January 10, 2014 12:14

Harvard University professor claims epilepsy pill can help adults achieve perfect pitch

Professor Takao Hensch claims valproate can help adults master the art of singing

Harvard University professor claims epilepsy pill can help adults achieve perfect pitch

Photo: PA

A Harvard University professor has claimed that he can teach adults absolute pitch by giving them a pill normally used to treat epilepsy.

Professor Takao Hensch, who specialises in molecular and cellular biology, has claimed that a pill intended for epilepsy sufferers reverts the capacity for learning to that of a seven year old child and has used absolute pitch as his first test case. Both Ella Fitzgerald and Michael Jackson are said to have had absolute pitch, the ability to identify or re-create a musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.

Describing his work in the neuroscience journal Frontiers, Hensch describes how test subjects with no musical training were given the epilepsy drug Valproate before being given musical training. They were asked to to train their ears using online tasks before being tested on their ability to discriminate tone. Hensch discovered that the results were far higher than expected.

Speaking to NPR, Hensch said: "It's quite remarkable since there are no known reports of adults acquiring absolute pitch. The professor went on to state that he thinks his research could lead to further skills being taught, including languages. "I think we’re getting closer to this day, because we are able to understand in greater cellular detail how the brain develops throughout development."

Hensch notes that while it's thought that genetics play a major role in those who can learn absolute pitch, he believes that early life experience plays a bigger role and that is why the drug helps adults.

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