, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 582-589

Multiple coding strategies in the retention of musical tones by possessors of absolute pitch

Abstract

Eighteen musicians with absolute pitch (AP) confirmed by screening tests participated in tonal and verbal short-term-retention tasks. In the tonal task, subjects identified three successive pi-ano tones by their letter names. Recall of these note names after 18 sec of counting backwards was near perfect. Recall after an 18-sec delay filled with random piano tones was also near per-fect. In contrast, the same subjects demonstrated significant forgetting when required to retain letter trigrams while counting backwards for 18 sec. These results were essentially replicated in a second experiment using longer (27 sec) retention intervals, a more demanding verbal inter-ference task, and an active musical interference task (singing a descending scale). We interpret these results as indicating that retention of note names by possessors of AP is not limited to ver-bal encoding; rather, multiple codes (e.g., auditory, kinesthetic, and visual imagery) are proba-bly used.

This research was supported in part by Operating Grant MA 9598 from the Medical Research Council of Canada to the first author. Very helpful suggestions regarding Experiment 2 were made by A. Samuel and G. Lockhead.