Mittwoch, 16. November 2016

Transition from aural to mental pitch control

Demystifying Perfect Pitch

In an attempt to demystify the term perfect pitch, or absolute pitch, a scientific basis must be established. One of the criteria for absolute pitch is accurately singing a named note without a reference. Since this is the criterion that people typically find most difficult to achieve on the road to perfect pitch, it deserves a closer look.

First, singing is required. Since perfect pitch requires this ability, any scientific approach should include the production of pitch by voice. The question is how accurate?

Second, the term “without a reference” implies the time. To be able to identify a pitch by its name, you must have heard a reference sound before. The question is how long before?

If we want to make a scientific statement, it must be measurable and reproducible. Combining the above two points, we have to fix one point, so we can gradually measure the other.

Measuring abilities is always subject to uncertainty, since the person being tested is always subject to his or her current productivity. Therefore, repeatedly testing and basing the results on statistical analysis is a common approach.

Introducing the Pitch Ability Test

To allow the test to return a single indicator for the ability, the test uses for the first criterion a fixed accuracy and uses the second criterion to evaluate the ability in seconds. The test measures the time in a similar way as the height in high-jump sports gets measured. This method seems unconventional, but it allows you to measure the retention time of pitch with enough precision. If you select a low enough time, you will always pass; if you come to your limits, the results will start to vary.

The most important point of the test is that it measures your transition from aural to mental pitch control. Since the test requires a silent period, you must have stored the pitch mentally. Taking over a pitch while you hear it is usually done aurally. That is, you control the pitch aurally. However, after a period of silence, you are forced to produce the sound mentally from memory.

The term “without a reference” is usually interpreted as eternal. However, in a test we don’t have unlimited time. Therefore, the test proposes Felix’s Pitch Point as an upper limit for the test. Felix’s Pitch Point is set at 4 minutes. Four minutes is enough to prove that the transition to mental pitch control has taken place.

Taking into account the above discussion, I have developed The Pitch Ability Test. The test is free and can be downloaded for Windows and Macintosh.

Interpreting the test  results

The test tells you, scientifically, where you stand on the road to absolute pitch based on the criteria “Accurately sing a named note without a reference”. With this test, you can estimate the necessary effort needed to improve your absolute pitch ability. Since relative pitch is much more important than absolute pitch, the test also should facilitate the decision whether trying to attain perfect pitch is worth the effort. In other words, should you spend some time doing absolute pitch training but keep the bulk of the time for other musical activities?

For more information visit: http://www.pitch-ability-test.com or watch the introductory video on https://youtu.be/6v6GmnTHGds .


Samstag, 11. Juni 2016

A Scientific Approach to Acquiring Absolute Pitch

Absolute Pitch as a Goal

Absolute pitch (or perfect pitch) is often seen as the ultimate ability for a musician. Many great musicians have absolute pitch.

But can absolute pitch be used to measure your musicianship? Barely. The answer to the question—you have it or you don’t have it—does not say a lot about your abilities. We also know that only a small percentage of the population has it. Absolute pitch covers a broad range of musical abilities, and for this reason, it is better to individually test each subject. This gives a much better picture about musical abilities.

Therefore, absolute pitch in its current, complex definition is not a useful goal.

Picking the most relevant aspects of Absolute Pitch

If we pick out just one aspect of absolute pitch, we can, of course, no longer speak of absolute pitch. However, looking at the different required abilities, one seems to stand out: the ability to accurately sing a named pitch without a reference sound. Since this ability also implies knowledge of music notation and the ability to hear deviations from a target pitch, it can be seen as the basic building block to acquire absolute pitch.

However, to my knowledge, there is no available test for the ability to reproduce a pitch with a predefined precision after a set time period, which is the main ability of absolute pitch. Now, absolute pitch is not time bound, but it is assumed that you can name the pitch of a sound without a reference sound.

