Memory & Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 582–589

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


  • Robert J. Zatorre
    • Neuropsychology DepartmentMontreal Neurological Institute and Hospital
  • Christine Beckett
    • McGill University

DOI: 10.3758/BF03197081

Cite this article as:
Zatorre, R.J. & Beckett, C. Memory & Cognition (1989) 17: 582. doi:10.3758/BF03197081


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.

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© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1989