University of California Genetics of Absolute Pitch Study

August 19, 2006 at 05:49 AM · Has anyone participated in this study? I found it quite interesting. The test states that I have perfect pitch (which I knew already), but I admit that there were a few pitches which I couldn't get (they only give 3 seconds per pitch...I need about 5 seconds for some pitches). If you have, or think you may have perfect pitch I really recommend taking this test to see your score. It's a lot of fun.

here's the link:

Replies (100)

August 20, 2006 at 06:05 AM · It wasn't fun at all. When they used electronic tones, I was so distracted that I got behind, and when I got behind I got all flustered and I couldn't think.

The piano tones were easier, but the three-second deadline was a bit short. I could do better if I practiced for that form of test. See, that's the problem with tests. I told them so in my comments.

August 20, 2006 at 07:02 AM · My AP rank was 1.00.

My pure tone score was 28.00 and my piano tone score was 30.50.

Like you, I didn't have enough time for some of the pitches and but the time the next pitch sounded I got thrown off, so I misses a few pitches.

I'm also the only person I know of in my family with AP, and I started my musical training years after the age of six. Guess that makes me an anomaly of some sorts.

It was a fun test, though.

August 20, 2006 at 07:44 AM · AP was 1.00, pure tone was 29.75, piano was 31.75. Both my father and my mother's father had perfect pitch, so I guess that's no surprise. There were some notes towards the end when I was getting tired that i guessed and then realized the correct answer when it was too late. Cool test. I always found myself hearing the notes on the violin and trying to finger them! I'd also try and compare the pitch the computer gave me with an open string to see how it related. Do any of you see colors when you think of notes? My A is red, B is brown, C is yellow, D is light green, E is blue, F is violet, G is dark green. I'd be curious to hear what other's see.

August 20, 2006 at 08:57 AM · I made one mistake, and got 1.0.

I can tell you that having perfect pitch doesn't translate into having better intonation. It mainly helps in taking dictation in musicianship classes and playing things back in pitch...

critical listening skills are far more important.

August 20, 2006 at 06:01 PM · I took it - I thought it was interesting how the pure tones were completely stripped of all overtone content - just a sine wave. To me that made the very low tones and the very high tones sound odd - I got their pitches but they didn't have the right quality.

August 21, 2006 at 11:41 AM · Sine wave tones without overtones can be extremely difficult. Almost all "real world" sounds and pitches have overtones, so a pure sine wave is something we have little experience with, and our brains had little need to learn to process.


August 21, 2006 at 04:16 PM · I don't know. My reasoning would be that since the sounds in nature are all a combination of sine waves, a single sine wave might stand a good chance of being identified. But I can't back that up. I didn't take the test, because I knew I was doomed to failure. I did look at the system test samples on a scope though, to make sure they were in fact sine waves. I scored well on a test to compare pitches that a pal and I threw together once using a strobe tuner and an oscillator. ZZZZzzzzz

Official R. Crumb website

August 21, 2006 at 09:17 PM · Am I right that some of the pitches, especially the low piano pitches, actually seemed to fluctuate a bit?

I did rather badly, but I don't have perfect pitch! Would have helped if they had given one tone in the beginning, but then that would be measuring relative pitch, something I am better at (and so are most people).

August 21, 2006 at 09:28 PM · Relative pitch is more useful anyway...but maybe I'm just jealous because I don't have perfect pitch.

August 21, 2006 at 09:30 PM · : p

August 22, 2006 at 12:12 AM · Wow, that was harder than I thought. The succession of tones was "musically" unrelated, and I was scrambling to find the notes on the "keyboard" before the next tone played...I didn't always succeed.


Pure tone: 33

Piano: 34


August 21, 2006 at 10:36 PM · It does help to have a context of sorts. That was like switching gears nonstop.

August 22, 2006 at 02:28 AM · But really if you have absolute pitch you should be able to name the pitches just as quickly as you'd name colours. Neither should it matter what timbre is used, just like red is still red whether it's on a car or on a wall.

August 22, 2006 at 03:03 AM · not if you don't know the piano very well...

August 22, 2006 at 03:58 AM · Quote: "But really if you have absolute pitch you should be able to name the pitches just as quickly as you'd name colours. Neither should it matter what timbre is used, just like red is still red whether it's on a car or on a wall."

Ah, but just as there are many shades of red, timbre introduces many different frequencies.

I used to think that intonation was absolute. It was either correct or wrong. I've finally come to the conclusion that it's a matter of opinion and interpretation.

Not only are there many different musical "tempering" systems, but people take their intonation cues from different parts of the spectrum.

Not all musical tones have perfect mathematical harmonic alignment. Whereas the human voice might sing a fundamental of 200 hz, and the first harmonic will be 400 hz (all the harmonics are multiples of the fundamental), the harmonic structures of other instruments can be distorted. The fundamental might be 200, the first harmonic might be 415, the second harmonic might be 660.

One listener might take intonation cues from the fundamental, and another might average all the tones present, hearing a sharper note.

Neither is correct or incorrect. The only thing that matters is that players in an ensemble come to some kind of agreement.

If I present you with a color gradient going from red to orange, can you draw a line where red ends and orange begins?

There's a demonstration that's frequently done in musical acoustics classes. If a carefully selected series of notes is played in unison to a musically educated audience, they will hear tones that don't even exist!

Fascinating stuff!


August 22, 2006 at 05:07 AM · What I'm trying to say is that anything measured between 439Hz and 444Hz should be perceived as an A (either flat, in tune or sharp) in any timbre whether it be on violin, piano, oboe, or sine waves.


August 22, 2006 at 05:57 AM · I've never heard them complain about timbre throwing them off before. Usually they're telling you the pitch of birds and car horns:) They're easier than pure tones? Ain't buying it, weasels.

August 22, 2006 at 07:27 AM · Mr. Burgess has a good point and I totally agree. Timbre usually doesn't throw me off, but if I'm used to tuning to a specific pitch (I always try to tune to 441), other pitches that aren't in that frequency range tend to really bug me. I can name the tone even if it's very flat, but it's like expecting a fast ball and getting a curve instead, but you realize it just in the nick of time. I heard those pure tones a bit flat and it just threw my ear a bit. I also had a tougher time with the extremely low notes, but had an easy time with the very hight ones (probably cus I play violin ;-).

