Absolute Judgment of Musical Interval Width

Aruffo, C., Goldstone, R. L, & Earn, D. J. D. (2014).  Absolute Judgment of Musical Interval Width.  Music Perception, 32, 184-198.

When a musical tone is sounded, most listeners are unable to identify its pitch by name. Those listeners who can identify pitches are said to have absolute pitch perception (AP). A limited subset of musicians possesses AP, and it has been debated whether musicians’ AP interferes with their ability to perceive tonal relationships between pitches, or relative pitch (RP). The present study tested musicians’ discrimination of relative pitch categories, or intervals, by placing absolute pitch values in conflict with relative pitch categories. AP listeners perceived intervals categorically, and their judgments were not affected by absolute pitch values. These results indicate that AP listeners do not infer interval identities from the absolute values between tones, and that RP categories are salient musical concepts in both RP and AP musicianship.

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