A New Approach

Thoughts and responses regarding the research at acousticlearning.com.
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Postby lorelei » Wed Nov 28, 2012 12:05 am

Perfect pitch could be dependent on a child to use different areas of their brain to make sense of the sound they hear. If adults cannot be prompted to use those areas of the brain associated with perfect pitch when listening to sound, then it's hopeless.

The brain is surprisingly plastic though. It can learn to rewire itself in amazing ways. The rewiring process is never easy though... maybe there is a way to learn how to use that area, if there is such an area, even if you don't grow up having AP?

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Postby zacxpacx » Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:02 am

The statements I made weren't meant to suggest that learning perfect pitch is impossible for adults. They were just conditional statements communicating that if adults cannot be prompted to activate the correct areas of their brains when listening to sound then they cannot learn perfect pitch.

On the other hand, if they can learn to activate the correct areas of their brain, then learning perfect pitch becomes a very likely possibility. If an adult without perfect pitch can be shown to activate the areas of his brain commonly associated with perfect pitch while listening to musical sound, I think more scientists and researchers may begin considering the possibility of adults learning perfect pitch. Certainly, demonstrating that we can activate the perfect pitch associated areas of our brain suggests learning perfect pitch is possible. The inability to do this implies the opposite: perfect pitch is impossible to teach to adults.

It would be interesting to see if APA activated the correct areas of the brain. In fact, presenting sounds in different contexts to find out what presentation of sound activated the correct areas of the brain could be a guiding step in developing categorical perception of chroma. There's only so many ways sounds can be presented to an individual (I made a topic Tools of the Trade about this, but my list may not be complete) and if none of those methods of presentation activate the correct areas, perfect pitch is impossible to teach.

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Postby zacxpacx » Thu Nov 29, 2012 6:15 pm

To Chris Aruffo: Why not try getting an fMRI of someone playing APA and possibly other chroma related games? It would definitely be worth it to see if the right parts of the brain are activated.

If learning perfect pitch was hypothetically possible for adults, then at some point in the training process the sound stimulus the adult is receiving as part of his training must activate the perfect pitch related areas of his brain. If playing APA doesn't do this then I can't tell what would. APA already has the player listening for chroma and identifying its presence.

If the right areas aren't activated then we might have to rethink the approach/conclude adults learning perfect pitch is impossible.

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Postby aruffo » Thu Nov 29, 2012 8:41 pm

Money, really. It costs thousands of buxx, and it's necessary to persuade a granting agency beforehand that a particular result can be predicted.

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Postby zacxpacx » Thu Nov 29, 2012 9:51 pm

An Email for Chris

Then the strategy for learning must be based in altering perception, not adding meaning to a characteristic we aren't able to categorically perceive yet.
Yes, that's the conclusion I'm currently pondering-- which, I confess, I find a bit of a relief, because it may mean a simpler procedure.

It does seem to be a simpler problem. But still, how do we solve it? How do you induce categorical perception by simply presenting sounds in some novel manner?

Here's some food for thought. People with absolute pitch vary in their ability a lot. Some automatically sort all sounds into 12 categories and can only distinguish clear differences between categories. Others can detect changes in frequency as subtle as 20 cents. Why is this? It seems everyone with color vision has the same potential for color discrimination. Painters and other artists may have a more finely adjusted sense of color, but their judgments of color are something anyone can learn. Are individuals with a more "crude" form of absolute pitch able to train themselves to hear the small discrepancies in frequency individuals with more attuned ears can hear? If not, perfect pitch may truly be dependent on childhood learning.

And this may be part of the reason so many people don't believe perfect pitch is teachable to adults. To teach perfect pitch would be to change someone's fundamental perception of sound, a perception they've maintained for 20 or 30 years of their life. How someone hears music and sound has been ingrained in them for decades. Teaching perfect pitch would mean altering their perception so they never hear sound the same way again! It would mean stimulating areas of the brain with sound input that never before activated when the individual listened to music or any other sound. Their brains would have to react differently to sound for the rest of their lives. As relative pitchers, every time we hear sound the same old parts of our brain light up. How can you get totally different parts of the brain to work with sound when every sound you hear already stimulates relatively fixed areas of the brain, the same areas your brain has been using to interpret sound since you were a child? Those are some crazy thoughts...

-Zach Munro

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Postby zacxpacx » Sat Dec 01, 2012 4:03 pm

Another Email for Chris

Is testing whether or not your premises are valid too time consuming? Is that why you're vying for the breakthrough route?

Of course, inducing categorical perception would be a substantial enough breakthrough. It may not be musically applicable initially, but being able to recognize pitch in categories and to name pitches would be an unprecedented achievement. But inducing categorical perception also seems a very daunting task. Without effort or attention our minds must automatically perceive the pitch of all sounds we hear as belonging to 12 distinct groups.

On the other hand, if trying to teach categorical perception leads to a dead end, I do think MRIs would prove useful. If you really do believe chroma are the crux of perfect pitch, then I think showing that playing APA activates the perfect pitch regions of the brain would be convincing evidence that it could be taught.

What do you think?

-Zachary M.

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