We often do not fully recognize the importance of pitch perception. The links between pitch perception and our ability to sing in tune are widely known and we would, of course, call this tone-deafness if we can’t sing in tune.
However, there is a great deal of research to show that pitch perception is linked very closely to our perception of sounds in language. This naturally affects our ability to listen, concentrate and learn.
Marie Foregard and colleagues in 2008* showed that there is a strong link between pitch discrimination abilities and language related skills. Children with good pitch discrimination tend to be strong readers and children with poor pitch discrimination, poor readers. The impact of musical training is also clear.
Of course music contains different frequencies that change quickly. This is also the case with speech and in order to listen well, we must be able to process these changes in frequency very quickly indeed.
It is easy to see how someone may not hear all the sounds in a word like ‘cat’. Consider that the ‘c’ is around 3000Hz, the ‘a’ around 500Hz and the ‘t’, 3500Hz. If we have poor pitch discrimination and find it difficult to detect the gaps in sound, one of the higher frequency sounds may mask the middle vowel ‘a’ and mean that we do not really know whether the word was ‘cat’, ‘cot’, ‘cut’ or even ‘kit’. We will often be able to work it out from the context of the sentence but, inevitably, this means that a child in class with pitch perception challenges will have to work harder than all their peers to listen. Add in background noise and their ability to listen and concentrate will be further reduced. These difficulties do not relate to intelligence but are down to fundamental challenges with the processing of auditory information in the brain.
It used to be thought that the processing of music and speech were in different areas of the brain but thanks to the work of cognitive neuroscientists like Aniruddh Patel it is now known that there are a large number of overlapping areas in the brain that process both speech and non-speech sounds. It is understandable that hearing pitch in sound is therefore related to hearing sounds in speech; after all, speech is just organised sound!
Pitch discrimination is, therefore, an important part of an auditory screening if you are working with anyone with challenges with reading, listening, attention and concentration. There are a number of pitch discrimination tests available and TAVS, the Test of Auditory and Visual Skills covers pitch discrimination as well as pitch pattern perception and many other areas vital to strong auditory processing skills.
If you are a professional in the field and would like to learn more training to become qualified in the administration of TAVS please click here or call Advanced Brain Technologies at 801-622-5676
*Foregard, M., Schlaug, G., Norton, A., Rosam, C. & Iyengar, U. The relation between music and phonological processing in normal reading children and children with Dyslexia, Music Perception, Vol. 25, 4, 383-390 (2008)