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Is it impossible to acquire absolute pitch in adulthood?

By Yetta Kwailing Wong, Kelvin F. H. Lui, Ken H.M. Yip, Alan C.-N. Wong

Posted 03 Jul 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/355933 (published DOI: 10.3758/s13414-019-01869-3)

Absolute pitch (AP) refers to the rare ability to name the pitch of a tone without external reference. It is widely believed that acquiring AP in adulthood is impossible, since AP is only for the selected few with rare genetic makeup and early musical training. In three experiments, we trained adults to name pitches for 12 to 40 hours. Within the training period, 14% of the participants were able to name twelve pitches at 90% accuracy or above, a performance level comparable with typical AP possessors. At the group level, performance enhancement, learning generalization and sustainability were observed as in typical perceptual learning studies. The findings suggest that AP continues to be learnable in adulthood. The genesis of AP may be better explained by the amount and type of perceptual experience.

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