 'some
form' of absolute pitch, but he denied it vigorously.

I played a D (below the bass clef) on the piano and asked him to name it.
He 'couldn't' do it. I asked him to raise his left hand and place his
right hand "as if" he had a bass in his hands. I played the note and
asked him to "finger" it. He was puzzled and reported that it was an open
string. He adjusted his bow arm and said that it was 'D'. His 'body' had
'absolute pitch' that his 'ear' was not "aware" of.