I'll confess: I cannot tell you the pitch of a beeping truck or doorbell, nor can I see a page of music and sing the precise notes that I see, unless I'm given a reference point. That's because I don't have perfect pitch!
Perfect pitch, or absolute pitch, is the ability to accurately identify a pitch, with no reference point. Relative pitch is the ability to identify pitches, but with a reference point. Can perfect pitch and relative pitch be learned? I think so, at least to a degree. I do wonder how much having those pitches identified as a young person helps a person to have "perfect pitch." Until I was nearly nine and started learning to play the violin, I was fairly unaware of the fact that music notes even had names, much less could I name them!
It seems like it would be very useful to have perfect pitch, plus it would be fun at parties. I understand, from my friends with perfect pitch, that it gets difficult when playing with a piano or organ that is extremely flat, and it takes some adjustment to play at a different pitch, as in a Baroque orchestra. Still, all the musicians that I know with perfect pitch tend to play very well in tune in any situation, even if they are keenly aware of a discrepancy between their internal pitch and that of the ensemble.
I have found having relative pitch to be very useful in violin-playing, allowing me to play in tune, sing in tune, and transcribe music, as long as I have a reference note.
When it comes to being "tone deaf," a condition which both of my parents claim to have, I suspect this has more to do with nurture than with nature. Most people seem to be able to develop a sense of relative pitch, and some have claimed to be able to develop perfect pitch, as adults. For a very long time I thought this was an "inborn" trait, as so many people sing and play hopelessly out of tune. But one of my childhood friends, whom I'd written off as "tone deaf," went on to participate in an excellent choir program in college and suddenly was able to sing in tune, even when others were singing harmony. It really changed my thinking on the matter.
Do you have perfect pitch? If you do, does it help? What are your thoughts on perfect pitch vs. relative pitch? Do you think someone who is "tone deaf" can refine their sense of pitch to the point of having relative or even perfect pitch?
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