Home Store Project Ideas Project Guide Ask An Expert Blog Careers Teachers Parents Students

Correlation Between Relative Pitch and Age, Gender, or Musical Background

Difficulty
Time Required Long (2-4 weeks)
Prerequisites Access to a piano
Material Availability Specialty items
Cost Low ($20 - $50)
Safety No issues

Abstract

Here's an interesting way to get some music into your science fair project. What predictions would you make about people with relative pitch?

Objective

The purpose of this project is to determine what percentage of the population can sing on pitch, and whether singing on pitch depends on the age, sex, or musical background of the subjects.

Credits

Andrew Olson, Ph.D., Science Buddies

Sources

This project is based on:

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Correlation Between Relative Pitch and Age, Gender, or Musical Background" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 6 Oct. 2014. Web. 21 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Music_p015.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, October 6). Correlation Between Relative Pitch and Age, Gender, or Musical Background. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Music_p015.shtml

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Last edit date: 2014-10-06

Introduction

With lots of practice, musicians can identify intervals between notes that they hear. Developing this skill is essential to "playing by ear." Musicians who have developed this skill are said to have relative pitch, meaning that, if they hear one note, they can sing or play another note at a given interval relative to the first note. For example, you play a middle "C" and a musician who has relative pitch can play or sing the "G" that is one-fifth higher. An even rarer ability is absolute pitch, which means that the person can identify any note that you play. It's as if they have the notes memorized somewhere in their mind, and can compare notes that they hear to the remembered notes.

The voice can be a musical instrument, too. How well can people sing on pitch? Do you think the ability would vary according to age, or gender, or musical training? In this project, the test subjects will hear recorded notes and then try to sing them, so this will be a test for relative pitch.

The following vocal range classifications are typically used in classical music (from highest to lowest). The ranges listed are typical, but actual vocal range differs from person to person, so these should be taken as general guidelines (Wikipedia contributors, 2006). You can use these ranges as a guide when selecting the note sequences to record for your tests.

vocal ranges for singers

Figure 1. General guidelines for the vocal ranges of singers. The top line corresponds to high, medium, and low female voices, and the bottom line corresponds to high, medium, and low male voices.

Terms and Concepts

To do this project, you should do research that enables you to understand the following terms and concepts:

  • absolute pitch,
  • relative pitch,
  • interval,
  • note,
  • scale,
  • frequency,
  • vocal range.

Questions

  • What notes would you expect to be within the vocal range of most adult females?
  • What notes would you expect to be within the vocal range of most adult males?

Bibliography

Materials and Equipment

To do this experiment you will need the following materials and equipment:

  • 50–100 volunteers for each group (e.g., males and females; musicians and non-musicians, etc.) you want to test (see the Science Buddies resource How Many Survey Participants Do I Need?);
  • questionnaire forms; ask each volunteer:
    • their age,
    • their gender,
    • the number of years taking music lessons,
    • if they think they will be able to sing three notes on pitch after hearing them.
  • chromatic tuner:
    • available from a local music store or online,
    • many models are available; look for features similar to this one: Seiko SAT500 chromatic tuner;
  • two recordings of a 3-note sequence:
    • for example, the notes B, C, G,
    • record one sequence for the female vocal range,
    • and one sequence for the male vocal range (see Figure 1);
  • playback device for note sequences;
  • Note: If obtaining recording and playback equipment is problematic, you can dispense with the recording and simply play the appropriate note sequence on a piano for each volunteer.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Experimental Procedure

Note: There are special considerations when designing an experiment involving human subjects. ISEF-affiliated fairs often require an Informed Consent Form for every participant who is questioned. In all cases, the experimental design must be approved by the fair's scientific review committee (SRC) prior to the commencement of experiments or surveys. Please refer to the ISEF rules for additional important requirements for studies involving human subjects: http://www.sciserv.org/isef/document/.

Preparation

  1. Do your background research and make sure that you are knowledgeable about the terms, concepts, and questions, above.
  2. Prepare the questionnaire forms. Check them on a small sample and make sure all your questions are clear before making copies for the project.
  3. Make two recordings of the 3-note test sequence which your volunteers will sing. One recording will be for high voices, the other recording will be for low voices. (Again, if obtaining recording and playback equipment is problematic, you can dispense with the recording and simply play the appropriate note sequence on a piano for each volunteer.)
  4. The chromatic tuner displays the frequency (pitch) of the note being sung and shows the deviation direction (flat or sharp) if the note is sung off-pitch. Practice using the chromatic tuner with your own singing voice until you are proficient with it. You should also get some practice with other volunteers before collecting data for your project. For example, you'll need to know how close the tuner has to be to the person singing, and how long the singer has to hold a note in order to get a good measurement.

Data Collection

For each volunteer:

  1. Play the three-note sequence corresponding to the vocal range of the volunteer (recording or piano).
  2. Have the volunteer practice singing each note.
  3. Play the notes a second time.
  4. Have the subject sing each note and use the chromatic tuner determine if the volunteer is on pitch or not.
  5. Record if the volunteer is on pitch, flat, or sharp on each note. (If flat or sharp, write down by how much.)
  6. Ask the volunteer if they thought that they had sung on pitch.

Data Analysis

Here are some ideas for analyzing the data:

  1. What percentage of each group sang all three notes on pitch?
  2. What percentage of each group knew whether they were on pitch or not?
  3. Analyze the errors that were made. Was singing flat more common, or singing sharp (or was it about even)?
  4. Compare the performance of different groups. For example, you can divide your test subjects:
    • by age,
    • by gender,
    • by music training experience.
  5. See the Variations section for more ideas.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Variations

  • Devise a scale for measuring how close volunteers came to each note, and score all subjects' performances. Is there a correlation between number of years of music lessons and singing accuracy? For an example of correlation analysis, see the Science Buddies project Which Team Batting Statistic Predicts Run Production Best?.
  • More advanced students should calculate the statistical significance of differences between groups.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Ask an Expert

The Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Ask an Expert

Related Links

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

audiologist testing child's hearing

Audiologist

On each side of your head is the auditory system, one of the most beautifully designed organs in the human body. The auditory system not only detects sound, but is closely tied to the vestibular system, which helps a person with balance, and knowing how his or her body is moving through space. Audiologists detect, diagnose, and develop treatment plans for people of all ages who have problems with hearing, balance, or spatial positioning. This important work impacts how well a person is able to communicate and function at home, school, and work. Read more

Looking for more science fun?

Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.

Find an Activity