Re: Absolute pitch discussion (Leon van Noorden )

Subject: Re: Absolute pitch discussion
From:    Leon van Noorden  <leonvannoorden@xxxxxxxx>
Date:    Sat, 1 Sep 2007 11:38:35 +0200

Dear List, I cannot see how the relation between frequencies and their note names is genetically coded. The bimodal distribution shows simply that there are two ways to deal with pitches: in an absolute in and a relative way. What you will use is determed at the moment your brains get wired. If some one tells you around your third year: this tone on the piano is do, this one is re, this one is mi, etc. you will pick that up very easily. If no one tells you, which is the case in many families, you will learn probably to sing in kindergarten with several songs which do not attach specific sillables or vowels to specific tones. On top of that you will probably hear the song on different absolute pitches. In this case you wil learn to use the relative relation between pitches. The latter has turned out to be much handier in our (western) musical practice. I do not understand people who think that absolute pitch is a sign of a high degree of musicality. Absolute pitch can be very annoying, I can tell you. At my 8th I could not play on my cello together with the piano in my grandfather's house which was so old that it was about a whole tone lower than normal. I could not adapt to the fact that my cello (which was tuned to the piano) gave another note than I expected. At my 18th I could not sing a song 'a vue' without first learning the melody by singing the note names. The words of the song would interfere with the notename and therefor the 'targeting' of the note. I could go on with summing up negative points about AP, such as no 'official' names for the raised or lowered tones and confusions between notes with the same vowel (fa/la and mi/si) in reaction time experiments. It is true that when you get older AP weakens and drifts upwards. Given the fact that AP is so common in Chinese and Japanese people, I would like to know how they teach the musical basics to children. I do not understand how the simple fact that their language is a tone language explains the possession of AP. I would like to know e.g. how many chinese families have an instrument with fixed pitches around in their home. In any case they have to learn only five tones, while we have seven. (On the other hand it is sometimes said that the dialects around my birthplace, Maastricht, are also tone languages). Kind regards, Leon van Noorden -----Original Message----- From: AUDITORY - Research in Auditory Perception [mailto:AUDITORY@xxxxxxxx On Behalf Of Martin Braun Sent: zaterdag 1 september 2007 1:44 To: AUDITORY@xxxxxxxx Subject: Re: Absolute pitch discussion Bill Yund wrote: "A skill will show such a bimodal distribution if it is something that is not learned in normal everyday activities. Those who take up activities that teach the skill will be on one end of the distribution and us others will be on the other end." This is simply not true. Any skill teaching in a group of subjects results in a one-mode distribution of the teaching results. All environmental factors and all teaching activities, however, that have been associated with the development of absolute pitch clearly result in a two-mode distribution: a zero-AP cluster that is sharply separated from an excellent AP cluster. No environmental factor can explain this dichotomy. In certain tasks of problem solving it can happen that two discrete strategies are possible. In such a case test results can be bimodal. Pitch naming is not such a case. Martin --------------------------------------------------------------------- Martin Braun Neuroscience of Music S-671 95 Klńssbol Sweden web site: ----- Original Message ----- From: "yund" <yund@xxxxxxxx> To: <AUDITORY@xxxxxxxx> Sent: Saturday, September 01, 2007 12:43 AM Subject: Re: Absolute pitch discussion Contrary to Braun's claim, a bimodal distribution like that of Fig. 1 in the PNAS paper, is not strong (or even weak) evidence for a simple genetic factor. A skill will show such a bimodal distribution if it is something that is not learned in normal everyday activities. Those who take up activities that teach the skill will be on one end of the distribution and us others will be on the other end. Of course, there will also be some individuals in the intermediate range (as in the cited Fig. 1) due to statistical properties of testing, incomplete learning, generalization from other abilities, or something else. Another possible explanation (also more likely than a simple genetic factor) is an early environmental factor that biases development of the trait. I am not an expert in genetics, but I have often heard my wife (who does have these credentials) vent her frustrations at claims of a simple genetic factor on the basis of such non-evidence. Bill Yund ------------------------------------------ E. William Yund, Ph.D. Hearing Loss Research Laboratory (151/MTZ) VA Northern California Health Care System 150 Muir Road Martinez, CA 94553 yund@xxxxxxxx (925)372-2296 FAX (925)228-5738 ------------------------------------------

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