Absolute Pitch Essay

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Absolute Pitch:
A Coveted Ability

Jennette Folta
Physics of Music
Spring 2005

The Basics

     Absolute pitch, otherwise known as AP, is a person's ability to identify and produce a given pitch. This is done without the use of a reference tone. Pitch is determined by the number of vibrations per second. There are two types of AP. Passive pitch is when a person can identify the name of the note that is played and active pitch is when a person can sing a named note. Absolute pitch possessors can name a note and denote if the note is sharp or flat. This ability is only displayed in only a small percent of people. It is said that less than one in ten thousand people in the United States possess
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The study tested seven native speakers of Vietnamese and gave them a list of ten Vietnamese words to read outloud. The computer recorded each of their responses and calculated the differences of the average pitches among the subjects. The average pitch difference was less than 1.1 semitone. More than half of the subjects had pitch differences of less than .5 of a semitone. These subjects possess AP. In the second study they compared 15 Mandarin speakers. They compared their responses between the two days to see the differences of the average pitch they produce. The results are seen in Table 1.

Table 1. Pitch Differences
1st reading: Day 1 vs. 2     5          4          4          0           1          1

2nd reading: Day1 vs. 2     5           5          3          1          1          0

1st vs. 2nd reading: Day 1

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