Ringing in the New Year with.. Valproate?

Annddd we’re back!  Hope everyone had a lovely holiday season and a happy new year!

So to open up the new year, I thought we’d start with an interesting article on perfect pitch and the anticonvulsant/mood stabilizer valproate, brought to my attention by fellow musician and UAB MSTP Heather Allen’s (GS-4) facebook post:

“Ok. This article is basically one of the coolest things ever. In short, valproate, a drug more commonly used for epilepsy and/or bipolar disorder, allows adult men who are not musically trained to begin to learn perfect pitch.

As a side note, this article is quite timely for me, given that this past week or so, I’ve been reading Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks, a more thorough but accessible discussion of everything neurological about music. (This book comes highly recommended for you musicians and neuroscientists which, I suppose, covers quite a lot of my Facebook friends.)”

The reasoning for using valproate to test perfect pitch was because it inhibits HDAC, one of the enzymes that decreases one’s ability to learn something after the critical period has been reached.  Perfect pitch (aka absolute pitch (AP), the ability to quickly and accurately know what note is played/sung) seems to have a critical period of learning, and those who did not train in music at a young age generally cannot learn the skill.  Thus they tested valproate on adult males to see whether valproate could restore some plasticity in the brain, and results seem promising, though of course further research will need to be done.

The article also gives a good introduction on perfect pitch and our current literature knowledge about it, so the intro is worth a read if you’re a musician and/or at all interested in that kind of stuff.  Personally, I’m just excited about the fact that since I learned music before age 6 – one of the cut-off points for AP potential – maybe I can actually train myself up to get perfect pitch one day.  After all, my sister just demonstrated over the break that after the last year or so of working on piano and ear training, she was able pick out the correct key for Frozen’s “Let It Go” pretty much on the spot by ear. One can always dream, right?

-EM

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