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Master of Music (M.M.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
frequencies, tuning, absolute pitch, memory, musicians, perception
This thesis examines the nature of long-term absolute pitch memory—an ability traditionally assumed to belong only to absolute pitch (AP) possessors—by testing for evidence of this memory for “standard” frequencies in musicians without AP. Standard frequencies, those based on the equally tempered system with A = 440 Hz, are common in the sonic environment of the Western college musical education, and thus could have the opportunity to penetrate listeners’ long-term memories. Through four experimental tasks, this thesis examines musicians’ ability to recognize and produce frequencies from the set of equally tempered frequencies based on A = 440 Hz, without regard to those musicians’ pitch-labeling abilities. The experimental tasks also compare freshmen with seniors to test if exposure to standard frequencies during a college musical education engrains standard frequencies in long-term memory. The results suggest that musicians without AP cannot distinguish between standard and nonstandard frequencies during listening tasks, but they may be able to recall them without prompting when singing familiar folk songs. However, musical training during the college years does not seem to improve these abilities. Further experimentation is needed to corroborate the results, including modifications to the current tasks and methodology, as well as a larger subject size.
Gary S. Karpinski