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Re: On "learned" A/P, lattice / grid

Thank you for your comments, thoughts and suggestions.

I agree completely about concluding what a person (sorry, there are no subjects in my life) cannot do, under any circumstances. As previously noted, I am a composer and teacher, not a scientist. My teaching, IMV, has improved through my close and continuous observation of what and how students learn.

Have I spent a year trying to find my 'latent' propensity / capacity for AP?

A little more than a year, and in various ways. Many years ago (in high school), I played tuba. In my second year I was given some lessons from a professional tuba teacher who wanted to test my hearing, so he played notes all over the range of the tuba. I knew I couldn't figure them out without seeing his fingering, but I tried. I duplicated them all over a range of a little more than 3 octaves, including notes I had never played before.

I did not consider this AP, but (later) rather as 'instrumental / body pitch'. In testing in-coming ear-training students over a period of about 15 years, my first question to string players was: "Name this note." The usual response was, "I don't have perfect pitch." I would ask the student to 'pretend hold' their violin or bass, and to bow the note as I played it on the piano. Almost all (!) could tell me the name of the note from this 'positioning' of their body. As with my experience with a number of other instrumentalists, it is as if the pitch were "learned" by their body.

I also taught theory and ear-training recently for about a decade. Every class (twice per week per course, up to three courses per week), began with the class standing in a circle and singing a 'D' I played on the piano. It became a bit of a joke, but one I took very seriously. By about 15 weeks into the courses, on occasion I would ask the class to sing (with the piano), but now to focus on the visualization of standing in this room, and looking outside at the parking lot. The next step was to have the student, when at home, close their eyes, visualize the classroom and parking lot, and unaided, sing the D. I did not count the number of students who could recall the D with the aid of the visualization -- a great many!, but this too, I do not consider AP.

There were other 'body pitch' exercises I did with the classes, week in and week out, and the pitch referents students began to develop grew. But, in my forty some-odd years of teaching, Eliot is the only person who has told me about late-onset AP.

Regarding the speed of perception of pitches, there are legion anecdotes about composers and conductors ability to "do the impossible". Boulez is an example of a conductor who is reported to have found a printing error in an Eb clarinet part in a Schoenberg score. From people who have worked with him, I have understood that, like Messiaen, he has amazing discriminatory powers, streaming and disassembling what 'mere mortals' might hear as integrated sounds. This is possibly a bit like detecting typographical errors. If I hear a C major triad played forte and doubled over may octaves, my hearing is such that I can rather easily pick out an added D, played mezzopiano in an upper octave. It doesn't "fit" and shifts the color (chroma?) towards Aaron Copland. If the chord is less densely packaged, I hear Stravinsky of the mid-1940s, or perhaps Agon. But, if later, the same chord is played on D, I will know it's the same chord, but not know that it has been transposed.

Again, many thanks for the article and the most informative obituary. What a marvelous man Jack Carroll must have been to work with. I guess I first came across his work (in the early 70s) when he had edited selections for Whorf's "Language, Thought and Reality", a book that has had fundamental impact on my education.



On 2009, Sep 2, at 12:22 PM, Leon van Noorden wrote:

Dear Kevin,

I think it is very dangerous to conclude from what a subject can do, what it is he cannot do.

Labeling pitches can only be done with the speed of internal speech and this is, as we know from the famous one page publication by Tom Landauer, as fast as really pronounced speech. However in music there are many more voices and often notes that are faster than syllables. All these notes are perceived in a holistic manner, exactly as happens in a non-AP subject.

If it AP existed in Brady in a covert way chances are that it existed in you and all other people too. Did you spend a year to find it back?

Kind regards,


On 02 Sep 2009, at 16:53, Kevin Austin wrote:

Thank you. The article is very interesting and informative.


From Parncutt & Levitin, Absolute Pitch: (abstracted)

They, AP possessors, may work out integrated qualities (intervals and chords) by reconstructing them from the notes (note names), rather than perceiving an 'integrated' sonority (Miyazaki, 1992, 1993). There is the proposition that "melody" is not heard, but rather a string of pitches passing by.


An equivalent to this for non-AP people would be to read a chinese text, with a knowledge of how chinese characters are constructed (radicals and combinations), but having no sense of what the characters mean, or how they relate.

This seems to correspond to the statement:

Date:    Tue, 1 Sep 2009 17:20:33 +0200
From:    Leon van Noorden <leonvannoorden@xxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: Linearity as pitch perception: was Perception as memory

It was true in the time that I had to make music dictations, very long ago, that I had to reconstruct the interval or chord from the notes. It does not mean that you could not say what kind of chord it was from the sound, such a major or minor.

As a non-AP listener, I hear (only) sets of relationships, and I have developed large numbers of 'musical hierarchies' to categorize these relationships. My hearing is (more or less) pattern-based, what I refer to as 'process-oriented listening'. I note repetition, variation, transformation, lattice / pattern matching etc.

In the article cited, P T Brady says that he 'taught himself' AP -- an idea that many have difficulty with. Count me in this group. As with Eliot Handelman, my alternate interpretation is that the AP existed, but some aspects of it had been extinguished for some reason, and he had re-discovered it with a one year re-training.

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