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Speed and Accuracy of Absolute Pitch Judgments: Some Latter Day Results

Carroll, John B.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Auditory Discrimination, Perception Tests, Performance Factors, Performance Tests, Reaction Time


Nine subjects, 5 of whom claimed absolute pitch (AP) ability, were instructed to rapidly strike notes on the piano to match randomized tape-recorded piano notes. Stimulus set sizes were 64, 16, or 4 consecutive semitones or 7 diatonic notes of a designated octave. A control task involved motor movements to notes announced in advance. Accuracy, measured on the basis of deviations of responses from targets, significantly differentiated AP from NAP (nonAP) subjects at all set sizes except the control task. For both groups, accuracy increased as set size decreased. Decision times--that part of total response time before a movement to the response note began--decreased as set size decreased but did not differentiate AP and NAP subjects. The results are discussed in terms of a two-factor theory of AP ability whereby NAP subjects use only relative tone height as the basis of judgment, but AP subjects also use standards of tone chroma stored in long-term memory. The abnormally high channel capacities and rates of information gain for AP subjects are based on the transmission of information in two channels, whereas NAP subjects transmit information in only one channel. (Author/MV) (73pp.)

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