Certain musicians not only have the ability to produce and perform music, but also have a special ability to hear any sound and identify what note it is. Dr. Diana Deutsch, Professor of Psychology at the University of California, San Diego, describes this special talent as having “perfect pitch”. Famous composers Beethoven and Mozart were said to have this ability as well as performers like Jimi Hendrix and Mariah Carey. Do you have to be a famous musician to have this ability? Experts claim this might not necessarily be true.

Stephen Van Hedger, University of Chicago PhD student in psychology, not only has researched this ability, but also has perfect pitch himself. When given any sound, Van Hedger can name the note associated with it. Additionally, he can produce the same note without thought. Although he has a musical background dating back to age 7, Stephen has a special gift experts claim only one in ten thousand people possess. Why is that number so low? Van Hedger claims the reason is that many people do not have a musical background, so they may have this talent, but do not know how to utilize their skill. He also claims the earlier one learns music, the higher chance they will have to develop perfect pitch by adulthood.

After conducting a study at the University of Chicago, Professor of Psychology Dr. Howard Nusbaum found that people may be able to develop a learned and trained ability of music later in life. The study consisted of teaching adults a series of notes and later testing them. The participants in the study recognized the notes given because they spent a decent amount of time training. Dr. Nusbaum concluded that with the proper amount of training, perfect pitch might be achieved. This means that you may never be too old to learn a new trick.


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  • Dr. Diana Deutsch, Professor of Psychology, University of California, San Diego
  • Stephen Van Hedger, PhD student in cognitive psychology
  • Dr. Howard Nusbaum, Professor of Psychology, University of Chicago

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