Absolute Pitch: An Inside Look

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Absolute Pitch: An Inside Look
When most people see a wavelength of light, they find no difficulty in associating it with a color. Yet hearing a frequency of sound and associating it with a musical note is a cognitive talent that fascinates scientists. This rare ability is referred to in the scientific literature as absolute pitch (AP) and it allows individuals to effortlessly, immediately and accurately label the pitches they hear with a musical note. AP has been a classic example of the “nature-nurture” dilemma since the extent to which genetic and environmental factors influence it is a matter of constant debate. Current research though, reveals AP as a paradigm of a complex genetic trait, studies of which provide vital insights into the interactions between heredity and nature.
Intensive musical training places emphasis on developing AP and though outside influences can improve one’s chances of this, they are not enough to guarantee it. There is a fixed window of time in early childhood, usually before the age of 6, known as the critical period during which individuals are most likely to acquire AP. This is in accordance with principles of neuroplasticity (Gervain et al., 2013). Nevertheless, even those who start musical training early often do not develop AP. Various interpretations of this exist. One is that learning cues specific to AP must be introduced during the critical period. Otherwise the brain shifts to the relative pitch (RP) system of music perception which
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