Our primary goal has been to elucidate a model of pitch memory by examining the brain activity of musicians with and without absolute pitch during listening tasks. Subjects, screened for both absolute and relative pitch abilities, were presented with two auditory tasks and one visual task that served as a control. In the first auditory task (pitch memory task), subjects were asked to differentiate between diatonic and nondiatonic tones within a tonal framework. In the second auditory task (contour task), subjects were presented with the same pitch sequences but instead asked to differentiate between tones moving upward or downward. For the visual control task, subjects were presented again with the same pitch sequences and asked to determine whether each pitch was diatonic or nondiatonic, only this time the note names appeared visually on the computer screen. Our findings strongly suggest that there are various levels of absolute pitch ability. Some absolute pitch subjects have, in addition to this skill, strong relative pitch abilities, and these differences are reflected quite consistently by the behavior of the P300 component of the event-related potential. Our research also strengthens the idea that the memory system for pitch and interval distances is distinct from the memory system for contour (W. J. Dowling, 1978). Our results are discussed within the context of the current absolute pitch literature.
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