Perfect Pitch: Citizen Science for Your Ears

By November 5th, 2013 at 11:54 am | Comment

perfect pitchAbsolute pitch, also known as “perfect pitch” is the ability to instantaneously identify a musical note or recreate that note without an external reference. It is not fully understood why some people have perfect pitch and others do not, but it seems to require both an innate predisposition as well as musical training.

Do you think you have absolute pitch? It so, try out the project Perfect Pitch. This project, conducted through the University of Toronto, examines if the timbre or source of a sound affects how accurately we identify that pitch. So, though the frequency of a note might be the same, that note produced by a piano might be easier to identify than that if that same note was produced by a digital synthesize. Why? That is what researchers hopes to understand.

In this study, participants complete a brief questionnaire about their musical training and background before starting the sound test. There are four rounds. In each round, 24 pitches from A3 to Gb5 are played in random order. You have three seconds to identify the note before another pitch is played. In each round, the source of the sound will differ. The whole test only takes about 15 minutes.

Image: Mass.gov/publichealth

If this sounds fun, be sure check out the other music themed projects highlighted in this week’s newsletter!


Dr. Carolyn Graybeal holds a PhD in neuroscience from Brown University. She is a former National Academies of Science Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Fellow during which time she worked with the Marian Koshland Science Museum. In addition the intricacies of the human brain, she is interested in the influence of education and mass media in society’s understanding of science.

Categories: Citizen Science,Sound

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