Absolute pitch and relative pitch in music students in the east and the west: Implications for aural-skills education

Kenichi Miyazaki, Andrzej Rakowski, Sylwia Makomaska, Cong Jiang, Minoru Tsuzaki, Andrew J. Oxenham, Gregory Ellis, Scott D. Lipscomb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


ABSOLUTE PITCH (AP)—AN ABILITY TO IDENTIFY an isolated pitch without musical context—is commonly believed to be a valuable ability for musicians. However, relative pitch (RP)—an ability to perceive pitch relations—is more important in most musical contexts. In this study, music students in East Asian and Western countries (Japan, China, Poland, Germany, and USA) were tested on AP and RP abilities. In the AP test, 60 single tones were presented in a quasirandom order over a five-octave range. In the RP test, ascending musical intervals from 1 to 11 semitones were presented in four different keys. Participants wrote down note names in the AP test and scale-degree names or musical interval names in the RP test. The conservatory-level Japanese students showed the highest AP performance and more than half of them were classified as accurate AP possessors, but only 10% were classified as accurate RP possessors. In contrast, only a small percentage of participants from Poland, Germany, and the USA were identified as accurate AP possessors, whereas many more were accurate RP possessors. Participants from China were typically intermediate on both measures. These noticeable contrasts between AP and RP performance in different countries suggest influences of the underlying socio-cultural conditions, presumably relating to music education. Given the importance of RP in music, the results suggest that more emphasis should be place on RP training, particularly in East Asian countries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-155
Number of pages21
JournalMusic Perception
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) (No. 21500256) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science to the first author. Part of this article was presented at the Conference of the European Society for the Cognitive Science of Music (ESCOM), August 2015, Manchester, UK, and at the International Congress of Psychology, July 2016, Yokohama, Japan. We thank the action editor and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on this work.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 By The Regents of The University of California All Rights Reserved.


  • Absolute pitch
  • Cross-cultural
  • Music education
  • Relative pitch
  • Tonality

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Absolute pitch and relative pitch in music students in the east and the west: Implications for aural-skills education'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this