August 22, 2006 at 03:17 PM · As a practical example, notice that everyone who reported scores here got a lower score on the "pure tones" than the "piano tones".

And two other posters described the "pure tones" as difficult or weird.

Also, on a graph showing results of the study at , you can see that the mean score is lower for pure tones than for piano tones.

I think "absolute pitch" is a more accurate term than "perfect pitch", because I've never met anyone who was perfect or infallible on pitch.

Even when I was a musician (my perfect pitch is rusty now) I could be thrown off by an unaccompanied vocalist or choir that gradually went a half step or a whole step flat over the duration of a piece. The change was so gradual that I lost my orientation, and thought they ended in the same key they'd started in. When asked what key they were in just as they ended, I was off until I paused to think about it.

I agree with those who question the value of absolute pitch. Reading music on a B flat instrument was a nightmare for me, because the pitch I heard wasn't the same as the note on the page. Reading a score that included "transposing" instruments and hearing the music in my head was almost impossible.


Most of you probably already know that a violin emits almost no sound below the pitch of a middle C. How do we hear the lower notes? Our mind fills in the blanks based on what it expects from the overtone structure.

My favorite example is the Harley Davidson motorcycle. Most of us hear a deep rumbling sound. However, that deep rumbling sound and associated pitch don't show up on a spectrum analyzer. Our minds synthesize that sound from two much higher pitches spaced at the correct interval. Harley Davidson has attempted to patent this sound. :-)

August 22, 2006 at 05:37 PM · did anyone else get sent an e-mail from this study?? They want to know my ethnicity and other genetic background... apparently there's an ethnic predisposition towards this type of hearing.

August 22, 2006 at 07:08 PM · I got an email as well - and have forwarded the study on to family members who might be interested.

By the way - I just thought the pure tones were interesting, and found it odd to hear the notes without any timbre or resonance surrounding them.

August 22, 2006 at 07:44 PM · The next time some geek starts telling me the pitches of burps and farts I'm going to play him a sine wave and if he can't tell me the pitch, I'm going to kick his ass.

August 22, 2006 at 07:46 PM · I haven't gotten an email yet :(

August 22, 2006 at 08:10 PM · I completely failed that test. Obviously, I have no concept of pitch LOL.

August 22, 2006 at 09:29 PM · I didn't take the test because I know I don't have absolute pitch. However, I have some comments on pure tones and tones of different timbre (piano, violin, etc.) The sound waves that impinge on our ears, and then on our brains, are not pure sine waves but more complex waves, which our brains must deconvolute to determine the pitch. It's not surprising that people's ability to determine pitch is different according to the pure tone and the particular timbre. Training in playing an instrument also afeccts the ability to determine pitch perception, particularly with the timbre of the instrument studied. In fact, other studies have shown that the pyhsical structure and electrical activity of the brain are different for pure tones and tones of different timbre in trained musicians. Furthermore, the brains of musicians who play different instruments develop in different ways according to the instrument played. (Really. I'll write more about it in my blog.)

August 22, 2006 at 11:28 PM · I know I don't have perfect pitch, but I took the test for fun anyway (AP rank 5.00, pure tone score 3.75, piano tone score 9.50, haha). There was a checkbox on the survey where I could indicate that I don't have absolute pitch, so I hope I didn't mess up the study.

Anyway, I agree with the people who say that timbre shouldn't make much of a difference for people who truly have absolute pitch. It's true that most instrumental sounds are complex and must be deconvoluted, but the fundamental has to be much stronger than any overtones. Otherwise you just get beats; it's not going to make you think an A is an F# or even a Bb.

It's interesting to me that some people (not referring to anyone here) take great pride in having perfect pitch. To me, it's just something you happen to have or don't. I mean, I don't think I'm superior to a color-blind person just because I can distinguish red and green. And perfect pitch is by no means a guarantee of good intonation. I know a guy who can identify a pitch as an A, but he only knows it's in the vicinity of 440. If asked to compare it to 442, he wouldn't be able to tell you if it was too high or too low.

August 23, 2006 at 02:04 AM · Karin, I agree that perfect pitch is in no way credit-worthy. You have it or you don't, or you're somewhere in between. As I tried to say in a previous post, sometimes it's a blessing, sometimes it's a curse.

And I also agree that timbre shouldn't make much difference when it comes to identifying pitch. That's one of the interesting things about the study results; apparently it does.

I'll refer back to my example of violin tones below C natural. The fundamental is pretty much non-existant. Yet we hear it as if it was there.

I (and many other people) have done repeated tests where the fundamental is completely removed, yet the listener hears an "implied" tone based on the harmonic tones that are still present.

Why is this?

Scientists seem to think that the human brain has remarkable auditory processing capability brought about by the requirements for speech recognition.

August 23, 2006 at 02:48 AM · Actually the first partial doesn't always predominate. There is often more higher partials present than fundamental. I'd write more, but I'm late for dinner. In particular a chord, for example you might hear three "fundamental" notes, but the second partial of one note might be stronger than the fundamental of one of the others. This can cause some difficulty, and how the brain sorts it into three notes isn't understood at all. Weird stuff.

P.S. I wasn't saying a sine wave should be easier, just that I didn't understand how it could not be. On re-thinking I think it's a matter of familiarity, etc. I have no first hand knowledge of the experience, so I have to trust the information from those who do and imagine the experience, and yes I can imagine certain things like familiarity factoring in heavily.

August 23, 2006 at 04:52 AM · Timbre definitely makes a difference when identifying pitch... my parents can identify a note on the flute every time. Is it a surprise that they are flutists? Any other instrument though, and they're stymied. It would be worth knowing exactly how they learned to identify those notes and no others. Do they have perfect pitch, and if not, what should it be called? The study should yield interesting results.

August 23, 2006 at 06:44 PM · Had a discussion with my husband about this last night and got a few new thoughts to share, particularly about the effect of timbre. (Disclaimer: neither of us has perfect pitch) It still seems to me that if you have perfect pitch, it should matter little what instrument it's played on, nor should it take that long to figure out. However, my husband thinks (and I agree) that what may be the case for some people is that they have very good relative pitch AND are able to memorize a particular sound (e.g. middle C on the piano, or A 440 as produced on a violin string). In that case, timbre would make a difference, since you could only recognize the sound as produced by that particular medium, and you'd also need some (possibly very short) time to calculate the interval.

