Journal article Open Access

Pitch memory and exposure effects.

Ben-Haim, Moshe Shay; Eitan, Zohar; Chajut, Eran

Recent studies indicate that the ability to represent absolute pitch values in long-term memory (LTM), long believed to be the possession of a small minority of trained musicians endowed with "absolute pitch" (AP), is in fact shared to some extent by a considerable proportion of the population. The current study examined whether this newly-discovered ability affects aspects of music and auditory cognition, particularly pitch learning and evaluation. Our starting points are two well established premises: (1) frequency of occurrence has an influence on the way we process stimuli; (2) in Western music, some pitches and musical keys are much more frequent than others. Based on these premises, we hypothesize that if absolute pitch values are indeed represented in LTM, pitch frequency of occurrence in music would significantly affect cognitive processes, in particular pitch learning and evaluation. Two experiments were designed to test this hypothesis in participants with no AP, most with little or no musical training. Experiment 1 demonstrated a faster response and a learning advantage for frequent pitches over infrequent pitches in an identification task. In Experiment 2 participants evaluated infrequent pitches as more pleasing than frequent pitches when presented in isolation. These results suggest that absolute pitch representation in memory may play a substantial, hitherto unacknowledged role in auditory (and specifically musical) cognition.
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