Absolute pitch learning in adults speaking non-tonal languages
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AbstractAbsolute pitch (AP) refers to labelling individual pitches in the absence of external reference. A widely endorsed theory regards AP as a privileged ability enjoyed by selected few with rare genetic makeup and musical training starting in early childhood. However, recent evidence showed that even adults can learn AP, and some can attain a performance level comparable to natural AP possessors. These training studies involved native tonal language speakers, whose acquisition of AP might be facilitated by tonal language exposure during early childhood. In this study, adults speaking non-tonal languages went through AP training that was 20-hr long, computerised and personalised. Performance on average improved, which was accompanied by enhanced working memory for tones, whereas relative pitch judgement and sensitivity to small pitch differences remained unchanged. Notably, two out of 13 learned to label all 12 pitches within an octave, with accuracy and response time comparable to natural AP possessors. Overall, the findings suggest that tonal language exposure is not a prerequisite for AP learning in adulthood. The understanding of the origin of AP would benefit from considering the role of lifelong learning instead of focusing only on early childhood experience.
Acceptance Date13/05/2020
All Author(s) ListYetta Kwailing Wong, Vince S. H. Ngan, Leo Y. T. Cheung, Alan C.-N. Wong
Journal nameQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Volume Number73
Issue Number11
Pages1908 - 1920
LanguagesEnglish-United States
Keywordspitch perception, musical training, perceptual learning, perceptual expertise, critical period

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