This assumption is wrong. You must have heard a reference sound at least once before you can assign it a name. So the time may be years since you heard the reference sound, and the reference pitch may have been refreshed and become more precisely defined over the years, but it still holds true: you must remember a previously heard reference pitch. Many other things that we have experienced only once we can also remember as if they happened yesterday. But this does not exclude time as a factor. The incorrect assumption that absolute pitch is not time bound is also probably the reason why no such test exists.

Developing a test procedure 

Another reason why no such test exists is that you cannot directly measure the point of failure. Most exams include a maximum time limit you are allowed to answer a question. But to test how long you can accurately remember a pitch, we must figure out the minimum time limit before you start failing the test. This makes it difficult to determine an upper time limit: How can we find the maximum of a minimum we can reach?

Sports have similar challenges. For example, in the high jump, athletes can set their own minimum that they can pass, which solves the problem. If the athlete passes the set mark, then he can set a higher mark until he fails. It makes sense to set your minimum mark very close to your best achievements, since setting the level too low will make you tired until you come to your challenging point, and you may then miss your own best mark.

To determine our absolute-pitch ability, we can use a similar approach. However, since absolute pitch is defined for an eternal time period, we cannot measure this ability for people who already have absolute pitch.

Introducing Felix’s Pitch Point 

We can define a point that we think is close enough to be accepted as a reference point for the ability to count as “eternal.” In this way, we have defined Felix’s Pitch Point as the ability to reproduce four pitches correctly after a four-minute period of silence.

Since the described procedure can be reproduced under defined conditions, a scientific measurement is possible. The Pitch Ability Test allows the measurement from seconds to eternity; however, measurements after Felix’s Pitch Point are not very interesting, since they would require too much time. Felix’s Pitch Point was chosen to be four minutes and four different pitches so that the test can be done within twenty minutes.

Nevertheless, with this scientific approach, you can express your absolute-pitch ability as a simple number: the number of seconds in a period of silence after which you can correctly reproduce four freely selectable pitches.

The Pitch Ability Method

Taking and passing exams is only one point in your career. The more interesting point is the acquisition phase of a skill. Instead of just repeatedly doing tests, it is better to have a guided path towards your goal. Therefore, I have developed the Pitch Ability Method, which allows you to directly monitor your progress towards the main ability of absolute pitch: the ability to reproduce a pitch with predefined precision after a set time period.

The method requires that you actively sing or hum pitches. Since it is not easy to know which pitches you can remember and reproduce best, the method starts with eight freely selectable notes. Singers will find it easy to sing back a note in their range. To make sure that you really hit the pitch of a note, the method in the next step narrows the required precision from 50 cents to 33 cents to 25 cents. After mastering the precision, the interval of silence between the reference tone and your reproduction of the pitch is increased by 1.5 seconds, allowing you again a precision tolerance of 50 cents. This ensures that you recognize a loss in your remembering precision. This process continues until the interval of silence is 15 seconds. After that, the program will abandon the note that you are the worst at reproducing. Of the eight selected notes, only seven will be tested further. When the period of silence reaches 30 seconds, another note will be abandoned, and so on, until only one note is left after two minutes.

Felix’s Pitch Point is defined for four notes, but it makes sense during the training phase to continue with only one note. Usually you automatically develop a sense for relative pitch. Therefore, concentrating on the note you can remember and reproduce best helps you to progress faster. The generalization to the other notes will be faster and therefore more efficient than if you practiced all four notes during training.

When a period of four minutes of silence is reached, the program starts to add back your second-best note, then your third-best note, and so on. Note that after adding the fifth note, the test time is more than the proposed twenty minutes: 5 notes × 4 minutes = 20 minutes (+ listening and feedback time). And therefore lies beyond Felix's Pitch Point that is defined by four minutes silence between the reference pitch and the test. Absolute pitch abilities before and after this point are expressed in seconds as your Personal Perfect Pitch Point. The program SamePitchPlease lets you measure your Personal Perfect Pitch Point up to 20 minutes. However, the exercises after Felix's Pitch Point are only here, for your convenience. They allow you to test that you can remember a pitch correctly after Felix’s Pitch Point. Keep in mind that this is boring, and does not help you much to improve your musical skills, since a song is seldom longer than four minutes (that means, there is no advantage in keeping the tonic of a piece in your mind after it has ended (except if you want to write it down when you came home)).

