Absolute pitch: perception, coding, and controversies

Trends Cogn Sci. 2005 Jan;9(1):26-33. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.11.007.


Recent findings in cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology are converging to shed light on the nature of processing, categorization and memory for pitch in humans and animals. Although most people are unable to name or place pitch values in consistent, well-defined categories, as they do for color, stable long-term memory for pitch has been shown in certain animal species, in infants, and in both adult musicians and non-musicians. 'Absolute pitch', the rare ability to label pitches without external reference, appears to require acquisition early in life, and involves specialized brain mechanisms, now partially identified. Research on pitch coding strategies informs wider theories in cognitive science of semantic memory, and the nature of perceptual categories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neuroanatomy / methods
  • Pitch Perception / physiology*
  • Psychoacoustics*