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There is something I always had, but then I realized now it is also affecting languages:

First, I do not have perfect pitch, but I can recognize the common intervals if I pay attention. And, my last hearing test showed good numbers for my age (48) with a slight attenuation over 4k on one ear.

For some reason I have a much better ease at recognizing the intervals in the higher pitches than the lower ones and I'm trying to understand why.

It doesn't seem logical to me since intervals with low notes will most likely have harmonics going through most of the hearing range, whereas the higher pitches will have less audible components to them. I guess the higher notes have more space between them, frequency wise, so it could be a factor.

As far as instruments, I started playing Organ then Piano when I was quite young, then electric guitar and I picked up the bass on the way (but I play bass like a guitarist :)) Somehow with the bass, I just can't pick up the intervals well from the low E to ~C, but after that it gets better. With the piano, I have difficulty on the first 3 octaves. On the guitar, it's generally ok.

The reason I'm asking is also because I realized I have exactly the same thing happening with languages! I posted this question in the linguistics site: https://linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/38378/easier-to-understand-some-foreign-languages-with-a-higher-pitch Where I describe that for languages I can understand, but I'm not fluent with, I have more ease understanding female voices than male ones.

So there seems to be a phenomenon where the higher register is somehow easier to 'decode', at least for me.

I'd like to know if this is something common, and if there is a known explanation for it.

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  • Not a syndrome I've ever heard of, though I'm sure someone, somewhere has experienced it and given it a name! I guess you'll just have to put in extra practice recognising low-range intervals. – Laurence Payne Feb 21 at 23:35
  • My understanding is that human hearing in general is more perceptive of higher pitches, and I believe that's why the melody of so much music tends to be in the top voice. Low notes on many instruments -- piano in particular -- get "muddy", particularly because of the presence of so many harmonics. I don't find it surprising you'd find intervals harder to identify in that range. Try wider intervals -- say 10ths instead of 3rds -- and see if those are any easier in the lower register. – Aaron Feb 22 at 0:07
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    Or rather, there's a "sweet spot" of perception which is high enough to be considered "high pitched"- after a point, intervals become very difficult to recognize again. – Edward Feb 22 at 1:23
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This is relatively common, and there are a couple of hypotheses: that our cultural listening habits emphasize hearing the highest notes (the "melody," even if it isn't always), that acoustically these higher pitches are inherently louder, and that our musical backgrounds make us more adept at hearing the range in which we spent most of our time.

In Aural Skills Acquisition, author Gary Karpinski states:

Listeners' familiarity with any given sound source has a direct effect on their ability to determine registral placement. For example, oboists will be much more adept at judging the octave of a pitch played on an oboe than that of one played on a French horn. (14)

This quote is referencing identification of octave, but the point still holds: musicians are typically more adept at anything that happens in the range of their own instrument.

Later, he states:

In order to perceive bass lines, listeners must be able to focus their attention on the lowest voice in whatever textures they encounter. For some, this is an entirely new mode of perception—at first puzzling and seemingly inscrutable. For others, it seems to pose little additional difficulty. Many, but not all, of those to whom this comes easily have already had experience in attention to bass lines: jazz and pop musicians, keyboard (or keyboard percussion) players, and (perhaps obviously) bass players and bass vocalists. (120)

What's interesting about your scenario is that you do have experience as a bass player (although you did, as you admit, begin on guitar).

In any event, if you want some tips on how to improve these, the following list is from Michael Rogers in his Teaching Approaches in Music Theory: An Overview of Pedagogical Philosophies:

[T]o hear bass lines more clearly, start by playing progressions at the piano (simple four-part exercises, Bach chorales, etc.):

a. Play the bass by itself.

b. Sing and play the bass only.

c. Sing the bass alone.

d. Play all the lines; accentuate the bass; listen.

e. Play all the lines with bass at normal level.

f. Play again singing with the bass.

g. Play upper voices only while singing the bass.

h. Player upper voices only, hearing the bass (silently but very loudly) in the mind's ear.

This final phase takes immense concentration. . . . Such an organized routine, if conscientiously applied over a period of time, could solve many bass-line (or inner-voice) hearing problems. (125)

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