In this particularly study they don't tell you exactly what your mistakes were, but for those of you who think you have perfect pitch, I'd like to know if when you make mistakes, it's always a close note (e.g. thinking an A is a Bb) or if it's sometimes far off, e.g. confusing C# and F#. My guess would be that someone who's using good relative pitch to identify notes would confuse notes close to each other, whereas someone with true perfect pitch would confuse notes with similar "colors", which aren't necessarily close in the scale.

August 23, 2006 at 09:11 PM · Comments on various messages in this thread

Like others I did better with the piano tones (score of 31) than the pure tones (27), and subjectively found it easier and recorded responses to the piano faster. What if they'd had violin tones - would we all have done better? :)

Emily and Marty are right about the 3-second timing - on some I fumbled just finding the right keyboard note to press in time.

Another variable is hearing (I'm 62). I nailed the notes in mid-range instantly, but for some of the extremely high or low notes, I could not pick out a distinct tone. I assume that's a function of age-related hearing, not of absolute pitch.

Finally, relative pitch is definitely more useful and more important than absolute pitch. However, I find that absolute pitch makes playing easier, in that when the note appears on the page I can form an instant mental image of how the note should sound (i.e., at what pitch). However, this is not done in isolation, since that how that image is transfered to the violin is affected by the relative pitch of notes already played (if nothing else, in tuning the instrument). Conclusion: both relative and absolute pitch are valuable assets in playing.

An interesting exercise in showing the relative importance of these two pitch skills is playing the Biber mystery sonatas, which call for scoratura (retuned) violin. Suddenly all the learned relationships between printed note and pitch are inapplicable (I've played a number of these 15 sonatas, and performed a couple). Which is more important in determining the final result as heard by the audience? . . .

* Flying blind - putting the fingers where Biber said to, and hoping for the best;

* Relative pitch - memorizing the melody line, and adjusting finger placement so that's the way it comes out;

* Absolute pitch - futher adjusting finger placement to fit your concept of how the note should sound, which means you also have to relearn key signature.

Obvious answer: all 3 skills are important, IMHO as listed here in descending order.

The interesting thing about scoradura in relation to this study is that scordatura eliminates the learned relationship between printed notes and pitch; so that makes absolute pitch rather helpful in playing the sonatas. As an ex-academic I'll point all this out to the study's authors if they ever e-mail me.

Several of the posts say what we already know as musicians: skill at an instrument (of which knowledge and application of pitch is a key part) is a complex combination of genetic predisposition and learned behavior. For example, how would baroque musicians who do not tune to A-440 do on this absolute pitch study? Ability to identify a pitch may be genetic, but associating that pitch with a notated system is learned behavior. Necessarily the pitch study combines (and may confuse) both dimensions. Not sure where that idea leads . . .

Sorry to ramble - just some random thoughts.

August 23, 2006 at 07:19 PM · It may come down to the unfamiliarity of pure tones.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any musical instrument, or any sound in nature that is a pure single sine wave. Part of the customary sensory information is missing.

Maybe our brains are so busy asking "Whats up with this?" that we're distracted.

It might be like looking through glasses that filtered out all the color. Basic visual informatin would still be there, but not the way we're used to seeing it.

August 24, 2006 at 12:30 AM · I wondered how the scoring was done, so I e-mailed the people at the study this afternoon. The study's director responded quickly to my e-mail inquiry. I have pasted in her explanation below.

For the non-statistically inclined, the statistic "standard deviation" they use is a measure of how widely spread out the scores are around the average (or mean) of a large number of scores. They use the criterion of 3 standard deviations from the mean as their working definition of "absolute pitch." In a normal population, a tiny percentage of all the scores on their test of pitch would be that far above the average. Hey, I have absolute pitch, I'm abnormal! (in a purely statistical sense, of course)

"What do my scores mean?"

"Your scores on the auditory tone test consist of 3 components: a pure tone test score (pure), a piano tone test score (piano) and the absolute pitch rank (AP rank). There are a total of 36 possible points for both the pure tone test and piano tone tests. There are 5 different AP ranks.

"Your test score is the total number of correct tone guesses you made on each test. In order to qualify as an absolute pitch (AP) possessor in this study, you need to score greater than 24.49 points on the pure tone test and greater than 27.8 on the piano tone test. These scores are 3 standard deviations above the mean pure tone test score (17.34) and mean piano tone test score (20.24) obtained by a sample population of AP and non-AP musicians who were tested in our initial studies of absolute pitch.

"We use 5 different AP (absolute pitch) ranks to categorize the scores of our auditory tone test participants relative to our initial sample population of musicians. AP-1 rank corresponds to test scores 3 standard deviation above the mean scores obtained for both the pure tone test and the piano tone test. AP-2 corresponds to test scores 2 standard deviations above the pure tone mean and 3 standard deviations above the piano tone test. AP-3, and AP4 corresponds to test score that are 2 standard deviations above the pure tone mean and 2 standard deviations above the piano score mean. Anything below this is given an AP5 rank."

[note - in her e-mail the text defining AP-3 is missing, but I'm guessing it's the reverse of AP-2 - Eric]

August 24, 2006 at 01:03 AM · Some people have said that relative pitch is more important than absolute pitch. I'm sorry, but to me (I have absolute pitch) this doesn't make any sense. If you have absolute pitch, you also have relative pitch. In my experience, if you have absolute pitch, you can tell what the note is, and you can also sing/identify any note after and tell what it's relationship is to the previous note. How can relative be more important if it's included in absolute?

August 24, 2006 at 02:38 AM · David, I can't agree with you 100%, although I see what you're saying. I have had absolute pitch as long as I've been playing, yet as my relative pitch has improved my intonation has as well. That's the problem with absolute pitch, as some have said here: it's on or off, you either have it or you don't. There's not much room for improvement once you "have it".

Specifically, I've noticed big improvements when I force myself to listen for perfect intervals from one beat or one measure to the next. The same goes for matching the same note across beats or bars. Both of these come into play in arpeggio practice for example, or practicing 3rds.

Don't let anyone tell you absolute pitch has no benefits; it does! But the benefit of not having absolute pitch is that it necessitates developing relative pitch much earlier on.

