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
  • Christine Beckett


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.

Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert J. Zatorre
    • 1
  • Christine Beckett
    • 2
  1. 1.Neuropsychology DepartmentMontreal Neurological Institute and HospitalMontrealCanada
  2. 2.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Faculty of Music at McGill UniversityCanada

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