Toward a Developmental Psychology of Music


Address for correspondence: Sandra E. Trehub, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada L5L 1C6. Voice: 905-828-5415; fax: 905-569-4326;


Abstract: Research on music perception has revealed numerous parallels between infants and adults, but these findings have had little influence on adult research. Studies of pitch memory in infants, children, and adults are presented to illustrate potential gains from a developmental approach. Although the prevailing wisdom is that absolute pitch processing dominates in early life until it is supplanted by relative pitch processing, recent research offers no support for that view. After a week of exposure to English folk melodies, infants remember the melodies, but they do not distinguish the original versions from transposed versions. Relative pitch processing dominates later on, but it does not occur at the expense of absolute pitch processing. For example, adults can identify the pitch level of familiar musical recordings in the context of foils that are pitch shifted by one or two semitones. Children 5-9 years of age can identify the pitch level of familiar recordings when the foils are pitch shifted by two semitones but not by one semitone. By contrast, Japanese children are successful in the context of one-semitone shifts. In short, a developmental approach can provide insights of comparable importance on many issues in music cognition.