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No. 102: Nov-Dec 1995

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Perfect pitch and sundry syndromes

Writing in response to a report in Science by G. Schlaug concerning the brain asymmetry observed in musicians with perfect or absolute pitch* (SF#99), O. Sacks expands the domain of the phenomenon to include other human talents. Sacks says that perfect pitch, though common in musicians, occurs only in about 1 of every 10,000 people. Among the autistic, however, the incidence rises to perhaps 1 in 20. He next moves on to "savants;" that is, individuals with exceptional mathematic, mechanical, musical, and artistic talents, but with serious deficiencies in other human attributes. Calculating prodigies and other "idiot savants" immediately come to mind here. Sachs claims that perfect pitch is is even more common among the savants. In fact, all muscial savants seem to have it. Perfect pitch is also common among those with Williams syndrome, which he defines as:

"a -- syndrome which predisposes to hyperacusis and exceptional development of auditory, musical, and verbal skills, combined with striking visual and conceptual deficits."

(Sacks, Oliver; "Musical Ability," Science, 268:621, 1995.)

* A person with perfect pitch can identify a tone without needing a second tone for comparison. SF#99 = Science Frontiers #99.

From Science Frontiers #102 Nov-Dec 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987