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Re: Motor theory of absolute pitch

Dix Ward's and Ed Burns's study showed that auditory feedback was necessary
for producing a melodic sequence even as simple as an ascending scale. The
AP issue was secondary -- if you are off by a third when you want to sing a
note in a scale, it is pretty irrelevant whether you hit the first note
right or not.

Pierre Divenyi


At 03:13 PM 5/9/01 -0400, Daniel Levitin wrote:
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

Pierre Divenyi, Ph.D.      Speech and Hearing Research (151)
                                     V.A. Medical Center, Martinez, CA
94553, USA
Phone: (925) 370-6745
Fax:     (925) 228-5738
E-mail :                       pdivenyi@marva4.ebire.org