Diversity of accuracy profiles for absolute pitch recognition

Nan Bahr*, Carol A. Christensen, Mark Bahr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Most advanced musicians are able to identify and label a heard pitch if given an opportunity to compare it to a known reference note. This is called 'relative pitch' (RP). A much rarer skill is the ability to identify and label a heard pitch without the need for a reference. This is colloquially referred to as 'perfect pitch', but appears in the academic literature as 'absolute pitch' (AP). AP is considered by many as a remarkable skill. As people do not seem able to develop it intentionally, it is generally regarded as innate. It is often seen as a unitary skill and that a set of identifiable criteria can distinguish those who possess the skill from those who do not. However, few studies have interrogated these notions. The present study developed and applied an interactive computer program to map pitch-labelling responses to various tonal stimuli without a known reference tone available to participants. This approach enabled the identification of the elements of sound that impacted on AP. Pitch-labelling responses of 14 participants with AP were recorded for their accuracy. Each participant's response to the stimuli was unique. Their accuracy of labelling varied across dimensions such as timbre, range and tonality. The diversity of performance between individuals appeared to reflect their personal musical experience histories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-93
Number of pages36
JournalPsychology of Music
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes


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