Perfect pitch isn’t so perfect in many

People who can name a single musical note played in isolation have what is called absolute, or perfect, pitch. A new study suggests that this uncanny ability might be distorted slightly by a common routine in Western music and could fade with age.

Researchers offered an online test of pitch and tabulated the scores from 2,213 musicians who took it. In the test, a participant heard 72 1-second tones and had 3 seconds to identify each one by clicking an on-screen keyboard.

Among the responders, 981 people, ages 8 to 70, had scores high enough to indicate that they had absolute pitch, the scientists report in the Sept. 11 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Curiously, the scores showed that one particular error was the most common: Nearly half of the test takers misidentified a G-sharp. Many mistook it for an A, which is half a tone higher. Perhaps not coincidentally, in Western orchestras preparing for concerts, musicians tune their instruments to an A note traditionally played by an oboist.

Thus, A may serve as a magnet for people hearing the less common G-sharp. The note A “has a unique place in music,” says study coauthor Jane Gitschier, a geneticist at the University of California, San Francisco.

Older people fared worse than younger people on the test. While 55 of the participants got every note correct, no one over age 51 was among them.