"Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain" by Oliver
Sacks (author of "Awakenings")
Review by Rachel
I'm 130 pages in and am totally enjoying it. My most recently read favorite tidbit is this:
There is reason to believe that absolute pitch (ability to name a pitch without comparing it to an external standard) can be taught to a large percentage of children under the right conditions: when they are learning a tonal language such as Chinese, as well as taking music lessons, if done at the right age. The data: A study of 1st year music students at Eastman
School of Music in Rochester and the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing shows that, "For students who had begun musical training between
ages 4 and 5 . . . approximately 60% of the Chinese students met the criterion for absolute pitch, while only about 14% of the US non-tone language speakers met the criterion." For those who had begun music
training at age six or seven, the numbers in both groups were 55 percent and 6 percent. If music study began at ages 8-9, it drops to 42% and 0. The researchers figure that the children are learning absolute pitch as a
feature of speech and then carrying it over to music.
In another study, researchers in Wisconsin compared 8-month-old infants to adults and found that the infants relied much more heavily on absolute pitch cues; the adults on relative pitch cues. They concluded that absolute pitch may be universal and highly adaptive in infancy but maladaptive later and therefore lost. "Infants limited to grouping melodies by perfect pitches
would never discover that the songs they hear are the same when sung in different keys or that words spoken at different fundamental frequencies are the same." They argue that the development of (nontonal) language necessitates the inhibition of absolute pitch.