Perfect pitch – the ability to recognise musical tones – is a rare gift that most experts believe can only be acquired in the earliest years of life.
But new research suggests that anyone can develop perfect pitch – even if they have no previous musical training – just by taking a pill that’s normally used to treat epilespy and mood disorders.
Takao Hensch, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard, has discovered that valproate can allow the brain to absorb new information as easily as it did before the age of seven.
“It’s a mood-stabilising drug, but we found that it also restores the plasticity of the brain to a juvenile state,” he explained on an NPR programme this week.
Hensch administered the drug to a group of young men who had no musical training as children, who were then asked to perform online tests to train their ears. After two weeks, they were found to have improved their ability to discriminate tone.
“It’s quite remarkable since there are no known reports of adults acquiring absolute pitch,” Hensch said.
The drug could also be used to teach languages, he added. “The idea here was, could we come up with a way that would reopen plasticity, paired with the appropriate training, allow adult brains to become young again.” Hear the full NPR programme.