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pitch matching easier with blocked ears?

Hi All,
 
I've just been asked to work with a student who is described as having great difficulty matching pitches correctly - UNLESS he has a cold! Apparently this is not just the observation of the student's family and friends, but also of his trombone instructor. They say that, when ill, he sings beautifully and plays in tune; when healthy, he has pitch problems galore.
 
I'm assuming this to be an aural problem rather than a vocal problem, because the instrumental teacher has also observed it. (And the trombone is definitely an instrument where pitch matching skill is critical!)
 
I'm wondering if anyone else has encountered a problem like this, or if anyone can suggest a good scientific/medical resource that might yield some insight into how this sort of hearing issue might work (and how to work around it).
 
At the moment my plan is to do lots of testing/experimentation and keep an open mind... but I figure it also doesn't hurt to benefit from someone else's experience, if anyone has any to offer!
 
Val
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