, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 572-581

Memory for the absolute pitch of familiar songs

Abstract

Four experiments were conducted to examine the ability of people without "perfect pitch" to retain the absolute pitch of familiar tunes. In Experiment 1, participants imagined given tunes, and then hummed their first notes four times either between or within sessions. The variability of these productions was very low. Experiment 2 used a recognition paradigm, with results simi-lar to those in Experiment 1 for musicians, but with some additional variability shown for un-selected subjects. In Experiment 3, subjects rated the suitability of various pitches to start familiar tunes. Previously given preferred notes were rated high, as were notes three or four semitones distant from the preferred notes, but not notes one or two semitones distant. In Experiment 4, subjects mentally transformed the pitches of familiar tunes to the highest and lowest levels pos-sible. These experiments suggest some retention of the absolute pitch of tunes despite a paucity of verbal or visual cues for the pitch.

This research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant BNS-8607405.