Pitch discrimination skill: A cognitive perspective

Year: 1998

Author: Bahr, Nan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Pitch discrimination skills are important for general musicianship. The ability to name any musical note or produce orally any named note is called Absolute Pitch (AP) and is comparatively rare. AP has historically been regarded as being innately acquired. This paper will examine the notion that pitch discrimination skill is based on knowledge constructed through a suite of experiences. That is, it is learnt. In particular, it will be argued that early experiences promote the development of AP. Second it will argue that AP and RP represent different types of knowledge, and that this knowledge emerges from different experiences.

This paper will report a pilot study into the similarities and differences between the musical experiences of AP possessors and the manifestation of their AP skill. Interview and questionnaire data will be used for the development and proposal of a preliminary model for AP development.

The development of an effective model of the development of pitch discrimination skill is fundamental to the selection of appropriate curriculum design and pedagogy for aural training in school music programs. There are a variety of ad hoc approaches to aural training in schools which tend to be founded on popular opinion rather than research evidence. This paper should provide the foundation for a more effective approach to aural training in schools.