UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Absolute pitch and the perception of sequential musical intervals McGeough, Carol Sigrid Westdal


The perception of musical intervals by musicians can be envisaged as being accomplished in one of two ways. Most musicians appear to have only one method for identifying musical intervals: they directly evaluate the musical interval between two notes. Musicians with absolute pitch (AP) appear to have two methods available for identifying intervals: they can either directly evaluate the musical interval, or they can first identify the two pitches, and then infer the musical interval between them. This study investigated the perception of sequential musical intervals by two groups of musicians, one group with AP and the other without AP. In the first of four experiments, most subjects in both groups were able to name accurately standard sequential musical intervals based on the equal-tempered scale. In the second experiment, most subjects in the AP group were able accurately and consistently to name notes of the equal-tempered scale, whereas subjects without AP were not able to name them consistently or accurately. In the third experiment, subjects with AP identified, with varying degrees of accuracy and consistency, single notes spaced in 20-cent increments over a 9.4 semitone range, using the standard musical note names. This experiment also demonstrated that not all subjects had the same internal pitch reference. In the final and major experiment, subjects identified sequential musical intervals ranging in 20-cent steps from 260 to 540 cents, using the standard musical interval names. Subjects, both with and without AP, appeared to identify the intervals by directly evaluating the musical interval between the two notes, rather than first identifying the two pitches and then inferring the musical interval. One subject in the AP group showed a strong tendency to use the latter method, but only in certain contexts, the reason for which remains unexplained. Although more research is needed for stronger conclusions to be drawn, it appears that most musicians with AP do not use this ability in the identification of sequential musical intervals, relying instead on their sense of relative pitch.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.