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Cereb Cortex. 2005 Jun;15(6):760-9. Epub 2004 Sep 15.

Electrophysiological correlates of absolute pitch and relative pitch.

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Center for Integrated Human Brain Science, Brain Research Institute, University of Niigata, Asahimachi-dori, Niigata, Japan.


The temporal and spatial characteristics of the cortical processes responsible for absolute pitch (AP) and relative pitch (RP) were investigated by multi-channel event-related potentials (ERPs). Compared to listening, pitch-naming of tones in non-possessors of AP elicited three ERP components (P3b, parietal positive slow wave, frontal negative slow wave) over parietal and frontal scalp between 300 and 900 ms in latency, representing the cortical processes for RP. Possessors of AP elicited a unique left posterior-temporal negativity ('AP negativity') at 150 ms in both listening and pitch-naming conditions, representing the cortical processes for AP that were triggered by pitch input irrespective of the task the subjects were asked to perform. Congruency of auditory Stroop stimuli modulated the amplitudes of parietal positive slow wave (non-possessors of AP) and 'AP negativity' (possessors of AP), confirming that these components reflect the verbal labeling or pitch-to-pitch-name associative transformation that is central to pitch-naming. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that AP is subserved by neuronal processes in the left auditory association cortex that occur earlier and more automatically than the processes for RP, which involve broader areas of the cortex over longer periods of time.

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