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

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


Areas of Science
Time Required
Long (2-4 weeks)
Access to a piano
Material Availability
Specialty items
Low ($20 - $50)
No issues

Andrew Olson, Ph.D., Science Buddies


This project is based on:

  • St. Louis, C.B., 2003. Pitch'ure Perfect, California State Science Fair Abstract. Retrieved September 1, 2006.


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.


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.

Diagram shows twelve notes that denote six vocal ranges human singers can fall within

The diagram showing vocal ranges is separated into an upper section of treble clef and lower section of bass clef. From left to right the vocal ranges for both clefs are arranged from high to medium and then low. The vocal ranges for treble clef are soprano (C4-A5), mezzo soprano (A3-F5) and alto (F#3-E5). The vocal ranges for bass clef are tenor (B2-G4), baritone (G2-E4) and bass (E2-C4).

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:



  • This article describes a UCSF study on the genetics of absolute pitch:
    Shiels, M., 2002. Looking for Genetic Perfection, BBC News. Retrieved September 1, 2006.
  • Wikipedia contributors, 2006. Vocal Range, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 1, 2006.

Materials and Equipment

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

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: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/competitions/human-subjects-regulations.


  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.
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Ask an Expert

Do you have specific questions about your science project? 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.


  • 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.


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General citation information is provided here. Be sure to check the formatting, including capitalization, for the method you are using and update your citation, as needed.

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Correlation Between Relative Pitch and Age, Gender, or Musical Background." Science Buddies, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Music_p015/music/relative-pitch-age-gender-musical-background. Accessed 19 Apr. 2024.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2020, November 20). Correlation Between Relative Pitch and Age, Gender, or Musical Background. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Music_p015/music/relative-pitch-age-gender-musical-background

Last edit date: 2020-11-20
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