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Acquiring "perfect" pitch now possible.

If you are a musician, this sounds too good to be true: psychologists at the University of Chicago (III.) have been able to train some adults to develop the prized musical ability of absolute pitch, and the training's effects last for months. Absolute pitch, commonly known as "perfect pitch," is the ability to identify a note by hearing it. It is considered remarkably rare, estimated to be less than one in 10,000 individuals.

Perfect pitch always has been a very desired ability among musicians, especially since several famous composers, including Wolfgang Mozart, reportedly had it. The assumption has been that this special talent has a critical period to be established in childhood based on early musical training and that it was not possible for adults to acquire the skill.

Howard Nusbaum, professor of psychology, and colleagues tested how much an individual's general auditory working memory capacity can predict the success of acquiring absolute pitch. This study follows up from the group's previously published work, which shows that people with absolute pitch can be "retuned" in about 45 minutes of listening, demonstrating that absolute pitch is not so absolute. The new study shows that people without absolute pitch have the ability to learn notes quickly as well.

A 2013 study from researchers at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., reported that a drug commonly used to treat epilepsy effectively could reopen a critical period of learning ability, allowing a person to acquire skills like absolute pitch. Nusbaum's study does not use medications to train the brain to learn absolute pitch skills.

"This is the first significant demonstration that the ability to identify notes by hearing them may well be something that individuals can be trained to do," he says. "Ifs an ability that is teachable, and it appears to depend on a general cognitive ability of holding sounds in one's mind."

Although training adults to learn absolute pitch has been met with much skepticism, there now is evidence that it can be done. "We demonstrate three important findings in this paper," states Nusbaum. "First, in contrast to previous studies, we are able to establish significant absolute pitch training in adults without drugs. Second, we show that this ability is predicted by auditory working memory. Third, we show that this training lasts for months."

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Title Annotation:Music
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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