August 24, 2006 at 03:58 AM · I discovered I had perfect pitch when I was with a lot of friends, waiting to head out for the night. One of them was picking away at the solo from November Rain, and he was playing it a few intervals down. I told him he was starting on the wrong note... then suddenly all the musicians there turned me into some kind of party trick, and I was naming random notes for the next 15 minutes until I said enough and we headed out.

August 24, 2006 at 11:00 PM · I thought the test was kind of fun, the pure tones weren't that bad though-- I scored AP 1.00, Pure tones 34, and piano tones 35.50.


August 28, 2006 at 01:29 AM · Regarding the timbre issue:

I have absolute pitch. I scored 36 for the piano tones but only 35 for pure tones. I did find the pure tones slightly more difficult to identify, especially in the low register. By that I mean that even though I could tell that a note was somewhat like an F (for example), it was distorted enough that if I really had to identify it I would have said it was a quarter tone sharp. There was in fact one F-quarter-tone-sharp note which I identified as an F sharp and must have been an F, which is the one that I missed.

August 29, 2006 at 05:56 AM · This is actually to David Ormai. You mentioned seeing colors for all the different notes and I was wondering if you saw them for anything else too. Such as days of the week or certain words. This is actually a disorder called synaesthesia. It's really interesting and involves the brain connecting colors to words. Here is an article about someone with this. I always found it really interesting.

August 29, 2006 at 07:17 AM · Why is that a disorder? Geez, is everything a disorder these days?

August 29, 2006 at 07:36 AM · They're hearing sight and smelling noise. It's not just another phony case of ADD. They need help. Some of them are probably even touching taste. Hearing touch in perfect pitch. God knows what.

August 29, 2006 at 12:33 PM · Hi,

Actually, this disorder is rare but long known, Annie S. Olivier Messiaen, the French Composer, actually suffered from this. Such works as "Les Couleurs de la Cité Céleste" reflect the chords he saw for different harmonies. Apparently they were quite complex schemes of colours as well. A former professor of mine who studied with him said that they tested the idea by giving the great man a series of chords and noted the colours he saw. Later, like two years or so, they gave him the same chords but in a different sequence and the results were the same. I guess at that time, things like this were less accepted than now.


August 29, 2006 at 04:39 PM · Yes, but everybody knows Mondays are red. It's common knowledge that E strings are lemon juice and Novembers come in shades of brown.

August 29, 2006 at 05:28 PM · Emily - suppose the E string whistles. Then what?

August 29, 2006 at 07:43 PM · ...make lemonade?

August 29, 2006 at 08:20 PM · It's not a disorder. It's a different way of how things are conceived and perceived. There's many different types of synethesia not just ones derived from two senses mixing (ie: sight, hearing).

Conceptual synesthesia is the mixing of abstract concepts with tangible/maleable objects. I have time-touch/time-sight synesthesia and I'm pretty sure many people have this and don't even know it.

If you know how to answer the question; "What's the shape of a century/year/week/day?" then it's likely you have conceptual synethesthesia. If you have to think about it and develope an answer, then you likely don't have synesthesia, but for as long as I can remember I have thought of time passage in tangible and maleable objects. The objects are always the same and I thought it was strange when someone said they had never thought of it like that.

Anyway, check out:


August 29, 2006 at 10:13 PM · A week is a lopsided oval, with five days on one side and two on the backside.

Years pass in counter-clockwise fashion, on a flat plane. Currently, we are nearly to the ten o'clock.

Centuries stack like bricks.

What I can't make sense of is how I got around to thirty-one so quickly.

August 29, 2006 at 11:59 PM · I personally blame the bricks.


August 30, 2006 at 02:42 AM · Okay, I have officially taken the pitch study.

The test confirmed that I do have perfect (or "absolute") pitch; however, my pitch identification has been a very complex issue over many years. In fact, I wrote about my experiences in the comments section of the study--asking to be contacted, but no luck yet.

Here's the deal: I discovered that I potentially had perfect pitch one day in high school when I hummed the tonic of a song on the radio as I came into the house--then successfully chose the note on the piano on the first try. In reality, what I believe I had at that time was a form of very good relative pitch in that there was a single note (f#') that I was able to pull out of the air without prior playing. This was my bass and I went on from there in either direction to identify notes. I then began to train myself to recognize how each pitch felt in my head as I hummed it or whistled it (sort of a timbre recognition)--which also included a brief period where I did actually associate colors with the pitches as well (only within one octave, however).

By the way, I take offense to any of these abilities of recognition to somehow be labelled "disorders." This ridiculous word should be associated with abnormalities in the human condition that make one's life very difficult.

In any event, I was so intrigued by my ability to--in affect--TRAIN myself to have perfect pitch--it was truly a developed skill for me.

One side note about an earlier comment: I believe the reason one stated that relative pitch is better to have than absolute pitch refers to the common misconception that all people with perfect (absolute) pitch CANNOT FUNCTION in musical environments where intonation is poor or that if an entire piano is a half-step flat they freak out. In my experience this is simply not the case.

In order to come to grips with this, we must recognize the fact that those with true perfect pitch must have a pitch "center" around which all notes are derived. This could be A-440 or A-442, in theory, depending on the individual.

The alarming thing that has happened to me over the years is that I discovered my "pitch center" slowing falling. What once was an A-440 center has dropped considerably, so much so that when I whistle an A and then play the note I'm whistling on a piano, the key most like "my" A is a G#. This fascinates me and I wonder if pitch center has the ability to drop with age or other conditions.

The bottom line here, however, is that even in the face of my internal pitch center dropping, my violin playing has NOT been adversely affected. In fact, like many violinists, I probably tend to tune a little higher than A-440, which is a bit ironic. In addition, once I'm in a PITCH CENTER, whatever it may be, I adapt to it and embrace it. This is where the strong relative pitch skills show themselves. Case in point--the university pitch test I just took! I actually thought it would test me low because of my internal pitch struggles; however, I must have adapted to its center.

Has anyone else experienced a dramatic change in their "perfect pitch."

Best wishes,


August 30, 2006 at 03:37 AM · Peter,

Are you the same Peter Wilson who's going to be performing with the Lawton Philharmonic this Spring?

