If absolute pitch were a
phenomenon exclusively due to learned verbal categories, how would one explain
the finding that several investigated animal species have absolute pitch?
Hulse, S. H. & Cynx,
J. Relative pitch perception is constrained by absolute pitch in songbirds
(Mimus, Molothrus, and Sturnus). J Comp
Psychol 99, 176-196
(b) monkeys and
D'Amato, M. R. A search
for tonal pattern perception in cebus monkeys: Why monkeys can’t hum a tune.
Music Perception 4, 453-480 (1988).
Schmidt, S., Preisler, A.
& Sedlmeier, H. in Advances in Hear
Res (eds. Manley, G. A., Klump, G., Köppl, C., Fastl, H. &
Oeckinghaus, H.) 374-382 (World Scientific Publishers, Singapore,
Preisler, A. &
Schmidt, S. in 23rd Göttingen Neurobiology
Conference (eds. Elsner, N. & Menzel, R.) 309 (Georg Thieme
Verlag, Stuttgart, 1995).
The findings by Saffran appear to
be very revealing in this respect, showing that young infants at the age of 8
months, unlike adults, primarily rely on absolute pitch
Saffran, J. R. &
Griepentrog, G. J. Absolute pitch in infant auditory learning: evidence for
developmental reorganization. Dev
Psychol 37, 74-85
Saffran, J. R. Musical
Learning and Language Development. Ann NY
Acad Sci 999, 397-401
In summary, these results suggest
that absolute pitch is a primary perceptual mode that is heavily superseded by
relative pitch (probably in the course of language acquisition). Early
musical training or learning a tonal language like Thai or Japanese may help
to prevent this edging out-process, with the consequence that certain subjects
retain the ability to perceive absolute pitch throughout life. Verbal
categorizations of notes may be helpful in this respect, but it would be
misleading to take them for the main underlying cause.
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