In comparison to the test, the Pitch Ability Method will also give you pitch feedback. The first feedback follows immediately after the reference sound is played (see the deviation pitch curve above the training bar in the above picture). This allows you to control your vocal cord position so you can confidently learn to store the correct muscle positions in your short-term memory. The second feedback is given during the test after the period of silence (see the test in the above picture). With this feedback you get a chance to correct deviations from the target pitch. These corrections help you to better understand your memorizing process and to grasp the target pitch.

Science and Absolute Pitch 

Most articles about absolute pitch study the differences between people who have and people who don’t have absolute pitch, and they test groups (based on age and gender, whether they are instrumentalists or singers, etc.) and statistically evaluate the results. If the findings are statistically significant, this helps to better understand absolute pitch. However, the samples are often very small because absolute pitch is rare and has “super” requirements. In sports, the majority of people are not capable of running 100 meters in under ten seconds. It would not be useful to have only super-runners and non-super-runners. Just taking the time is easy and gives you direct feedback on where you stand.

So, what about a radically different approach to measure absolute pitch ability? Everybody has absolute pitch to a certain degree—yes, almost everyone can differentiate a C2 from a C6. However, that is far away from absolute pitch. But most people can improve with training. Why not just find out what normal people are capable of differentiating after minimal training? If we can do that, then we can find a training method that can effectively improve our absolute pitch ability. 

In the above-described Pitch Ability Test, I think I have found a scientific way to make the most important aspect of absolute pitch measurable, and with the Pitch Ability Method, I think I have proposed a practicable way to train your absolute pitch ability. The Pitch Ability Test is much more useful than only knowing that you don’t have absolute pitch. The test also adds a new dimension to musicianship tests—your Personal Perfect Pitch Point achievement, which is the number of seconds you can keep and reproduce a pitch with a 25 cents mean precision, if you don’t reach Felix’s Pitch Point.


Please let me know your thoughts about the proposed Pitch Ability Test that is based on a period of silence and singing precision.

For more information, visit http://www.samepitchplease.com.

The pictures used in this post are taken from the video: “Pitch Ability Method - A Scientific Approach to Absolute Pitch” (https://youtu.be/ehp1QNqAzcs). By watching the video you better understand the points they convey.

Please feel free to comment (no spam, please). Thank you.

Sonntag, 13. September 2015

What has Absolute Pitch to do with Tuning?


Tuning is a relative activity

Let’s make it clear: Tuning is a relative activity. You always tune your instrument relative to another reference sound. Or at least it is what you should do. To tune the instrument according to the equal-tempered frequencies is a too simple look. Old instruments (e. g. church organ) may not be tuned to that standard. Or high temperatures may change the frequencies of wind instruments. Therefore, if you accompany such an instrument, you must listen to the actual sound. If you want to play in harmony, you must tune your instrument accordingly to the actual sound, and not an equal tempered reference sound (e. g. pitch fork).

Unless a special effect is desired, the tuning should be as precise as possible. Meaning, there should be no deviations, or relative differences, between the pitch-frequencies of the two instruments. No deviation means zero deviation. Zero is an absolute number. Let’s see how this absolute number influences the tuning process.

The Tuning Process needs Time

Usually, there are deviations between two instruments. To adapt the pitch to a reference pitch, needs time. Unfortunately, if we do not have a perfect sound memory, we lose the reference sound in our mind. That is, we leave that zero deviation principle. Therefore after a certain time, we want to rehear the reference sound again.

If we have absolute pitch, then we don't need to rehear the sound, since we can recall the pitch from our memory. This is even true, if the reference pitch deviates from the equal-tempered pitches, since we can remember the nearest equal-tempered pitch and the deviation to that pitch. We can compare this to having a meter without a millimeter marking. We are still able to give an approximate millimeter distance by estimating the millimeters. Usually we do this by estimating a ratio, such as a half or quarter of a cm. The better ones, - those that are trained to read a meter -, will give estimations exact to approximately one twentieth of a cm. So, if you have absolute pitch, you will do the same to remember pitches between equal-tempered pitches.

