The effects of early musical training in 5-years-old children on the expression of overt but not latent absolute pitch.

2019 edition

Magdalena Flexas Morey

Theories of absolute pitch development suggest that training onset during a sensitive period before the age of 7 years plays a critical role for the expression of overt absolute pitch (OAP), a rare ability to identify the pitch height of a musical tone without external reference. Latent absolute pitch (LAP), on the other hand, is widely distributed across the general population and refers to the ability to retain the tonality of a familiar song in memory without being able to name the tones it is composed of. Research suggests that early training may be a necessary component for OAP but not for LAP but this relationship has not yet been tested in children. The aim of the present study was therefore to investigate the contribution of early musical training on the expression of both skills in 5-year-old children. Fifty-two participants were included as ‘musicians’ or ‘non-musicians’, depending on whether they attended a school with or without an inclusive musical education program that focuses on the development of consistent tone-label mappings. OAP and LAP were identified using paradigms that do not require prior knowledge of musical nomenclature or extensive musical training. Results revealed that only children who attended the inclusive musical education program performed above chance level on the OAP-test and scored significantly better than ‘non-musicians’. In contrast, both groups performed equally above chance level in the LAP-test. Together, these data support the early learning hypothesis, indicating that OAP can be developed at the age of five years based on musical training that focuses on consistent tone-label mappings. In contrast, LAP expression seems to be unrelated to musical training, thus indicating that OAP and LAP reflect independent skills.