[Smt-talk] Perfect pitch and aging

Elizabeth W. Marvin bmarvin at esm.rochester.edu
Wed Feb 8 12:24:33 PST 2012

Dear all,

My understanding is that the creeping sharp of absolute pitch is, as Fred
intuits below, a physical change in the ear with age (thus it has nothing to
do with listening to early music, etc.).  I am not sure now where I learned
this, but I was told that the basilar membrane (in the auditory system¹s
cochlea) stiffens with age.   In normal hearing the basilar membrane is
activated tonotopically, with high frequencies activated at the base of the
membrane and low frequencies at the apex; this leads to our perception of
pitch.  Somehow the stiffening of the membrane must lead to different
activations, here or further up the auditory system.  Does David, or anyone
else, know whether this explanation has been studied?

Betsy Marvin
Eastman School of Music

From: "Dr. Fred Bashour" <dufaydigital at att.net>
Date: Tue, 7 Feb 2012 22:00:45 -0500
To: David Huron <huron.1 at osu.edu>, <smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org>
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Perfect pitch and aging

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

Dr. Elizabeth West Marvin                  bmarvin at esm.rochester.edu
Professor of Music Theory                  Eastman School of Music
  and Brain & Cognitive Sciences           University of Rochester
Eastman School of Music
26 Gibbs Street                            Phone:  (585) 274-1076
Rochester, NY  14604                       Fax:    (585) 274-1088


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20120208/9abcd021/attachment-0004.htm>

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list