Combining relative activity and time in the tuning process

If we now combine the skills of tuning and the time before we have to rehear the pitch, then we can compare the tuning process with absolute pitch. There are two dimension:
  1. Pitch precision
  2. Time before we have to rehear the pitch
Pitch precision can be measured in cents. A deviation of zero cents is desired. We need this for tuning as well as for absolute pitch.

The time before we have to rehear the pitch can be measured in seconds. It is the time within which you can still tune the instrument accurately before you have to rehear the reference pitch again.





The time during which you can remember the reference sound still better than a deviation of fifty cents, we call: your Absolute Pitch Point. Yes, you can claim absolute pitch during that period. And yes it is relative to a heard pitch. But equal-tempered pitches are just pitches, therefore absolute pitch is relative to predefined pitches. In this way to claim absolute pitch independent of a time period, you must stretch the time before you must rehear a reference pitch to more than a day.

Acquiring Absolute Pitch

A day is a very long time: you hear news, talk, listen to music, watch tv, dream, etc. But you don't really have to stretch the time to a day. What you must find is a mean to store a sound, in such a way, so that you can recall the sound from your memory, or "inner ear". By exploring your limits, your brain realizes what to look and concentrate for. If you can answer relative pitch questions correctly after 2 seconds have elapsed, then you can also do it for notes that are 3 seconds apart. Then also for notes 4 seconds apart and so on. No, Wait! That is not so easy! Correct, but on the borders you feel exactly what you have to concentrate on to keep the sound in your memory for a bit longer. Concentrating is hard work, and you become tired very fast. But knowing that it is possible, with some effort, allows you to set goals towards acquiring absolute pitch.

By becoming a tuning champion, chances are that you also achieve absolute pitch

Unlike some of our competitors, we don't warrant achieving absolute pitch. However, our products support you to reach that goal by giving feedback and tracking your progress.
Whether you are interested in acquiring Absolute Pitch or not, tuning needs precision listening. Through ear training and our Precision Listening Method you can improve your listening skills. With our Pitch Keeper Method you can train to keep a sound in your memory for a longer time period. To be honest, our methods all set on an activity called: singing. But you don't need the voice of Luciano Pavarotti or Mariah Carey to improve your listening skills, just humming is a good start.Our feedback will give you control of your vocal cord muscles and confidence that you are on the right track.


For more information visit: http://www.tunecrack.com

Please, feel free to comment (no spam). Thank you.

Donnerstag, 5. Februar 2015

Why you are not born with Absolute Pitch: Absolute Pitch is a learned ability


What we mean by “born with” and “learned”
For our purpose, we will take the following scientific approach that differentiates between innate behavior and learned behavior (from

    innate behavior = behavior determined by the "hard-wiring" of the nervous system. It is usually inflexible, a given stimulus triggering a given response. A salamander raised away from water until long after its siblings begin swimming successfully will swim every bit as well as they the very first time it is placed in the water. Clearly this rather elaborate response is "built in" in the species and not something that must be acquired by practice.
    learned behavior = behavior that is more or less permanently altered as a result of the experience of the individual organism (e.g., learning to play baseball well).
    However, careful analysis often reveals that any particular behavior is a combination of innate and learned components.


Consequences by this terminology
Since learned behavior is not "hard-wired" before the learning process, it must be stored somewhere for later retrieval. This store we usually call memory. Therefore the term memorization means learning something. In the case of absolute pitch the learning process consists of assigning frequency ranges to note names.

Physical relationship
For pitch the external stimuli are the sound-waves. If the sound waves consist of a repeated pattern, then we can assign the length of the pattern a time in seconds: called the period T. The reciprocal of the period gives the frequency f (f=1/T).

