Absolute pitch is extremely rare in the U.S. and Europe; this rarity has so far been unexplained. This paper reports a substantial difference in the prevalence of absolute pitch in two normal populations, in a large-scale study employing an on-site test, without self-selection from within the target populations. Music conservatory students in the U.S. and China were tested. The Chinese subjects spoke the tone language Mandarin, in which pitch is involved in conveying the meaning of words. The American subjects were nontone language speakers. The earlier the age of onset of musical training, the greater the prevalence of absolute pitch; however, its prevalence was far greater among the Chinese than the U.S. students for each level of age of onset of musical training. The findings suggest that the potential for acquiring absolute pitch may be universal, and may be realized by enabling infants to associate pitches with verbal labels during the critical period for acquisition of features of their native language.

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