The blog of Xeno, a slightly mad scientist
With a year or more of work I’m to the point where I can almost always pull a correct C note out of thin air with no musical reference. People with absolute pitch can do this, and some great musicians are among them. I’ll never forget telling Jason Mraz when we were hanging out after a show and he sang one of my songs back to me, that I wished I could sing like him. I didn’t know what absolute pitch was at the time, or that he had it.
Now that I’ve run my saliva at 23andme to get my genetic profile (not complete sequence, but a lot of interesting things), I checked tonight to see if I might have the genes for absolute pitch.
You’ll be hearing more about SNPs (pronounced “snips”) as more people do genetic testing. These are changes in your genetic code as compared to the larger population. Different SNPs have been correlated with things like wet or dry ear wax, different diseases, eye color, and even absolute pitch.
Keep in mind that G pairs with C on the opposite DNA strand, while A pairs with T.
According to one analysis, multiple genes are involved with AP.
For one suspect, my genotype (genetic code) for SNP rs41310927 is TT, which is the same as AA. Conventions differ, so a GA in one place may be an AG in another.
“Usual caveats apply, but if you want to believe, (G;G) is highest ability to differentiate tones, (A;A) is lowest ability to differentiate tones. (A;G) is in between.” – link
This may be why I had to work at it for a year. Genetic disadvantage. My mother’s side of the family is not very musical and my sister has said she is tone deaf.
“Absolute pitch (AP), also known as ‘perfect pitch’, is a rare cognitive trait characterized by the ability to instantly recognize and name the pitch of a musical note or ambient sound without the use of a reference pitch (1,2).”
At this point in time I have pretty solid pitch recall for C, and can find the other notes as needed from there, but I can’t instantly recognize pitches. I can also tell what chord I’m hearing on a guitar due to recognizing the voicings. So, I really don’t have AP yet, but I haven’t tried to get my pitch recognition working by practice.
On to the main SNP for AP…According to SNPedia, [PMID 19576568] and a bioitworld summary implicate the snp RS3057 in perfect pitch, the ability to hear musical notes. The study has a website at http://perfectpitch.ucsf.edu/
My genotype for rs3057 is CT in 23andme, which is the same as GA. So, since I am of European ancestry, the way I read the study, I have the SNP for absolute pitch present in 1% of the population. Please correct me if I’m wrong about this. Note that having the gene (genotype) doesn’t mean you have the trait (phenotype) due to other genetic changes you may have, or your environment.
My experience is that I have much better pitch than average, but not near the people with AP that I’ve heard live, close up in person, so I’d assume there are undiscovered factors, genetic or otherwise. Perhaps if you were raised in a happy musical family that played a note guessing game most evenings, AP would be a piece of cake.