A well known learned association
To make it clear that this association, - a frequency to a note name -, is a learned pattern let's take colors. In this way we can avoid, the discussion about a "special“ ability, since everybody (with a few exceptions) is able to recognize/identify colors by their name. Thus everybody could claim to have perfect color recognition. Colors are electromagnetic frequency ranges assigned to color names.  See table from Wikipedia “Spectral color”:

Sample
[2]
[3]
Comments

740–625[4]
405–479  

A traditional, broad color term, which includes some nearby non-spectral hues. The short-wave boundary can extend to 620 or even about 610 nanometres
• Extreme spectral red = red (CIE RGB)
×
740  
405  
  ?
Exact spectrum has more influence on luminance than on chromaticity in this band; chromaticities are almost the same for these two variants
• red (Wide-gamut RGBprimary)[5]
×
≈ 700  
≈ 428  
  ?
×
634  
473  
  ?
• Some carmine dyes
×
NIR–602[6]
NIR–497  
  ?
Near-spectral, but other parts of carmine (color) are purple
• red (sRGB primary)

614–609  
488–492  
Noticeably non-spectral


620–585  
625–590[4]
483–512  
479–508  
0°–30°
The short-wave (yellowish) part corresponds to amber, the long-wave (reddish) side nears (or includes) RGB red above.

585–560  
590–565[4]
512–540  
508–530  

A traditional color term

≈ 589  
≈ 508  
  ?
• yellow (NCS)

?
?
50°
Gold has almost identical chromaticity at h = 51°
• Munsell 5Y for V = 10, C = 22[7]

≈ 577  
≈ 519  
  ?
• process (canary) yellow

?
?
56°
• yellow (sRGB secondary)

≈ 570  
?
60°
• Chartreuse yellow

?
?
68°

  Lime

≈ 564  
?  
≈ 75°
May be classified as either green or yellow

565–???  
530–???  

A traditional, broad color term
• Chartreuse green

?
?
90°
• Bright green

≈ 556  
?
96°
• Harlequin

≈ 552  
?
105°
• green (sRGB primary)

≈ 549  
≈ 547  
120°
Noticeably non-spectral
• green (Wide-gamut RGBprimary)[5]
×
≈ 525  
≈ 571  
  ?
Almost spectral
• Spring green (sRGB definition)
×
?
?
150°
May lie rather far from the spectrum
• green (NCS)
×
?
?
160°
• Munsell 5G for V = 4, C = 29[7][8]
×
≈ 503  
≈ 597  
(?)≈ 163°
(extrap.)

500+–480[9]
520–500[4]
593–624  
576–600  

Sometimes included (or overlaps) with blue, terminological distinction between the two is inconsistent
• Turquoise Blue[sic]
×
?
?
≈ 175°
Most of "turquoise" lies far away of the spectrum
• cyan (sRGB secondary)
×
?
?
180°
Lie rather far from the spectrum
• process cyan
×
?
?
193°

490–450  
500–435[4]
610–666  
600–689  

A traditional, broad color term, which used to include cyan
• blue (NCS)
×
?
?
197°
Lies rather far from the spectrum
• Azure (sRGB definition)
×
≈ 488
≈ 614  
≈ 210°
May lie rather far from the spectrum
• Munsell 5B for V = 5, C = 20[7]
×
≈ 482  
≈ 622  
(?)≈ 225°
(extrap.)
• blue (RGB primary)

466–436[10]
?
240°
(of sRGB)
May be classified as indigo or (if indigo is omitted) as violet

  Indigo

≈ 446  
≈ 672  
(?)≈ 243°
(extrap.)
Definition is controversial, this wavelength least disputably belongs to "indigo"

×
450–400  
435–380[4]
666–750  
689–788  
up to 277°
(extrap.)
Far spectral violet is very dim and rarely seen. The term also extends to purples


Perfect color recognition?
Now the word perfect suggest perfection. However, if I present the color "Lime" in the above table to randomly chosen people and ask them to decide whether the color is either yellow or green, then I will get different answers. Some will call it yellow and others will call it green. This depends on what they have learned during their childhood and lives: their experiences let them associate the physical color stimulus to a name. Now, perfect would mean if you gave the exact frequency in THz for a color. However this is limitless, and not reasonable for everyday discussions. Therefore the usual color name usage is limited to a few color names: e. g. red, green, blue, etc. Of course we can get a more precise description of colors if we add additional color names like "lime" or „indigo“ to our repertoire. Artists, photographers and other people that work a lot with colors will use much more names to specify colors. And if color differentiation would be relevant for our survival, we would have introduced additional names to other frequency ranges in our daily usage.

