SITE VISIT: Tuning In to the Keenest of Ears

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Science  03 Dec 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5446, pp. 1811
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5446.1811d

Only one in 1200 people have perfect pitch, the ability to identify exactly what a particular note should sound like without reference to any other notes. Not surprisingly, a disproportionate share of sharp ears belong to those who make music for a living: About 15% of musicians have the ability, also known as absolute pitch. Are you one of the lucky few? A dead giveaway is whether you know right away that your fluorescent light is buzzing along at a steady B flat.

More perfect pitch lore awaits at sites listed at Perfect Pitch on the Internet. By searching a bibliographic database called the Music and Science Information Archive, for example, you can learn about a 1995 German study showing that the ability may reside in the planum temporale, a brain region that processes sound signals. That brain area is far larger on the left side than on the right in professional musicians—especially in those with perfect pitch. Another link takes you to a study by a University of California, San Francisco, team that's collecting blood from hundreds of people with absolute pitch in hope of finding the genetic basis for the ability. There you can take a sound test to see if you've got a Mozartian ear. Or to find out whether a favorite musician has the gift, check out Famous People With Perfect Pitch, which lists 65-and-counting musicians ranging from Beethoven to Yanni.

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