Pills Could Give You Perfect Pitch (Or Help You Learn a Language)

January 6, 2014 | Andy Cush

Perfect pitch–the ability to identify a musical note without any context–is something of a golden egg among musicians. You either have it or you don’t, and if you do, you’ve got a serious leg up on the competition (especially if you’re a singer or play jazz or classical music). If you don’t, it’s generally been assumed that you’re shit out of luck.

Like language skills, perfect pitch is thought to be learned in the “critical period” –that stage, early in life, in which your mind is at its ripest for learning. Now, a new study claims that a drug called valporate can return your brain to that state and enable you to learn music as if you were a child.

The Verge explains the mechanics of the study:

Valproate…was given to a group of healthy young men with no musical training. The men were then asked to perform a set of exercises for two weeks with the aim of improving their pitch while another control group was asked to perform the same exercises, but given a placebo.

According to the study, those subjects given valproate learned to identify pitch “significantly better than those taking the placebo.”

Other skills could be learned with this method as well, but Harvard professor Takao Hensch, who co-authored the study, believes widespread use should be approached with trepidation. “Critical periods,” he said, “have evolved for a reason.”

(Photo: Luz Adriana Villa/Flickr)