, Volume 56, Issue 4, pp 414-423

Absolute memory for musical pitch: Evidence from the production of learned melodies


Evidence for the absolute nature of long-term auditory memory is provided by analyzing the production of familiar melodies. Additionally, a two-component theory of absolute pitch is presented, in which this rare ability is conceived as consisting of a more common ability,pitch memory, and a separate, less common ability,pitch labeling. Forty-six subjects sang two different popular songs, and their productions were compared with the actual pitches used in recordings of those songs. Forty percent of the subjects sang the correct pitch on at least one trial; 12% of the subjects hit the correct pitch on both trials, and 44% came within two semitones of the correct pitch on both trials. The results show a convergence with previous studies on the stability of auditory imagery and latent absolute pitch ability; the results further suggest that individuals might possess representations of pitch that are more stable and accurate than previously recognized.

This research was supported by NSF Research Grant BNS 85-11685 to R. N. Shepard, by ONR Grant N-00014-89-J-3186 to the author, while the author held a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship, and by ONR Grant N-00014-89-3013 to M. I. Posner. The Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford and the Department of Music at the University of Oregon generously provided essential equipment for the study.