August 30, 2006 at 03:41 AM · Peter, your description matches mine. I've attained pitch recognition one note at a time over the years, and I am more familiar with some than with others. I failed the first test and took it again later and scored a 3.

My "pitch center" falls flat when I'm tired. Maybe you need more sleep. ;)

August 31, 2006 at 02:04 AM · Marty,

No, I am not "that" Peter Wilson. But thanks for letting me know there's another Peter Wilson playing violin out there . . .

Let me know what he'll be playing and the date. Perhaps I should understudy him--then, if he should fall ill, programs would not have to be changed. :)


August 31, 2006 at 03:01 AM · Peter,

I got an email from the orchestra contractor saying that a certain Peter Wilson and Aaron Clay were playing the Bottesini Grand Duo Concertant with the Lawton Phil. The concert is on April 21st, 2007 (I think).

Well, anyway, I'm looking forward to the concert.

August 31, 2006 at 05:26 AM · pure tone score was 33, piano tone was 36. It was pretty hard.

August 31, 2006 at 12:52 PM · Marty!!!

Holy moly! That IS me!

Now I'm embarrassed. I knew I was booked in Oklahoma, but honestly, I didn't know the name of the orchestra or the city. I'm a good friend of the conductor Jon Kalbfleisch. We agreed to play the Bottessini, but I haven't followed up with all the details.

Thanks for waking me up! I'm looking forward to it as well!



August 31, 2006 at 05:09 PM · Ha ha, Peter, that's really funny. :D Well, at least you know what you're playing...

August 31, 2006 at 06:38 PM · AP rank: 1.00

Pure tone score: 28.00

Piano tone score: 24.25

*sigh* now i know why i'm out of tune all the time. or put another way, i'm 'adding jazz extensions' to the triad lol

August 31, 2006 at 09:31 PM · Sorry, I didn't follow the entire discussion. Does nobody identify pitches by feeling the vibrations? I don't know how exactly it works, but when I play the violin, I obviously use my ears too to check intonation, but also the way the string vibrates, my fingers vibrate, tells me more accurately when it's in tune or not.

Maybe that might explain why with some instruments I have more difficulties to identify pitch than others, namely because their body vibrates differently.

August 31, 2006 at 09:46 PM · The violin resonates more when the note you play is in tune with the it, thats probably that vibration you're talking about. I would think that all instruments are like that, especially the wooden ones.

October 2, 2006 at 06:39 AM · At the UCSF website it says that the majority of people with perfect pitch started an instrument before a certain age. The prevailing wisdom at least is that you must start violin before a similar age to eventually play at the highest level. When you put this together might it mean that the ability to play violin at the highest level is related to a high degree of perfect pitch? I can picture that. That would be another interesting study.

October 2, 2006 at 04:49 AM · The other day during my piano pedagogy class we had a lecture by Dr. Martin F. Gardiner from NEC, and he said that pitch recognition is related to math ability, but perfect pitch was not a factor in the particular study he officiated. That would be another interesting one-- do people with perfect pitch also have good math abiity?


October 2, 2006 at 05:18 AM · I had 50s in math for most of highschool, and I have perfect pitch.

October 2, 2006 at 07:50 AM · What did Gardiner mean by pitch recognition if he wasn't talking about perfect pitch? Or have I misunderstood what you wrote?

October 2, 2006 at 12:44 PM · I have absolute pitch and my math is really quite pathetic...

October 2, 2006 at 01:07 PM · 2+2=5

October 2, 2006 at 01:51 PM · I have absolute pitch, and my math scores in school would have embarrassed a four-year-old.

October 2, 2006 at 02:04 PM · I am sure someone with perfect pitch can say the same thing about his/her violin playing. One may have the potential but if it is not developed, one can't do much with it. My guess is that if someone with perfect pitch is not good at math, it just means that s/he didn't work at it. It doesn't necessarily mean that perfect pitch is not related to math aptitude. Back to Nuture vs. Nature?

October 3, 2006 at 02:13 PM · Quoting from above:

They use the criterion of 3 standard deviations from the mean as their working definition of "absolute pitch.

They would have to use a different criterion with a different study population-- for example, the Japanese in Japan, among whom the vast majority have Absolute Pitch, if I recall info. correctly from source I forget...

Two issues: 1) you'd think the definition of A.P. should have more to do with sound recognition than with deviation from the mean! and 2) Anyone up on the incidence of A.P. among Japanese, and among other peoples, for comparisons? The current research is not the first to focus on its questions, and some answers are out there...

October 3, 2006 at 02:19 PM · Oh yeah-- I'm a Norwegian-Swedish mix, pure Viking except for that sixteenth of Finn on my Swede side, and I don't have perfect pitch, nor does anyone among any relatives I can think of. I am a believer in learned timbral recognition-- I'm getting better at just *knowing* if my violin is tuned to standard absolute pitch even with no comparison pitch.

There is, tangentially, I believe, a significant correlation between early blindness and Absolute Pitch. Between blindness and all sorts of awesome memory. Really, it's a shame how much of our brains we devote to visual processing, and how image-and-literacy-dominant societies have become over the centuries...

October 3, 2006 at 02:57 PM · If you habitually keep to-do lists, your memory suffers. One can train the brain to keep track of a huge amount of information.

An anthropologist named Napoleon Chagnon did extensive field research in the Amazon in the 1960s. He found that "whisper down the lane" was far less of a problem with stories that were passed from tribe to tribe, than than was the case for similar situations in literate societies. In other words the Yanomamo, who had no written language, simply developed a higher sense of memory.

October 3, 2006 at 05:39 PM · I was reading William Primrose's foreword to his edition of the Bach Suites today, and I noticed that he stated that he was "afflicted" with absolute pitch, and that when he heard the last Bach suite transcribed to G (to make it a more sensible piece for viola), it was a miserable experience, because his ears were so disturbed by hearing the piece in a key different from the original. He described it almost as though it were physically painful. It was the first time I'd heard someone talk about perfect pitch as being a burden rather than a gift. It made me glad to have relative pitch!

October 4, 2006 at 10:36 PM · In the real world there is a sense of keeping up with developing conditions. At a concert in Germany we played the Marcello D minor oboe concerto with strings and harpsichord.