Tolerance of descriptive words
As we can see in the above example, professionals tend to enlarge the vocabulary for their field. This is because it is important for their communication. However, the communication is still based on personal experience and the involved learning process. In other words: if in one part of the world the word Zürich-blue (the emblem of the city of Zürich is white and blue) is used to describe a special blue, then it will not be understood on other parts of the world. Even if two citizens of Zürich speak of Zürich-blue, they base their imagination on personal experience with that color. In case of a dispute about the usage of a color name, the world would have to agree on a specific frequency range for the definition oft hat color (Zürich-blue). However, since no two persons share all experiences together, there is always an accepted tolerance associated with words.

Absolute Pitch
In the Western world we have divided the octave into 12 equally distinct frequency ranges and assigned them note names. To have an absolute fixation point, for the octave ranges we have assigned the concert pitch (the note A4) to the frequency of 440 Hz. However, before the equal tempered scale was invented other scales with either less or more notes in an octave were used. The use of less or more notes has a direct influence on the note naming system. In other words, systems with more than 12 half steps let you describe the pitches more precise in words than our 12 tone equal tempered system allows. So, the relation frequency range, - external physical stimulus -, to a note name is a learned pattern. The system chosen directly influences the precision a note name has. For example in the 24 tone equal tempered scale you have double as many notes in an octave and therefore double the precision in describing the pitch of a note. Yet, the human ear is capable of discerning pitches to even more than 24 notes in an octave. Since we can physically discern the pitches, we can also learn the 24 notes-system. Of course usually you learn the 24 tone equal tempered system later and use the 12 tone equal tempered system as a reference. Even so you start now from another starting point (12 tone system), the new names and their corresponding frequency ranges have to be learned. If you have absolute pitch (that is you can name the note if you hear pitched sound) and you now learn to differentiate quarter notes, you may think it is easy and natural. But it is a learning process: you must differentiate the stimulus more precise and associate it with a new description. And this learning process includes the memorization of the new to make differentiation of the frequency ranges to a descriptive name.

Learning Advantages
While it is true that naming pitches correctly is a learned ability, there are other factors that may influence the learning process heavily.

The first is on the physical side. Some people may have a better ear in the first place. For example they may hear very soft sounds, or are able to physically recognize very high or low frequencies. Also the hair cells in the inner ear may produce stronger signals relative to other stimuli, so that the signals get processed with higher priority.

The second factor is on the storage side. For some people the storage of sound may be more precise or easier to accomplish than for others.

These are genetically given advantages (or disadvantages). Indeed, some researchers think that absolute pitch depends on a genetic locus. However, the finding [Deutsch Diana, “The Enigma of Absolute Pitch“, 2006] that when people spent their early childhood in an East Asian area,- with pitch accented languages -, are more likely to develop absolute pitch supports the idea that the acquisition of absolute pitch is more based on the learning process than on genetics.

With or without genetic advantages, the association of frequency ranges to note-names has to be learned. Observations show that this learning process has to be done early in childhood: in the so-called critical period.

Critical Learning Period
From Wikipedia we get the following information: A critical period is an important stage in the life span of an organism as it acquires a particular developmental skill that is indispensable in their life span which can influence later development [Robson, Ann L. "Critical/Sensitive Periods., 2002"]. The Critical Period Hypothesis (CPH) states that the first few years of life constitute the time during which language develops readily and after which (sometime between age 5 and puberty) language acquisition is much more difficult and ultimately less successful [Siegler, Robert. „How Children Develop“, 2006].

Since language and pitch detection are both aural skills, they have naturally a lot in common. For example, it is much harder to learn a foreign language after this critical period. The same is true for acquiring absolute pitch. However, the human being is the only known species that is known to be able to learn until to his death.

