Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Musical Gene-ius

Just reposting excerpts from a Yahoo news article.

Headline: One gene may be key to coveted perfect pitch
By Julie Steenhuysen


CHICAGO (Reuters) - Musicians and singers work for years to develop their sense of pitch but few can name a musical note without a reference tone. U.S. researchers on Monday said one gene may be the key to that coveted ability.

Only 1 in 10,000 people have perfect or absolute pitch, the uncanny ability to name the note of just about any sound without the help of a reference tone.

Dr. Jane Gitschier's (University of California, San Francisco) study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. She and colleagues analyzed the results of a three-year, Web-based survey and musical test that required participants to identify notes without the help of a reference tone. More than 2,200 people completed the 20-minute test.

"We noticed that pitch-naming ability was roughly an all-or-nothing phenomenon," she said.

That lead researchers to conclude that one gene, or perhaps a few, may be behind this talent.

Gitschier said those with perfect pitch were able to correctly identify both piano tones and pure computer-generated tones that were devoid of the distinctive sounds of any musical instrument.

She said people with perfect pitch were able to pick out the pure tones with ease. And they also tended to have had early musical training -- before the age of 7.

"We think it probably takes the two things," she said.

They also found that perfect pitch tends to deteriorate with age.

"As people get older, their perception goes sharp. If a note C is played, and they're 15, they will say it's a C. But if they're 50, they might say it's a C sharp."

"This can be very disconcerting for them," Gitschier said.

The most commonly misidentified note, based on the study, is a G sharp. That may be because G sharp is overshadowed by A, its neighbor on the scale, they said. A is often used by orchestras in the West as a tuning reference.

Gitschier said she and her colleagues were focusing on identifying the gene responsible for perfect pitch, which will involve gene mapping. Then they will try to figure out what is different in people with absolute pitch.

"We'll have to play it by ear, so to speak," she said.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't know everything that is involved with having perfect pitch, but I am certain that genetics is a key factor.

Piano Man

strem said...

I think you fell flat on your face - even though I'm sure it was accidental. (You basically just copied the article's title.)

Anonymous said...

I didn't know that was the title of the article. I didn't read the actual article. I guess I was content with your overview of the article.

Your explanation was fine with me.

I guess I will have to be sharper in the future and not repeat anything from the blog article.

Piano Man

strem said...

Mike and everyone else.... Dad and I are waiting on you!

Anonymous said...

I am going to give the comments a rest for a while until we get more people chiming in.

Piano Man (D.S)

Anonymous said...

I wanted to leave you a note with as good a puns as yours, but I feel that minor all on a different scale. I will let you know when I think of some that measure up.

Aaron

Owl of the Desert said...

Interesting article. I guess if we know what note we normally sing, when just singing out a note, and then go from there until we match the note in question, that would be considered cheating?

strem said...

Owl: Please forgive my family's bad puns (even though we're sure to continue.) To those who have perfect pitch, that technique would probably not suffice in comparison to their standards. But, I think having that ability (to sing a particular note with certain each time) is called something. Maybe, Dad, you know??

strem said...

Hold on! I may be way off bass, but I think we're in treble. Was something orchestrated to have Aaron join this discussion? (You made me laugh out loud!)

strem said...

Why aren't others taking part? Maybe if we band together, we can drum up some more contributors.

Owl of the Desert said...

This is hilarious! My earlier comment may not have harmonized, and for that I am sol sorry.

I really like the puns! They are very funny!

Anonymous said...

So fa, I think they have been pretty good. Don't mind mi. This musical pun thing has been a re of sunshine for me. There is a problem. I am not making much Do while doing it.

Piano Man

Anonymous said...

Maybe I should have a cup of ti while thinking about my last comment.

Piano Man

strem said...

Dad, I know you're capable of tooting your own horn, but I wanted to point out that you have major 5th comment on this post. Unfortunately, most of them have struck a bad chord. (Complete groaners!)

strem said...

Sonata one of you has something else to add to this discussion? (We're just getting going... so where is everyone?)

Anonymous said...

I had one thing to say about the "5th" comment. It was perfect. I hope that all of these puns do not diminish the desire of other people to participate.

Piano Man

strem said...

I don't want to keep harping on this. But, with the dynamics of this group, we may need to ac-choir a staff of writers so they can pitch us some new ideas!

Dani said...

I am sol very sad that I missed posting a minor note to this awesome blossom post. I think maybe PB are fa above the rest in being able to pitch. Though Gary thinks that it has more to do with practice than with genes.

mike3e said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mike3e said...

Ok...it's time for me to augment this discussion. Sorry I've been Haydn and holding out on you. Let's get Bach to the bass-ics, folks -- time to get a Handel on this. Some of these puns are fine, but Mozart awful. If anyone can compose worse groaners than these, I'd like to meter.

(In an unrelated matter: Owl of the Desert, what you are talking about is pitch memory or relative pitch. Often someone who has been around music for many years can remember a certain pitch or key, and from there determine other pitches and keys.)

mikee