Absolute pitch is generally believed to be a remarkable ability, whose possessors can quite accurately identify musical pitch characteristics (pitch classes) of single tones presented in isolation. However, identifying pitch out of context is irrelevant and even meaningless to music. It is unclear how listeners with absolute pitch process musical pitch information in more meaningful musical situations. The present experiment was done to examine how listeners with absolute pitch perform in a relative pitch task. Listeners tried to identify melodic intervals of various sizes (260–540 cents) presented in three different tonal contexts established by a preceding tonal cadence. Listeners without absolute pitch showed equal accuracy and speed in doing the task in the three tonal contexts, as expected from the principle of transposability of musical pitch relations. In contrast, some absolute pitch listeners snowed a marked decline in accuracy and longer response times in the F# major and the out-of-tune E major contexts compared with the C major context. This result suggests that some absolute pitch listeners are relatively poor in identifying pitch relations in tonal contexts and sometimes tend to stick to absolute pitch even in a task that needs relative pitch, resulting in poor performance in perceiving musical pitch relations.

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