Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Monday, December 04, 2006

Learning Absolute Pitch by Children: A Cross Sectional Study

Hello. I am here today to discuss the article, Learning Absolute Pitch by Children: A Cross Sectional Study by Ken’ichi Miyazaki & Yoko Ogawa.

Fist off, I thought I’d start by letting you know about some key words I will be using throughout my presentation. Absolute Pitch or AP is the ability to recognize or sing a given isolated note, and it is also called “perfect pitch. Early learning is the view that AP is learned by extensive training or repeated exposure to musical stimuli. Critical period is the time during early childhood when AP develops, and after this critical period training cannot produce AP. Pitch naming is producing the correct location of a tone
Finally, Music training is formalized training in conceptual musicianship.

In order to understand this study, you must be familiar with AP. AP listeners are able to name, accurately and quickly, the musical pitch of isolated tones presented in the absence of musical pitch. Proportions of AP possessors supposed range from 1:1,500 to 1:10,000. The percentage of AP possessors among musicians ranges from 3.4% to 15%. No one is certain how people acquire AP, or if it can truly be acquired. However, it could be the result of early musical training. Previous studies have shown that virtually all tested AP possessors had music training by the age of six. Those people who are considered to be “self-reported” AP possessors had all commences earlier music training, meaning they had begun music training as early as ages three to five.

The purpose of this report is to attempt to investigate the learning process of AP. The researchers involved took a cross-section of children aged 4-10 on their pitch naming ability. Because it is a cross-sectional not longitudinal test, the factor of training could not be manipulated for the purpose of the experiment. Also, the effects of the training couldn’t be evaluated.

The musical training of these children was in Tokyo, Japan. The aim of this school was to get children to develop the capability to express themselves by music, not to train professional musicians. The children at the school took a two-year primary course where they had a one-hour weekly lesson, fundamental music skills, and ear training. In this course the teaching method highlighted listening, singing, and playing piano. Children first learn the notes, C4, D4, E4, F4, G4, and C3. Then the children sing with lyrics, sing on solfege, play on piano, and play on piano while singing in solfege in order to remember the pitches. After the children have mastered the white keys, they move onto black ones. When the children have finished the Primary Course, they are able to continue onto the Advances Course, which is just an extension of the basic and applied music skills. Here, the children get to play, compose, arrange, and improvise.

The Method of this test was relatively simple. There were 104 participants (children) aging from 4-10. They were all tested after three months into the school year. The test itself contained a grand piano and an electric piano. The tester would play thirty-six chromatic pitches over a series of three octaves in random order. More than a perfect fifth always separated the successive tones. There were never any octaves so the student couldn’t use relative pitch. The testers wet to every precaution to make the children feel at ease. The students aged 4 were not tested with an electric organ, and all students were given introductory sessions before they were tested.

The primary focus of the results was on the piano tones because not all students were tested with organ. There was a general tendency for accuracy to increase with age, but the accuracy for children ages 5 and 6 was still widely distributed. Also, there was a distinct difference between the fluidity of the children’s knowledge of white keys versus black keys. Most ten year olds knew all of the white keynotes, but still struggled with the black keys. Also, the accuracy with the organ was lower with the organ, particularly with children seven and up. However, all response times remained quick, much to the surprise of the testers.

There are many factors that come into the validity of this test. First of all, all of the children tested came out with varying degrees of absolute pitch. Whether or not they actually had it is debatable. All children were volunteers whose parents responded to a solicitation, so it wasn’t really random selection. Children from the Advanced Course were chosen because of their progress in piano skills, whereas the students from the Primary Course were unselected. Depending on the child, there could be varying degrees of motivation to do well on the test. One could argue that there are notable outcomes if you compare this data with data from a school that isn’t focused on music, but that has yet to be done. This test doesn’t really address the difference of timbres within the experiment or how it affected the performance of the children. Also, it could have been possible for some of the children to use relative pitch, though it would have been difficult.

I would like to end my presentation with some questions that remain after this test was finished. What about standard behavioral physical development in children? Should timbres be introduced at an earlier age? Are the differences in comprehension of white and black keys due to training? Is it actually more difficult for a child to understand black keys? Is this confusion due to a misunderstanding of musical concept? Did they test the Eguchi method for AP training where the children identify chords first, instead of pitches causing them to focus on whole tonal characteristics? Does AP really matter to musicians? Does it interfere with the development of relative pitch?

Thank you for listening.


At 12/05/2006 1:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you please provide the citation for the Miyazaki paper?

At 3/10/2007 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you please explain the Eguchi method or provide a link to more info?

At 11/02/2008 6:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really understand so can u explain it more

At 2/16/2011 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One one for a child to develop better pitch recognition is by playing a game called Perfect Pitch Pursuit. It was created by Smartwave Software and can be downloaded from their website.


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