Memory for melody: infants use a relative pitch code

Cognition. 2005 Nov;98(1):1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2004.09.008. Epub 2004 Dec 30.


Pitch perception is fundamental to melody in music and prosody in speech. Unlike many animals, the vast majority of human adults store melodic information primarily in terms of relative not absolute pitch, and readily recognize a melody whether rendered in a high or a low pitch range. We show that at 6 months infants are also primarily relative pitch processors. Infants familiarized with a melody for 7 days preferred, on the eighth day, to listen to a novel melody in comparison to the familiarized one, regardless of whether the melodies at test were presented at the same pitch as during familiarization or transposed up or down by a perfect fifth (7/12th of an octave) or a tritone (1/2 octave). On the other hand, infants showed no preference for a transposed over original-pitch version of the familiarized melody, indicating that either they did not remember the absolute pitch, or it was not as salient to them as the relative pitch.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Perception
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Music*
  • Pitch Perception*