During the second movement all the strings noticed that the oboe was slowly getting sharper and sharper and we all adjusted. Beginning with the third movement the harpsichord player had enough sense to stop playing. The end of the concerto was followed by a standing ovation.

Ted Kruzich

October 25, 2006 at 07:16 PM · Do you guys think that absolute pitch is genetic, a result from early musical training (or intensive musical training in general), or a combination of both? I'm writing a paper on this for one of my classes, and the ambiguity of the origin of absolute pitch is fascinating.

October 25, 2006 at 08:22 PM · Intersting thread. I especialy like some of David B's points on psychoacoustics.

I don't have time to look at the original study right now, nor carefully read this whole thread, so forgive if these questions were asked already:

1: What is the difference between absolute pitch and perfect pitch?

2: Did this study ask you simply to identify various pitches, or did you also have to identify A-440 from A-450?

I ask because I have known a few poor souls who were very aware of 440 tuning, and had a terrible time in the sudio. Whenever a track was slightly off, it would drive them crazy.

Also interesting to note that years ago the overall tuning was lower. Some of you probably know the exact dates and numbers, I don't, but I know that in Stradivarius' day orchestras tuned to something like A-335. (maybe even lower?) In the studio, we sometimes tune to A-442 to A-445 because it sounds crisper somehow. I wonder how this relates to the study? (That particular sensitivity MUST be learned, not genetic)

October 25, 2006 at 11:17 PM · Allan,

To answer your questions...

1: What is the difference between absolute pitch and perfect pitch?

There is no difference. Absolute pitch is simply the name used for perfect pitch in the scientific literature.

2: Did this study ask you simply to identify various pitches, or did you also have to identify A-440 from A-450?

This study asked only to identify various pitches.

October 26, 2006 at 01:01 PM · I'm sure it's genetic. I come from a family of musicians spanning several generations, and I have three brothers, all with perfect pitch. My father has close to perfect pitch, but not to the extent that my brothers (his sons) have it (one is from a second marriage). His father had absolute pitch. My mother has absolute pitch and her mother had absolute pitch. I am my parents' only daughter, and I have very good relative pitch. I have done just about everything that a person could do to develop absolute pitch, but I have never developed it to the extent that I could depend on it. My brothers have never had to "work" on their pitch memory. It is something that just "is," like the color of a person's hair or eyes.

October 26, 2006 at 03:21 PM · Thanks, Julie.


If you need as much as 5 seconds (I need 30 seconds and piano!) for some notes, then my guess is that you have some kind of "partial" absolute pitch. That is, perhaps you recognize one note right away (probably "E") and then use relative pitch to calculate the actual note based on it's relation to E. That's just a guess, of course, but I would think most AP folks do this.

There are certainly some people who can identify pitches instantly, like they were colors. I knew one guy who would say "that's an A, but it's ten cents flat." -And he would be right.

I saw a documentary once on TV wherein a savant was able to listen to a touch-tone phone being dialed, and afterwards tell you what each SET of tones was dialed! Mind you, a phone works like a car horn, using two notes at once that are purposely (slighly) out of tune. Amazing.

October 26, 2006 at 04:01 PM · some of those are in 3rds, some are 5ths. I'll listen next time to a phone and figure out what it is.

October 26, 2006 at 04:13 PM · No, Allen, that's not what I do. I recognize all pitches.

October 26, 2006 at 04:10 PM · They're do-re-mi (D-E-F#) from left to right and do-re-mi (F-G-A) bottom to top, a major 6th apart (that's why 3 is so ugly). My best friend was Old MacDonald. The ear picks up mostly on the higher pitches, so it's best to work with the left-right pitches when composing.

October 26, 2006 at 04:26 PM · Isn't DTMF (telephone touch-tone) an intersecting row-column tone set? Like each row steps up one of the tones, and each column steps up another set?

Hey Emily! How come your post didn't show up until after mine?

You answered the question! So can you play the Chaconne on the telephone?;-)

October 26, 2006 at 06:56 PM · Elaine - your family would be dream subjects for the UCSF study. you should participate!

October 26, 2006 at 10:32 PM · I've always thought that the arbitrary reference point (A=440) argues against perfect pitch being genetic. Also, it seems like an curse more than a blessing.

And from the other side, I just played in the pit under a director who had AP and it was agony (probably for both of us.)

October 27, 2006 at 12:27 AM · That's what George Crumb said. He lost it when he got old. He said it was liberating.


October 27, 2006 at 01:32 AM · Greetings,

if that`s all he lost then he is probably veyr liberated,



October 27, 2006 at 04:43 AM · I do not actually use a reference point (A 440) at all-- I just now instantly what the pithes are (and I mean pitches of everything, sometimes it is really anoying...) I think that perhaps AP is both a genetic trait and can be leared, or at least augmented by musical study. Other people I know with AP also say that they do not have an internal reference pitch, although people with relative pitch tend to have a pith that they know and use as a reference point. I have met some people who once they have a starting note, might as well have AP, their ear is so sensitive(for example, not all piano tuners have AP).


January 4, 2007 at 01:38 PM · I think that to have AP, a person should be able to identify quarter tones...and even more that. All notes have a pitch.A 440A and a 441A sound completely different. It will sound odd if you hear a 339A when you are used to tuning to 441A, but it should feel just the same as hearing a B and C. And no offense to anyone, but it does kind of bug me when people with AP complain about notes that are "out of tune". Nothing is definitely "out of tune" if the note stands alone. It's is how it fits into the harmonies that counts. One perfect example of that is how a F sharp played with the open A on the violin is different fom a F sharp played with a D that has been tuned to the A. When you think about it, there's such a big gap between the pitches of A and G sharp (the ones we hear most of the time). What fills the gap in between? Just more pitches that we don't normally use. But they are there and, if they each have their own names, can be named. All I'm saying is that seeing AP as a curse or a gift or a blessing or whatever is overating what it really is, a tool to help ( not make) you play in tune. I found that out after spending years stubbornly refusing to play a 441A or play something out of tune just to fit into the harmony. But that was just selfish of me. AP is useless if there's only one perfect A and perfect B, etc., because everything is out of tune and in tune at the same time.

