How Stable is Pitch Labeling Accuracy in Absolute Pitch Possessors?


  • Wilfried Gruhn University of Music, Freiburg, Germany; Estonian Academy of Music, Tallinn, Estonia
  • Reet Ristm Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, Tallinn
  • Peter Schneider University Hospital, Department of Neurology, Heidelberg
  • Arun D'Souza Department of Psychology, University of Freiburg
  • Kristi Kiilu Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre, Tallinn



absolute pitch, pitch perception preference, pitch detection accuracy, holistic listener, spectral listener, pitch perception index


Absolute pitch (AP) is the ability to identify or produce a given pitch without a reference. This study examines the stability of pitch labeling accuracy in a broad sample of AP possessors when natural complex tones are compared to modified sound structures (slightly out-of-tune pitches, sounds with missing fundamentals, and pure tones). A passive listening test with single tones was developed (Tallinn Test of Absolute Pitch, TTAP), with 150 items selected, representing 60 synthetic instrumental tones (violin, clarinet, and trumpet) in different octave ranges and dynamics, and 90 electronically modified sounds, each presented in three different octave ranges. Additional information was collected, regarding handedness, start of instrumental instruction, educational status, occurrence of AP in the family, and associations with processing pitch recognition. Results showed a clear decrease of pitch recognition accuracy between natural complex sounds and pure sine tones. A significant main effect on TTAP scores was found for early starts of instrumental instruction. The findings are discussed in the context of the nature-nurture debate (genetic vs environmental factors), as well as the implications of genetic and memory aspects of pitch recognition.




How to Cite

Gruhn, W., Ristm, R., Schneider, P., D’Souza, A., & Kiilu, K. (2019). How Stable is Pitch Labeling Accuracy in Absolute Pitch Possessors?. Empirical Musicology Review, 13(3-4), 110–123.