Abstract

The natural variability of pitch naming ability in the population (known as absolute pitch or AP) provides an ideal method for investigating individual differences in pitch processing and auditory knowledge formation and representation. We have demonstrated the involvement of different cognitive processes in AP ability that reflects varying skill expertise in the presence of similar early age of onset of music tuition. These processes were related to different regions of brain activity, including those involved in pitch working memory (right prefrontal cortex) and the long-term representation of pitch (superior temporal gyrus). They reflected expertise through the use of context dependent pitch cues and the level of automaticity of pitch naming. They impart functional significance to structural asymmetry differences in the planum temporale of musicians and establish a neurobiological basis for an AP template. More generally, they indicate variability of knowledge representation in the presence of environmental fostering of early cognitive development that translates to differences in cognitive ability.

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