Motor theory of absolute pitch (Daniel Levitin )

Subject: Motor theory of absolute pitch
From:    Daniel Levitin  <levitin(at)PSYCH.MCGILL.CA>
Date:    Wed, 9 May 2001 15:13:53 -0400

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 Department of Psychology Associate Member of the Faculty of Music Mailing Address: McGill University Stewart Biology Building 1205 Ave. Dr. Penfield Montreal, PQ H3A 1B1 CANADA email: levitin(at) Web site: ==========================================

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