Differentiation of early and late learners
As with languages it makes sense to differentiate early and late learners. Since language and pitch share a lot, we must assume that for acquiring pitch as a late learner similar laws will apply as for learning a second language. From the fact that absolute pitch is rare, we can assume that the critical period is even more important than for learning a second language.

So the easiness to learn surely can be attributed to age. However that does not change the fact that pitch detection is a learned behavior. The introduction of separate terms for early and late learners still makes sense, since the prerequisites are different, and therefore the learning effects are completely different. We always introduce new terms if it makes sense to introduce a new term for a particular, differentiate enough group. For example the SI unit for distances is meter. But for large distances, e. g. between cities, it makes sense to use km (or miles). Introducing new terms does not change physical laws. In this way absolute pitch stays a learned behavior, independent of the term used. Unfortunately, the term "born with" is often used in conjunction with early learners of absolute pitch. However this term is misleading in the way that the term suggests a trait that can be epigenetically inherited.

I think the discussion would be much easier, if that "mystical" part of absolute pitch that portrays the "you are born with" would be replaced by "in early childhood there is a critical period where you can acquire absolute pitch very easily. If you miss that time-frame it is very hard to learn, comparable or exceeding the effort to learning a foreign language."

If we compare the acquisition of absolute pitch to the acquisition of a foreign language, we see: that learning a foreign language gets more difficult as older we get, and there is for sure a point, where we are no more able to get as fluent as a native speaker. But this limit is very individual and also depends on the motivation to learn. So if the parents move to another language speaking country, before you start school, it is very likely that you get as fluent as a native speaker. If you move at the age of twenty years, you may still get very close to native speakers. And after living 60 years in the new country, then with the age of 80 years, you may no more speak your mother tongue as good as the acquired new language.

The acquisition of a second language or absolute pitch is influenced by three mechanisms: learning blockers, learning accelerators, and motivation.


Learning blockers
Learning means to memorize a relationship between stimuli and an abstract word or phrase. This learning process can be blocked, when the stimulus already is assigned to a certain word. For example if we see a house (abstract stimulus), then the word for house in our native language comes to mind. Since there are many stimuli related with the word house, it is difficult to reprogram all the stimuli to a new foreign word. Therefore, the old assigned word blocks the new to learn word from coming to our mind.

Because relative pitch plays a much more important role than absolute pitch, our brain will give us a hard time to relearn absolute pitch. (See youtube video: Absolute and Relative Pitch – Inside our Methods).

The following findings support the supposition that the critical learning period is indeed more important than the genetically differences in people and that the main reason why adults often struggle to learn a new language, or are unable to acquire absolute pitch is because of a reduced degree of neuroplasticity after we have mastered using a skill actively.

Abstract from research article „Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch“:
Absolute pitch, the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a sound without a reference point, has a critical period, i.e., it can only be acquired early in life. However, research has shown that histone-deacetylase inhibitors (HDAC inhibitors) enable adult mice to establish perceptual preferences that are otherwise impossible to acquire after youth. In humans, we found that adult men who took valproate (VPA) (a HDAC inhibitor) learned to identify pitch significantly better than those taking placebo—evidence that VPA facilitated critical-period learning in the adult human brain. Importantly, this result was not due to a general change in cognitive function, but rather a specific effect on a sensory task associated with a critical-period. [Gervain, Vines, Chen, Seo, Hensch, Werker and Young, „Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch“, 2013]

Learning Accelerators
Two things that tremendously help in learning are:

1.active exercises
2.and feedback

With active exercises you do physically a task. That means you can directly feel the relationship between the element to learn and your activity. For pitch, without doubt, singing correctly is the best activity you can do. As with all physical activities they get automated after multiple repetitions. Thus complex things can be accomplished without long thinking. That is, if you are tired, you can just let your brain start the execution from memory. That is you activate the procedure that was stored in muscle memory during your repetitive training. For absolute pitch this means, if you have trained to sing a note correctly, you will be able to sing the note correctly without a big effort from your side: muscle memory will do the job for you. To be able to correctly sing a pitch without reference enables you to produce such a reference sound yourself.

