Perfect Pitch


Perfect Pitch Essay, Research Paper

Perfect Pitch

Perfect Pitch is the ability to identify any musical note without comparison to a reference note, and is a talent displayed in a small amount of people. What causes it is a question which has attracted a lot of attention lately. Scientists are asking them selves if it is a learned ability or are we given this unique talent through our genes. MRI scans in test have shown an enlarged portion of the brain present in individuals gifted the ability of perfect pitch. Scientists have been extensively surveying and testing musicians and non-musicians alike to place the key to this rare and special gift.

A research team from D?sseldorf, Germany believes they have located the physical basis of perfect pitch. The team led b y neurologist Gottfried Schlaug and Helmuth Steinmetz of D?sseldorf Heinrich Heine University report that the planum temporale is far larger on the left side than on the right side in professional musicians–especially in those who have perfect pitch (Nowak 616). Previous studies have suggested that the left hemispheric activation sites in the brain are seen during phonological, lexical, or semantic language task performance, while the right hemispheric preponderances are found for melodic and pitch perception (Schlaug 699). So Schlaug and his colleagues decided to examine the relative sizes of the left and right planum temporale in musicians? brains because previous work has shown that a leftward asymmetry there is associated with mental functions unique to humans, such as language (Blakeslee A16). Steinmetz believes that the neurological basis of music making is likely to be in the planum temporale since music may be ?an even higher function? than language (qtd. Nowak 616).

Researches carried out comparisons by means of magnetic resonance imaging, which allowed the researchers to measure the volume of specific brain structures. They compared the images of the brains of thirty professional musicians (eleven with perfect pitch, nineteen without) with those of thirty sex and age matched non-musicians. The left planum temporale was larger than the right in both musicians and non-musicians. But the size disparity was twice as great for the musicians, a difference almost entirely due to the presence in the group of musicians with perfect pitch (Chatterjee 16).

Other studies are trying to pin down perfect pitch in our genes. Peter k Gregersen, MD, chief of the division of biology and human genetics at North Shore University Hospital (Manhasset) has observed that perfect pitch seems to run in the family. Out of 126 people with perfect pitch surveyed, five and a half percent reported their parents having perfect pitch and twenty-six said they have siblings with the skill. While on the other hand only one point one percent of the musicians without perfect pitch reported there parents having it and one point three percents of there siblings with the skill (?North Shore? 38). The survey also pointed out that all of those musicians with perfect pitch started playing at an average age of four point seven years, while those without it started at seven point three years old. Another study led by Siamak Baharloo from the University of California, San Francisco, surveyed six hundred musicians and found that forty percent of those with perfect pitch claimed to have a relative with the talent, while only twelve percent of those without perfect pitch said they had a family member with the ability (Travis 316).

Researchers have also suggested that early exposure to pitches can help obtain perfect pitch. Diana Deutsch of the University of California, San Diego, has found that perfect pitch is common among native speakers of tonal languages such as Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese. Deutsch quoted that ?Our findings show that speakers of Vietnamese and Mandarin possess an extraordinarily precise form of absolute pitch, which is reflected in their enunciation of words.? She goes on to say that ?since all except one of the subjects in the study had received little or no musical training, we conclude that this ability resulted from their early acquisition of tone language, and that they had learned to associate pitches with meaningful words very early in life? (University of California n.p.).

In conclusion perfect pitch is believed to be caused by a variety of things. Research has shown links to perfect pitch in the structure of the brain through the research of Dr. Schlaug. The research of Dr. Gregersen is attempting to pin down perfect pitch to a specific gene. And many researchers are attempting to show us how early exposure to music or different pitches can help us to acquire this unique ability of perfect pitch.

Blakeslee, Sandra. ?Scientists Find Place on Left Side of the Brain Where Perfect Pitch is heard.? New York Times 3 Feb. 1995, natl. ed.: A16.

Chatterjee, Camille. ?One-Note Wonders.? Psychology Today 31 (1998): 16.

?North Shore Researchers Seeking Musical Gene.? Long Island Business News 28 April 1997: 38.

Nowak, Rachel. ?Brain Center Linked to Perfect Pitch.? Science 267 (1995): 616.

Schlaug, Gottfried; Jancke, Lutz; Huang, Yanxiong; Steinmetz, Helmuth. ?In Vivo Evidence of Structural Brain Asymmetry in Musicians.? Science 267 (1995): 699-701.

Travis, John. ?Pitching in to find a Musical Gene.? Science News 150 (1996): 316.

University of Californian News Archive. ?Mozart?s Gift of Perfect Pitch may not be so rare After All, According to New UC Sand Diego Study on Musical Perception.? 1 November 1999. 29 February 2000.

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