Absolute Pitch: An Approach for Identification of Genetic and Nongenetic Components

Am J Hum Genet. 1998 Feb;62(2):224-31. doi: 10.1086/301704.


Absolute pitch (AP) is the ability to recognize a pitch, without an external reference. By surveying more than 600 musicians in music conservatories, training programs, and orchestras, we have attempted to dissect the influences of early musical training and genetics on the development of this ability. Early musical training appears to be necessary but not sufficient for the development of AP. Forty percent of musicians who had begun training at <=4 years of age reported AP, whereas only 3% of those who had initiated training at >=9 years of age did so. Self-reported AP possessors were four times more likely to report another AP possessor in their families than were non-AP possessors. These data suggest that both early musical training and genetic predisposition are needed for the development of AP. We developed a simple computer-based acoustical test that has allowed us to subdivide AP possessors into distinct groups, on the basis of their performance. Investigation of individuals who performed extremely well on this test has already led us to identify several families that will be suitable for studies of the genetic basis of AP.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Audiometry, Pure-Tone*
  • Auditory Perception / genetics*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music
  • Pedigree
  • Pitch Discrimination / physiology*
  • Students