Pitch perfect

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As absolute pitch or pitch memory a person's ability, which is called the amount of any included clay without tools to accurately determine d. H. name your pitch class within a pitch system (such as C, C #, D, D #, etc.) without hearing a specific reference tone. It is largely unclear which neural connections achieve this and which functions in the brain are required for this. Until a few years ago it was considered proven that this ability was innate and not learnable, but this doctrine is now outdated.

Perfect pitch can be learned consciously or unconsciously by some children up to 6 years of age through musical experience within a critical time window. The skill cannot be learned in adulthood. Adults can only learn what is known as “relative hearing”, which describes the ability to determine a tone based on a given reference point.


Many people with perfect pitch grew up in musically active parents. Children who have already learned to play an instrument at the age of three are much more likely to hear absolutely: 90% of more than 1,000 professional musicians surveyed who began to make music at this age have perfect pitch, while those who only started hearing Primary school age started making music, only 42% have perfect pitch. Such experience suggests that absolute listeners acquired their ability through extensive exposure to music in childhood. According to an alternative explanation, perfect pitch is an innate ability that is only retained in childhood through regular perception of tuned musical instruments, i.e. it is not lost.

Furthermore, it is assumed that the reserve of consciously recognizable and therefore independently interpretable phonemes and tones formed in the first three to five years of life can be expanded in the long term through regular music training through regular music training in the sense of a reliable tone memory. This assumption is supported by the more common perfect pitch in children whose mother tongue has a melodic part in word recognition (for example in some African and Chinese languages , see next paragraph).

Such theses, however, do not yet explain why children who have not had any early musical education and who have also learned one of the mother tongues that interpret less melodically and harmoniously can still have stable perfect pitch. In neuroscience (as of the 20th century), it is assumed that many absolute listener might be in a relatively wide range between absolute pitch (tone detection without reference tone) and relative ear hear (sound recognition with reference tone), but only a few people about the genuinely assessed have perfect pitch , since only with them the brain structures in the planum temporale of the lobe temporalis in the left brain hemisphere are demonstrably activated during hearing.

In 2009, Elisabeth Theusch found a connection between absolute hearing and genes on chromosome 8 in Europeans and chromosome 7 in Asians. It is not clear whether these genes are a necessary prerequisite for the acquisition of perfect pitch or merely promote its development. People with Williams-Beuren syndrome , which is based on a genetic peculiarity of chromosome 7, have perfect pitch significantly more often, which also suggests a connection with genetic makeup.

The various explanatory approaches refer to the complex development conditions for perfect hearing.


Perfect pitch is said to be very rare among musical amateurs.

The music psychologist Diana Deutsch was able to show that speakers of audio languages are much more likely to have perfect pitch: a study in the USA shows that 52 percent of Chinese music students hear “absolutely”. The cause is probably due to the local language. In the standard Chinese language Mandarin , the meaning of a syllable in terms of content varies with the melodic contour in which it is pronounced. Therefore, with the learning of the language, the recognition of pitches is also trained.

Absolute hearing ability has also been demonstrated in some animal species, including wolves, blue whales, mice, bats, and birds. Recognizing certain pitches enables the identification of sexual partners and prey. It is possible that blue whales also recognize the direction of movement of the sound source using the Doppler effect .


A distinction is made between the passive (the pitch of the heard tones can be specified) and the active perfect pitch (desired tones can be sung impromptu), whereby the active perfect pitch includes the passive. Active perfect pitch also requires a strong musical imagination.

A characteristic that is more common among singers is to unconsciously hear absolutely: for example, they can sing the opening note of a melody correctly without being able to name it. It is also known from instrumentalists that some use the pitch, e.g. B. the a , through years of practice without tuning fork tune in or sing at the exact pitch.

Practice can improve a "weaker" form of absolute hearing to active absolute hearing.

The gift of tone-color synesthesia is a special kind of absolute hearing ability and is comparable to passive absolute hearing. Other types differentiated, for example, in that only a single tone or instead of individual tones only keys are absolutely belongs.

Because of different types of absolute hearing, strictly speaking, one does not have “absolute hearing”, but rather “absolute hearing”.

