[Smt-talk] Perfect pitch and aging

Dr. Fred Bashour dufaydigital at att.net
Tue Feb 7 19:00:45 PST 2012

Hello David, et al.

Yes, I am aware of this phenomenon and, yes, it happened to me to, beginning
around age 50.  I'll be 64 next week.  I've gotten used to hearing
Beethoven's Sixth in F#.  Early music performances at lower pitch, on the
other hand, sound "just right" these days whereas, back in the seventies
when I first heard a live performance by Concentus Musicus during their US
tour, everything sounded a semitone flat.

My teenage daughter, whose perfect pitch is just as "perfect" as mine was at
her age (that is to say, "no question about it, you just know the pitch
class, and also whether it's slightly flat or sharp from A-440), calls my
present degree of pitch acuity, "imperfect pitch."  ;>)

Before I became aware that this was a common occurrence, I had two naïve
beliefs about it:

1.  That since I've spent the last thirty-five years producing literally
hundreds of recordings of early music--much of which was tuned in the region
between A-415 and A-430--I thought my absolute pitch had just adopted a new
reference, that I'd developed "Baroque perfect pitch."

2.  That this phenomenon was analogous to the loss of elasticity in one's
eye muscles as one ages, which necessitates the use of bi-focals, or similar
aids to help one to focus on items close-up.  The hair cells just become
stiffer with age, or something else in the ear tightens up.

I would very much enjoy reading the results of any study of this phenomenon.
Perhaps in Music Perception?


Fred Bashour
Dufay Digital Music
Leverett, MA  01054

-----Original Message-----
From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org
[mailto:smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of
A.Ockelford at roehampton.ac.uk
Sent: Tuesday, February 07, 2012 4:22 PM
To: huron.1 at osu.edu; smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Perfect pitch and aging

That's interesting, David ... yes, it happened to me.

I have perfect 'piano' pitch and for various other instruments, though its
not universal. The Moonlight Sonata sounded very strange in D minor at first
- but I've kind of got used to it! I find I can 'turn it off' when sight
reading - but improvising with others is a real pain - as I've never sure
whether I'm hearing what they're doing at correct pitch or a semitone out!



Adam Ockelford PhD ARAM
Professor of Music
Director, Applied Music Research Centre
Room 135, Queens Building
Southlands College
University of Roehampton
Roehampton Lane
London SW15 5SL

+44 (0)7818-456 472

a.ockelford at roehampton.ac.uk
From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org
[smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] On Behalf Of Huron, David
[huron.1 at osu.edu]
Sent: 07 February 2012 18:17
To: SMT Talk
Subject: [Smt-talk] Perfect pitch and aging

It's well-known that people with perfect pitch experience an upward
pitch-shift with age.  Typically, by around 55 years of age a C sounds like
a C#, and by 65 a C tends to sound like a D.

I wonder if this is a universal experience or whether there are people with
perfect pitch -- older than 60 -- who have NOT experienced an upward pitch

I'd appreciate people writing to me to convey their experiences regarding
age and AP.  I'll post a summary if I receive enough responses.

David Huron
huron.1 at osu.edu

David Huron
Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor School of Music & Center for
Cognitive Science Ohio State University

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