Perfect pitch, or absolute pitch (AP), is defined as the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a sound without need for a reference pitch, and is generally regarded as a valuable asset to the musician. However, there has been no recent review of the literature examining its aetiology and its utility taking into account emerging scientific advances in AP research, notably in functional imaging. This review analyses the key empirical research on AP, focusing on genetic and neuroimaging studies. The review concludes that: AP probably has a genetic predisposition, although this is based on limited evidence; early musical training is almost certainly essential for AP acquisition; and, although there is evidence that it may be relevant to speech processing, AP can interfere with relative pitch, an ability on which humans rely to communicate effectively. The review calls into question the value of AP to musicians and non-musicians alike.
Keywords: Absolute pitch; early learning model; fixed-do training; relative pitch; tonal language.
© 2014 Royal College of Physicians.