Perfect pitch accuracy

When deciding whether a person can hear absolutely, the required accuracy of the absolute hearing ability plays a role. Some absolute listeners can determine the correct tone to within a few cents , while others can only hear to a semitone (one hundred cents). This accuracy can also be improved with exercise or worsened with weaning.

The accuracy of perfect pitch cannot be determined across the board. In some cases, absolute hearing is only pronounced in the medium frequency ranges or depends on the source of the tones. A “selective perfect pitch” exists, for example, when tones that are played on the piano are recognized well, but not tones from other instruments. But this quality can also be trained. It has been shown experimentally that absolute hearing can also be manipulated to a certain extent, which corresponds to the ability to adapt to the respective mood (see concert pitch ).

Many musicians experience increasing difficulties in using their previously stable absolute hearing in old age. They perceive the tones as higher than they actually are. The physiological causes of this shift, often by a semitone, are unknown.

Relative hearing

Most people make a relative distinction between pitches , which means that it is not pitches that are judged, but intervals . Relative hearing is a type of categorical perception . A relative listener can recognize any sequence of two tone frequencies as a known interval, regardless of the absolute frequencies.

People with perfect pitch usually also have above-average relative pitch. Relative listeners, however, cannot learn to recognize tones absolutely by memorizing a given reference tone (e.g. from a tuning fork ) within the framework of ear training .



  • Eva-Marie Heyde: What is absolute hearing? - a music psychological examination . Munich 1987, ISBN 3-89019-172-X
  • Diemut A. Köhler: Ear training for absolute listeners - music psychological basics and teaching concept . Frankfurt / M. 2001, ISBN 3-631-37638-3
  • Oliver Sacks : Musicophilia : Tales of Music and the Brain. Knopf, 2007
  • Albert Wellek : Absolute hearing and its types. Bern 1970

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Ability to perceive perfect pitch is more common than previously thought. Retrieved February 14, 2019 (American English).
  2. ^ SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research. Retrieved February 14, 2019 .
  3. D. Sergeant & S. Roche: Perceptual Shifts in the Auditory Information Processing of Young Children. in: Psychology of Music I. O. O., 1973, pp. 39-48. Quoted from: KE Behne, E. Kötter & R. Meißner: Talent - Learning - Development. in: C. Dahlhaus & H. de la Motte-Haber (eds.): New handbook of musicology. Vol. 10: Systematic Musicology, Wiesbaden 1982, p. 290.
  4. Stefan Bleeck: Psychophysical investigation of spectral and temporal mechanisms of the auditory system using harmonic and inharmonic amplitude modulations: relative and absolute hearing (diploma thesis, Darmstadt 1996), here chap. 4.1: Perfect pitch , section "The naming of sounds"
  5. Alfred Lang, 1988, University of Bern, Switzerland - "The 'absolute hearing' or pitch memory" ( Memento from November 9, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  6. http://www.wissenschaft-online.de/abo/lexikon/neuro/40 Lexicon of Neuroscience, Spectrum Academic Publishing House
  7. E. Theusch et al .: Genome-wide Study of Families with Absolute Pitch Reveals Linkage to 8q24.21 and Locus Heterogeneity In: American Journal of Human Genetics. 10.1016 / j.ajhg.2009.06.010, 2009.
  8. Hörgeräte Seifert, spring 2009, p. 4: Absolute hearing - ingenuity or learning effect
  9. HörWelt, Hörgeräte Seifert, spring 2009, p. 5: Absolute hearing - ingenuity or learning effect
  10. ^ Michael D. Hoffman: Frequency synchronization of blue whale calls near Pioneer Seamount. In: The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. July 16, 2010, accessed May 30, 2019 .
  11. Nicole Andrea Kurmann: Absolute hearing in practice . Ed .: Av Akademikerverlag. 2015, ISBN 978-3-639-85638-5 , pp. 260 .
  12. Thekla Jahn: Slate tone, deceptive sense - perfect pitch doesn't seem to be so absolute . In: dradio - Research News from June 1, 2013
  13. Kevin Dooley, Diana Deutsch: Absolute pitch correlates with high performance on interval naming tasks (PDF download; 704 kB)