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Re: Absolute pitch discussion

Dear List,

I cannot see how the relation between frequencies and their note names is
genetically coded. The bimodal distribution shows simply that there are two
ways to deal with pitches: in an absolute in and a relative way. What you
will use is determed at the moment your brains get wired. If some one tells
you around your third year: this tone on the piano is do, this one is re,
this one is mi, etc. you will pick that up very easily. If no one tells you,
which is the case in many families, you will learn probably to sing in
kindergarten with several songs which do not attach specific sillables or
vowels to specific tones. On top of that you will probably hear the song on
different absolute pitches. In this case you wil learn to use the relative
relation between pitches. The latter has turned out to be much handier in
our (western) musical practice. 

I do not understand people who think that absolute pitch is a sign of a high
degree of musicality. Absolute pitch can be very annoying, I can tell you.
At my 8th I could not play on my cello together with the piano in my
grandfather's house which was so old that it was about a whole tone lower
than normal. I could not adapt to the fact that my cello (which was tuned to
the piano) gave another note than I expected. At my 18th I could not sing a
song 'a vue' without first learning the melody by singing the note names.
The words of the song would interfere with the notename and therefor the
'targeting' of the note. I could go on with summing up negative points about
AP, such as no 'official' names for the raised or lowered tones and
confusions between notes with the same vowel (fa/la and mi/si) in reaction
time experiments. It is true that when you get older AP weakens and drifts

Given the fact that AP is so common in Chinese and Japanese people, I would
like to know how they teach the musical basics to children. I do not
understand how the simple fact that their language is a tone language
explains the possession of AP. I would like to know e.g. how many chinese
families have an instrument with fixed pitches around in their home. In any
case they have to learn only five tones, while we have seven. (On the other
hand it is sometimes said that the dialects around my birthplace,
Maastricht, are also tone languages).

Kind regards,

Leon van Noorden

-----Original Message-----
From: AUDITORY - Research in Auditory Perception
[mailto:AUDITORY@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Martin Braun
Sent: zaterdag 1 september 2007 1:44
To: AUDITORY@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: Re: Absolute pitch discussion

Bill Yund wrote:

"A skill will show such a bimodal distribution if it
is something that is not learned in normal everyday activities.  Those
who take up activities that teach the skill will be on one end of the
distribution and us others will be on the other end."

This is simply not true. Any skill teaching in a group of subjects results 
in a one-mode distribution of the teaching results. All environmental 
factors and all teaching activities, however, that have been associated with

the development of absolute pitch clearly result in a two-mode distribution:

a zero-AP cluster that is sharply separated from an excellent AP cluster. No

environmental factor can explain this dichotomy.

In certain tasks of problem solving it can happen that two discrete 
strategies are possible. In such a case test results can be bimodal. Pitch 
naming is not such a case.


Martin Braun
Neuroscience of Music
S-671 95 Klässbol
web site: http://w1.570.telia.com/~u57011259/index.htm

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "yund" <yund@xxxxxxxxx>
To: <AUDITORY@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Saturday, September 01, 2007 12:43 AM
Subject: Re: Absolute pitch discussion

Contrary to Braun's claim, a bimodal distribution like that of Fig. 1
in the PNAS paper, is not strong (or even weak) evidence for a simple
genetic factor.  A skill will show such a bimodal distribution if it
is something that is not learned in normal everyday activities.  Those
who take up activities that teach the skill will be on one end of the
distribution and us others will be on the other end.  Of course, there
will also be some individuals in the intermediate range (as in the cited
Fig. 1) due to statistical properties of testing, incomplete learning,
generalization from other abilities, or something else.

Another possible explanation (also more likely than a simple genetic
factor) is an early environmental factor that biases development of the

I am not an expert in genetics, but I have often heard my wife (who does
have these credentials) vent her frustrations at claims of a simple
genetic factor on the basis of such non-evidence.

Bill Yund
E. William Yund, Ph.D.

Hearing Loss Research Laboratory (151/MTZ)
VA Northern California Health Care System
150 Muir Road
Martinez, CA 94553

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