Absolute pitch (AP), the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a sound without any reference point, is discussed here as a possible model system for understanding the neurobiology of complex cognitive functions. AP is of interest because it may reflect an atypical organization of sensory representations. Indications are that it depends on both genetic factors and exposure to musical training during childhood, supporting the idea of a sensitive period. Functional and structural neuroimaging studies suggest special roles for working memory and associative memory mechanisms in AP, and results from these studies indicate that there may be structural markers of AP in asymmetries of cortical areas. AP seems to depend on the nervous system's response to experiential, maturational and genetic factors, making it a good candidate model for understanding how these interactions play out in cognitive development generally.