January 7, 2007 at 10:44 PM · I don't know if I have perfect pitch, but I did not like that study at all. I did not have enough time to click the correct piano key!! I can, however, tell people if they are out of tune or not. I think that is relative pitch, but whatever. I generally am out of tune not because I play poorly, but because when I practice, I simply tune to what ever my A string is. One time, I didn't tune to a standard for three weeks and my newly "learned" A was actually an F-sharp. I'm weird like that. But it forces me to rely on fingerings and not on being lucky ;)

January 7, 2007 at 10:59 PM · what if you have absolute perfect pitch and you go onto the stage and the piano is out of tune to your ears? must be pain and suffering to go on:)

January 8, 2007 at 10:00 PM · I have perfect pitch, and I agree with Jiwen. I actually commented on that in the "comments" section of the study. On the violin, there's no "one" F# -- or any set pitch other than the open strings, for that matter.

I also commented on my experience playing baroque violin at A=415 (and later, A=430). After a day or so of being completely flabbergasted at 415, I actually found that forcing my mind to play what it saw (I kept wanting to play in half position so that I would hear what I was looking at!) and listening for intervals and pitch-in-context actually *improved* my intonation.

I've often thought of perfect pitch as more of a curse than a blessing for the reason that I tend to micromanage my playing. (I would say the same for listening, too.) I miss the forest for the trees by hearing each note or chord rather than the connections between intervals and the longer phrases.

So, when I'm practicing something like a Bach fugue, I try to "turn on" that switch that was activated by my experience playing at 415.

I also missed out on a lifetime of pop music lyrics because all I was hearing (and being driven crazy by) was a boring and repetitive tune.

On another note, when I was an undergrad at Yale I participated in a paid study on perfect pitch that was much more detailed and intense than the UCSF one.

In one test, they would play a very high or low pitched frequency (not on an instrument -- one of those electronic sounds). The tone would last for two or three seconds. I would have to match it as closely as possible by turning a nob on a separate electronic device. The notes they played for me were completely random in frequency (that is, they were "not real notes"). (Someone brought up the point that "you don't have perfect pitch unless you can reproduce anything, whether it's a 'real note' or not." Well, that's what this test was.) It was definitely harder for me than naming "real" notes, but I was able to do it ok.

The other "weird" test was a lot more fun. They would play a note and simultaneously flash a random themed image. For example, in one round of ten, there would be old-fashioned prints of butterflies acoompanying pitches. At the end of the set, I had to identify which pitches were played AND which images were shown in that set. I wish I remembered what my results were... but this was 3 years ago, and I was freaking out about what to do with my life. :)

February 26, 2007 at 05:05 PM · Somebody mentioned that the reason why most people with AP take a while to identify the note is that they are checking it against a reference note. Maybe some people do, but I "sing" the note in my head an octave or two higher or lower to see what the note sounds like in the violin range. (I never sing it out loud; that totally messes me up for some reason.) I don't know if most people do that though. That study was hard because I didn't have enough time to check the notes.

February 27, 2007 at 12:08 AM · I want to take a little time to say HOW PROUD I am to be from California -- "It's who I am" - Craig Ferguson.

I am especially proud of our educational system. The University of California and California State Universities though independent and made of independent universities, are THE MOST comprehensive systems in the higher learning world.

One of our weak points though is MUSIC (if you guys didn't know). Though Berkeley is one of the top 3 schools in the nation for the PhD in Music, we lagggg in Performance. UCI and UCLA are trying to change that -- but it is hard when you have the big subjects such as Medicine (UCSF, UCI, UCSD (top neuroscience school), UCR? and UCLA D. Geffen), Law (Berkeley, UCLA, UCD, Hastings) and of course Engineering (Berkeley, UCLA, basically all the schools) hogging the spotlight and eating a big portion of operating costs.

Yet we have two schools that are not public and that contribute greatly to Music in California, USC Thornton and San Francisco Conservatory. I do not mention Colburn because to be truthful, they have not made such a great impact in terms of purely Californian gains. I hope they do though, grow into one of the premiere conservatories so more students will come and hopefully stay and play in California.

I think it is dramatically awesome that California has grown so much since 1850 when The College of California was established which later turned into Berkeley. Stanford was founded in the early 1900s, and Caltech in 1891.

Taken collectively, California owns A MAJORITY of the No.1 spots in departmental rankings ranging from English, Classics, German, Engineering, to Physics, Biology... it's just incredible.

If you didn't know this, UCSF, one of the top five medical schools (and now having merged with Stanford Medical Hospitals becoming one of the largest co-dependent hospital systems) makes it a point to serve the public -- that means if you have a serious problem and need to go to the hospital but can't pay, UCSF will treat you for free. Berkeley ranks in the top ten of every single PhD they offer. Stanford Law, Boalt Hall Berkeley, and UCLA Law together produce the most scholarship, books and law school text books in the nation.

Just some of the amazing things you can do, if you FUND EDUCATION. I mean, the economic impact alone - of the Universities is GINORMOUS!

I have to admit, part of our past/present/future financial crisis is due to over funding -- my tuition in college? $2000 a year!, but miraculous things can happen when you give "education" a chance. Even better, I didn't pay for my college education -- there are plenty of scholarships to go around.

I just wanted to say this because now I'm in New York and miss California dearly. I love California, forever and always --


At a Bar --

Q: where are you from?

Me: New York...

Q: no I mean where, like originally?

Me: Oh, California, sorry.

Q: no, I guess I mean what ethnicity?

Me: Californian.

Q: no, like where in Asia...

Me: I wasn't born in Asia...

February 27, 2007 at 06:38 AM · OK I took that thing and still have no idea what's going on...... I've never messed with a piano much at all. A lot of the time growing up, if I heard a song I liked, it might be a while before I'd get to hear it again, no radio of my own, no free access to record player, etc. so I worked really hard at "recording" songs in my head so I could "play" them in my head to enjoy them. So, I can work out the notes to stuff.....

I have no idea if I have any pitch at all! I know if I have a song playing in my head then bring up the video on youtube or something like that, my head version and the real version will be in tune. That still doesn't help me for doodly on that test since I don't know about pianos, I guess if I knew the piano keyboard well, I'd be able to hear the tone and Dink! hit it right off. I'd know where each one is, but I don't have the experience to associate tones with keys. In fact, messing around with a piano, I'm amazed how different a song can be structured on the keyboard compared to my mental map of it lol.

I could use a piano around here, it would be fun. But I'm stretching my finances just to learn violin.

