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  • › Why Can’t We Identify Music Notes as Well as Colors? Pitch Perfect Study Provides Answers


    Both light and sound travel as waves, with characteristics that allow people with typical vision and hearing to perceive and categorize them when they reach their eyes and ears: “That’s a small red dog barking,” someone might say.

    But while people can easily name most colors in different groups—distinguishing the specific frequencies and wavelengths of light—few can do the same for musical notes, which represent sounds with distinct, unchanging pitches. Hearing a musical note and naming it is beyond the listening expertise of most people.

    In fact, this ability is rare enough that society celebrates people who can label musical notes heard spontaneously: They are said to have “perfect pitch,” or “absolute pitch” as scientists who study the science of auditory perception call the ability. More common among musicians is “relative pitch,” the ability to name musical notes in relation to one another on a scale (“do, re, mi”) but not without a reference note. Read on!