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Pitch Perception *

Time Required Long (2-4 weeks)
*Note: This is an abbreviated Project Idea, without notes to start your background research, a specific list of materials, or a procedure for how to do the experiment. You can identify abbreviated Project Ideas by the asterisk at the end of the title. If you want a Project Idea with full instructions, please pick one without an asterisk.


Do violin students have better relative pitch than piano students? Since the violin requires the player to choose the correct location to stop the string in order to sound the proper note, you might think that violin players would, as a result of practice, have better ear training than piano students. On the other hand, you could argue the opposite viewpoint, since piano students would have the benefit of hearing correct intervals (assuming that the piano is in tune). Which hypothesis do you think is correct? Or perhaps you have yet another hypothesis of your own. To investigate, make recordings of different pairs of notes, played sequentially, with a brief pause in between. Randomize the order of the note pairs and include at least three examples of each interval that you test. Recruit volunteers to take a relative pitch test. One third of your volunteers should be violinists, one third pianists, and one third non-musicians. Ideally, you should have 50–100 volunteers per group (the more the better; see the Science Buddies resource: How Many Participants Do I Need?). Test the volunteers individually. After listening to each note pair, each subject should report whether the second note was higher, lower, or the same as the first note. You may also want to see if your test subjects can identify the interval (this is much harder). Analyze the scores for each group. Which group has the best score? Are some intervals easier than others? (Barca-Hall, 2005) If you're interested in doing a related Science Buddies project about how we hear, see Measuring Your Threshold of Hearing for Sounds of Different Pitches.

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Science Buddies Staff. "Pitch Perception" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 6 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Music_p002.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, October 6). Pitch Perception. Retrieved November 1, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Music_p002.shtml

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Last edit date: 2014-10-06


Barca-Hall, S.L., 2005. "Battle for Tonal Domination: Do Violin Students Have Better Relative Pitch than Piano Students?" California State Science Fair Abstract [accessed August 22, 2006] http://www.usc.edu/CSSF/History/2005/Projects/J0302.pdf.

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