In the end, I guess it's just like crossing the street, either C-sharp or B-flat!

March 11, 2007 at 11:36 AM · Ok, this might be a stpuid question, but, is perfect pitch based on A440? And, why would it be if it's an innate skill?

March 11, 2007 at 04:52 PM · That's not a stupid question. It's an essential question (therefore to be avoided like the plague?). My guess would be that it's not innate, but developed. Evidence for that would be the fact that people who started an instrument before some certain age are more likely to have it. Could be that it's so inaccurate the 'A' doesn't matter, or it could be so accurate that discerning between 440 and 441 is possible. It's fairly common, so I'm inclined to choose the inaccuracy option.

March 11, 2007 at 07:20 PM · Ah, yes, thanks for clearing that up for me! It must be developed, with maybe just an innate predisposition.

One other question I have is this, when I listen to violin recordings or whenever I hear any violin being played, I'm really good at recognizing the pitches as long as they're not too fast. I'm reasonably confidant I could take very accurate dictation. And, I think it's not so much the pitches that I'm recognizing as the sonorities, the individual timbre of every note, it's like I've memorized them.

So what do you call that type of pitch recognition?

Of course, my pitch recognition is horrible for the piano, but I have been successful at recognizing pitches on the piano by just hearing in my head what they would sound like on the violin.

It's not perfect pitch because I can only really recognize pitches immediately from a violin, all other instruments I have to imagine the sound as a violin sound. And, it's not an innate skill, it's definately developed, and only in the last few years when I started seriously practicing!

I also don't think this is what you might refer to as relative pitch though, because, I'm not recognizing the pitches by recognizing their relationships, although of course I can do this. I have no problem hearing and recognizing intervals, that's just not how I'm recognizing the pitches.

So, again, I would not call this relative pitch, so what is it?

Would you call it perfect timbre!? Maybe Memorized Timbre would be better . . .? :)

I've actually been confused about this for some time. I can wake up in the morning and sing any pitch, as long as I'm given a moment to hear it in my head first, of course as a violin sound. Most people would say that's perfect pitch, right? But it's not! What is it?

Any thoughts?

March 11, 2007 at 08:59 PM · I took the test and it seems like you'd have to be REALLY familiar with the piano. If you were one of those kids sat at a piano from a very early age, of course the notes would all become "personal friends".

I think it's like learning an accent, or learning Morse Code, at an early age. There's a period of time where the brain is subject to "imprinting".

I think this capability is seen also in a lot of blind/autistic musicians because their minds don't have a lot else to do, no getting distracted by, say, jumping on tricycles and tearing around the block yelling and screaming, which was SO much fun..... But this was after I had my final eye operation, before that according to family members I just sat and listened. I now have basically 1-1/2 good eyes. One good enough to read etc with, one that's not but still handy for peripheral vision, also better at seeing at night lol. If not for the operations, I think I'd have ended up one of these little display-pieces on the piano. Instead, once I could see, I was pushed towards art because my dad was a frustrated artist, and I think it was thought they'd make money off of me that way - so the piano became verboten, I was yelled at for making "noise" if I even touched it.

March 11, 2007 at 09:10 PM · Erin I agree, I think there's a lot of confusion about this. I can "hear" a song in my head then play it (CD or youtube or whatever) and it will be on the same pitch, I could for instance sing anything I can hear in my head from memory first, then someone sould turn on the CD halfway and it would be in tune.

It just takes a lot of familiarity with the piano to hear a tone and know the name like F-sharp etc., heck I'm only beginning to learn to read music!

April 29, 2007 at 12:19 AM · Ok, I think I cut myself off too soon. Dang Sony Vaio notebook with its sensitive mouse pad! I'm going to wait to see if the rest of my post before this made it before continuing.


April 29, 2007 at 12:15 PM · SIGH!!!

Ok here goes again!


I retook the test today and my score is as follows: Rank: AP:1, Pure tones 31.0, Piano tones 36.0. The pure tone score would have been higher if it had been louder; my volume was all the way up.

I'm going to ramble off some thoughts here. Took my first piano lesson at age 10 from my oldest sister. Got FRIGHTFULLY bored with it and quit after the second lesson. At 13, I learned I have AP. Then decided I should give piano another chance. Took lessons from a non-relative this time thinking it would be better. It wasn't. She fired me less than a year later for not practicing. I decided I'd rather play by ear, which I still don't do all that well. As far as I know I'm the only one in my family with AP. Neither parent nor siblings have it. Could be some extended family member out there (surely there is someone) but this subject has not come up over Thanksgiving dinner so far.

One day while sick with a bad head cold I sat down to the piano to play something in F. I heard *F SHARP*!!! I quickly removed my hands from the piano! Then I tried to play the piece anyway and kept screwing up because my hearing was off due to the fluid in my head. I made a mental note to NEVAH! play piano with a head cold.

Now I'm 47 years old and have noticed my pitch perception has slid a little south and is not as "perfect" as it once was. I've heard this happens though. Still, it's very annoying. I will hear an A and say to myself "that's B flat" but then a few seconds later correct myself. (SIGH!)

I used to tell people I was "cursed" with perfect pitch to make them feel better about not having it, I suppose. But really I feel like it's a blessing even with the problems I have now. Whenever I hear a piece not in it's original key, I get very annoyed; but I never blame AP. Rather I blame the person for changing the key! There are times, not many, that I actually like the new key but the piece still sounds like a whole new song to me in another key. Even if it's 1/2 step different. Or maybe I should say: ESPECIALLY if it's just a half step different. Hard to describe.

I don't associate colors with pitch, as with folks with synesthesia (I've read this is just an ability, not a "disorder".) However, I do compare pitches to temperature. For instance the "warm keys" are: C, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb. "Cool keys" are: D, E, A, B. The ones not mentioned I'm undecided on or could go either way depending on the song. I even go so far as to compare certain pitches to weather (I know I'm insane but at least I am enjoying it!) For instance, Eb Minor I associate with a heavy snowfall, F# is cool, damp and overcast. D is cold with a clear blue sky. F is 82 degrees and sunny and so is Bb. Then there is Db Minor - it's not any temperature at all - it's just pure evil. LOL.

I'm all done rambling for now. Thanks for letting me vent.


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