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Motor theory of absolute pitch

Rebecca and others have suggested that absolute pitch may rely to
some degree on muscle memory.  I have two comments.

First, I believe that absolute pitch is of interest because it
putatively involves some sort of unusual/special memory ability.  It
appears that possessors have stable long-term representations of
musical pitch, and they are able to categorize or label these
representations with linguistic labels.  If AP is subserved by
muscle-memory, that doesn't make it any less interesting it seems to
me -- we are simply specifying the type of memory that is involved,
but it is still a feat of memory.

Second, and more relevant, the late Dixon Ward and Ed Burns conducted
a study that addresses this issue head on.  Ward and Burns (1978)
denied auditory feedback to trained singers who possessed absolute
pitch (forcing them to rely solely on muscle memory); the singers
erred by as much as a minor third, or three semitones.   Thus muscle
memory was only enough to get them in the ball park, and did not
account for their AP ability.

Ward, W. D. & Burns, E. M. (1978) . Singing without auditory
feedback. Journal of Research in Singing and Applied Vocal Pedagogy,
1(2), 24-44

Dan Levitin

Daniel J. Levitin                                Phone: +1 (514) 398-8263
Assistant Professor                        FAX:    +1  (514) 398-4896
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