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Perfect pitch in earworms

The Radio Lab podcast once discussed earworms, which are those songs you cannot for the life of you get out of your head. People called in to sing bits of their own personal earworm tunes, and in a follow-up episode called "Earworms", the hosts pointed out that, interestingly, people were often perfectly on pitch when singing these songs. It seems that perfect pitch, at least for the song in question, often accompanies the nagging experience of being unable to stop humming that tune.

I tested it myself just now with a song that's lately in my head; namely, Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." I've never had perfect pitch in my life, to my knowledge, so I figured I'd be off by at least a couple notes.

I was exactly on pitch.

My tempo was a little too fast, but I nailed the key. Crazy.

Try it yourself! Tell me what happens.

By the way, it's sometimes hard to remember what notes you were singing, because when you start playing the real song, the legitimate notes wipe clean your memory, at least for most of us. Thus it's difficult to know whether you've matched the pitch or not. I did it by singing a few bars into the computer microphone and saving the file, then playing it back and comparing it to Coldplay's version. I'd overlay them in Sound Studio to demonstrate my moment of accurate pitch, but there's no reason you should have to hear me sing "da da da-da-da-da". (I couldn't remember the lyrics...)


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 5th, 2008 03:00 am (UTC)
1) As a music major, I find this WICKED interesting.
2) First song I thought of to test? Viva La Vida. BFFs, plz.
Sep. 5th, 2008 10:35 pm (UTC)
It's a darn catchy song. Probably my favorite of theirs so far.

Have you also heard how speakers of tone languages, like Chinese, have perfect pitch far more often than non-tone-language speakers? Really interesting stuff going on in these brains of us humans.
Sep. 5th, 2008 01:07 pm (UTC)
(was glancing at a friends'-friends list, saw this)

Gonna sound all music-professor-y here -- what you're describing isn't actually perfect pitch. It's what's known as relative pitch. It's exactly as you say -- you remember the tonality of a given piece of music. So a piece you've heard (usually multiple times), and/or performed/practiced often, will almost always pop into your head in the same key in which you've heard/learned it.

Relative pitch can be very highly developed, and can be a practical substitute for perfect pitch, but it isn't actually the same thing at all. Quite honestly, though, I believe relative pitch capability such as yours is FAR more helpful to most musicians. True perfect pitch can be a pain -- all too often the real world isn't perfectly in tune, and it can be difficult for the person with perfect pitch to be able to adjust.

Sorry to pop in like this -- going now. *grin*
Sep. 5th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
No problem! Interesting input--thank you.

"Relative pitch" does sound more accurate. And given what I've learned about tone languages, it sort of makes sense. Namely, it seems tone language speakers (like Chinese) always hit the exact same note when they pronounce a given word, and furthermore tend to have perfect pitch more often than non-tone-language speakers--that is, the type of perfect pitch where you say, "Sing me a C" and they can do it.

Which I still definitely do not have. And that's all right; relative pitch is cool enough.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )