Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Presentation Script

Absolute pitch, also known as perfect pitch, is defined by W.D. Ward and E. M. Burns in their article “Absolute Pitch” as the ability to attach labels to isolated auditory stimuli on the base of pitch alone, or in normal people speak, the ability to identify a note by name with no reference note or produce a correct pitch without reference. There has been much debate on whether or not absolute pitch is genetic or can actually be taught.
This experiment, “Learning Absolute Pitch by Children: A Cross-Sectional Study” was conducted by Ken’ichi Miyazaki and Yoko Ogawa. The experiment took place in a private music school in Tokyo. Children are enrolled at the age of four and being to play piano and gain a sense of musical knowledge through activities using fixed-Do in order to emphasize the base of C4, and are shortly after introduced to other pitches, with a focus on C4, D4 and E4.
In the primary course students learn pitches and pitch names through singing, memorizing, and playing songs on the piano. In the advanced courses, which includes the ages of 6 to 10, students extend their music opportunities to play, compose, arrange, and improvise music. For the experiment 104 children were used including 13-four year olds, 18-five year olds, 13-six year olds, 14-seven year olds, 26-eight year olds, 14-nine year olds, and 6-ten year olds.
The test was held approximately three months after the beginning of the year. Another element of the experiment was the use of different timbres. Both a Yamaha Grand Piano and a Yamaha electric organ ( generating string sounds) were used. The test tones included 36 chromatic pitches over three octaves, however, the participants were not asked to identify pitch class, such as C5, but simply the general name, such as A or B. The pitches were given in a random order and separated by at least 7 semitones (or a Perfect 5) each time in order to discourage the use of relative pitch. Relative pitch is the use of a given note to generate or determine a second note. As was stated earlier two timbres were used however, it was decided against the use of the organ for the 4 year old age group as it seemed they lost interest in the activity very quickly, as most of you are probably losing interest with this presentation already.
The participants responded to the given tone using the solfege fixed-Do system which they had been taught through the school. Fixed-Do means that in every key C is Do and the other pitches are Do-sharp, Re, and so on. There was no feedback give as to whether or not a response was correct but instead constant support and encouragement was given to the participants to keep them motivated through out the experiment. Each participant was tested alone and a video camera was used in order to deteremine response time at a later point.
The results are presented as a series of graphs that I will pass around. The first graphs focus on the responses to the grand piano because not all of the students were tested on the electronic organ. As can be seen in the graphs the tendency is for the percentage correct to increase with the age, however, after age seven it can can also be seen that there is little more improvement. The first graph shows how even though the general line is increasing there are still a few students who were achieving below the overall trend. Each individual is represented by a black dot. In the second graph it shows two lines the first being the white key pitches and the second the black key pitches. As you can see the white key pitches were much more easily recognized then the black key pitches. Again, there was a large increase between in the ages of 4 to 6 and a plateau after the age of 7. The other graphs that I will pass around show the answers given to each given pitch for each age group. At first glance they seem rather confusing so if you have any questions please ask. Figures 4 and 5, or the last two graphs, yes we are nearing the end, show the responses to the organ pitches. These responses are lower and have been rationalized as such because they are not the primary instrument on which the participants studied. Children who had had other training on the electric organ scored much higher.
In general this study did little to prove anything, it simply added more research for an even larger study. This study simply proves that the critical period for the possible development of absolute pitch ends at the age of seven. The study does not settle the issue of etiology of absolute pitch ( etiology is the study of the cause of something) but it can be argued that the data may be used as evidence of the learning process of absolute pitch being effected by music training in childhood.


At 12/03/2006 5:54 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

In my opinion, it cannot be taught. I've been around music for 19 years, and I have nothing close to absolute pitch.

At 12/03/2006 6:16 PM, Blogger iheart-t-ravs said...

i agree with melissa. ive gotten better at figuring pitches just from hearing them, but i still pretty much always have to use relative pitch to figure it out. but this was an interesting experiment and i think you did a good job with explaining it.

At 12/03/2006 6:35 PM, Blogger Renee said...

AGREED! i wish i could just read a book and upon finishing have absolute pitch!

At 12/03/2006 7:40 PM, Blogger Kitt_Katt said...

i heard that there is some computer program that is supposed to help you get perfect pitch

At 12/03/2006 8:12 PM, Blogger Vera Lynn Waters said...

i've seen ads about videos and whatnot that teach perfect pitch. it's all a load of CRAP. my high school theory teacher had perfect pitch and you could hit any note on the piano and she could tell you dead up what note it was. like B flat 5. no one can learn to do that. i don't care what anyone says, it's impossible to learn.

At 12/03/2006 8:58 PM, Blogger Graham English said...

Just because you haven't tried to learn AP doesn't mean it can't be learned. What kind of logic is that? I've been teaching it successfully for years and I taught it to myself. So all of your studies do little to tell me what I already know.

At 12/03/2006 10:52 PM, Blogger Becca said...

I understand this more now. Good topic choice!

At 12/03/2006 11:07 PM, Blogger Godfather Outlaw said...

this is an awesome topic... perfect pitch is a peculiar thing...

At 12/03/2006 11:51 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

nicely presented, it is especially hard article, but you handled it with much grace.


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