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17.4.08

À mon chevet: Musicophilia

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

Deutsch et al. have also showed very dramatic differences in the incidence of absolute pitch in two populations of first-year music students: one at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and the other at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. "For students who had begun musical training between ages 4 and 5," they wrote, "approximately 60% of the Chinese students met the criterion for absolute pitch, while only about 14% of the U.S. nontonal language speakers met the criterion." For those who had begun musical training at age six or seven, the numbers in both groups were correspondingly lower, about 55 percent and 6 percent. [...]

This striking discrepancy led Deutsch et al. to conjecture that "if given the opportunity, infants can acquire absolute pitch as a feature of speech, which can then carry over to music." For speakers of a nontonal language such as English, they felt, "the acquisition of absolute pitch during music training is analogous to learning the tones of a second language." They observed that there was a critical period for the development of absolute pitch, before the age of eight or so -- roughly the same age at which children find it much more difficult to learn the phonemes of another language (and thus to speak a second language with a native accent). Deutsch et al. suggested, therefore, that all infants might have the potential for acquiring absolute pitch, which could perhaps be "realized by enabling infants to associate pitches with verbal labels during the critical period" for language acquisition.

-- Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia (2007), "Papa Blows His Nose in G: Absolute Pitch," p. 127
That's the evidence. Get to work, parents!

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