Absolute pitch

Psychol Bull. 1993 Mar;113(2):345-61. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.113.2.345.


Absolute pitch (AP) is the ability to identify a tone's pitch or to produce a tone at a particular pitch without the use of an external reference pitch. AP exists in varying degrees among people generally described as AP possessors. AP possessors vary not only in the accuracy with which they can identify pitches but also in their ability to produce pitches absolutely and in their ability to identify tones of various timbers and in various pitch registers. AP possessors' memory for pitches is mediated by verbal pitch names; they do not have superior memory for pitches per se. Although the etiology of AP is not yet completely understood, evidence points toward the early-learning theory. This theory states that AP can be learned by anyone during a limited period early in development, up to about age 6, after which a general developmental shift from perceiving individual features to perceiving relations among features makes AP difficult or impossible to acquire.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aptitude*
  • Attention*
  • Humans
  • Pitch Discrimination*
  • Psychoacoustics