Absolute Pitch

Absolute pitch, or perfect pitch is the innate ability to identify or reproduce any pitch without a reference note.  It is really rare for anyone to have his ability in the West but it is relatively common in the East.

It’s always been a bit of an enigma because there have been many theories why some people possess the ability and some do not.  The first theory says that no one has it when they are born but through experiencing music from their environments they can gain the ability.  This is the environmental theory.  The second, is that absolute pitch is passed on genetically from families that have the gene.  This unsurprisingly is called the genetic theory.  The third theory is that we all have it innately but only some people display it later on.  This is called the innate theory.

There is evidence for all three.  It is interesting that some children learning music from a young age have absolute pitch and this has been attributed to music tuition.  However, we do not know if this is the reason, for correlation does not equal causation.  An “absolute pitch” gene has been discovered but again we are dealing with correlations.  The theory that seems most plausible is the third because scientists have found that if you disable certain parts of the brain through TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), people who have never had absolute pitch suddenly display it.  This would suggest that everyone has the ability but during early childhood the brain produces new neural pathways to process auditory information so most people do not display absolute pitch.  The reason for this is the brain is interested in language development and absolute pitch is too much information entering the brain.  This may seem a bit strange but the brain does limit the amount of information as it can be disadvantageous.  In fact there is a plausible theory to suggest that all autism is, is too much information entering the brain at too young an age.  This would also explain why there is a link between individuals on the autistic spectrum and those with absolute pitch.  It also explains why people from the East are more likely to have the ability; tonal languages are spoken more widely in the East and the brain might interpret absolute pitches as language information so use the neural pathway responsible for absolute pitch.

So next time someone displays the wonderful aural abilities of absolute pitch, don’t feel jealous.  You too have the same abilities but to get them you either need a very precise blow to the head or have to put special magnets on your head!

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