To improve a skill you need feedback. Without feedback, or wrong feedback, you may learn incorrect relationships between a stimulus and its associated description. Unfortunately, before computers were a commodity item, it was difficult to find a person, - since there were only a few people that had acquired perfect pitch during childhood -, that could give feedback on the precision of your pitch.

With the introduction of the Singing Funnel Method, which gives precise pitch feedback to your active singing, we give you a handle to improve your pitch production and therefore also pitch recognition.

Motivation
Another important factor is motivation. For example Lennenberg found that even following many years of experience, a second language that is learned in adulthood is generally spoken with a ‘foreign accent’ [Lennenberg, „Biological Foundations of Language“, 1967]. Now, that doesn’t proof that you cannot get rid of the accent. For a single word or a special phrase, it is relative simple to proof that you can indeed eliminate the accent for that word or phrase. Unfortunately, the life span is limited, and the merits to get rid of an accent are negligible. Since the task to get rid of the accent is self-conscious and labor intensive, and it is difficult to get (permanently) the necessary feedback, it is no wonder that the negligible factor accent is never learned to the outmost.

In music this is even truer, since all the instruments have to harmonize relative to each other. Thus leaving no room for absolute pitch. The missing benefits of absolute pitch are probably the main reason why absolute pitch after childhood is seldom acquired.

Counter productive forced learning
If from the above writings you think that you should start doing pitch exercises with your young child, so that it belongs to the “born with” group, think twice.

First, forcing a child to do something, may lead to a hate for that activity. Let your child explore the music with his own pace and interests. Remember, there is little to no room for absolute pitch in music. The musical experience is relative. Harmony is always relative to other pitches. Absolute pitch helps you only in the orientation, where you stand. For example the concert pitch had several frequencies assigned to it, before the Western music settled for a frequency of 440 Hz. Still, independent of the settlement, the music was always about harmony. And harmony is a relative concept.

Second, if the child gets used to look for absolute pitch, it may well accept it. But it may develop intolerance for deviations. Since for the learning process perfectly tuned instruments should be used, the child gets accustomed to these perfectly tuned pitches. If the child later hears music that is differently tuned, it may object to such deviations.

However, a melody played on one string will always produce the correct relative pitches if the string gets divided properly.

That is, if the string gets divided in the middle, a pitch an octave higher is produced. Other division points will produce other pitches relative to the open string. In this way it doesn’t matter if the guitar is mistuned. The produced sounds for the melody will still be perfectly correct in regard to pitch changes relative to the open string. E. g. in the above picture the mistuned guitar still produces correct intervals relative to the open string.

To avoid intolerance for pitches, the child should have access to instruments or voice recordings where the pitches get bent or make use of the just intonation. This allowance of deviations from the perfect pitch makes of course the learning process of identifying pitches more complicated or even impossible for a child. The child may not be able to understand the concept of assigning a range of frequencies around a center frequency to a single term.

Conclusion
After the critical period, you may not acquire absolute pitch, or it is very hard to do so, since the rewards of possessing absolute pitch are not worth the effort to do so. But the point is you can improve your ability to recognize pitches, since the identification of a pitch is a learned behavior.

Our Singing Funnel and Octave Anchor Pitches methods make use of these facts: they show you how big your range to identify a pitch is. And more important, how good you can remember a pitch. In the beginning you may find yourself more than two whole steps off, but with a little training you will realize that you can improve your pitch memory: Simply by using your muscle memory.

That is you remember how to position the muscles of your vocal cords to produce a specific pitch. As you progress through the active singing exercises, your control over the muscle movement will increase. You will find that the deviation from the perfect pitch, - with the increased precision of your muscle movements -, will be less and less, until you can produce and therefore remember pitches to a precision better than 50 cents.

For more information visit: http://www.listening-ear-trainer.com

Please, let us know your meaning about “born with” absolute pitch versus “learned behavior”. Thank you.