Which violinists have perfect pitch?

October 9, 2007 at 05:02 AM · Which of the famous violinists besides Heifetz had perfect pitch? What about current violinists like Hilary Hahn?

Replies (50)

October 9, 2007 at 05:22 AM · Many people have perfect pitch, it isn't rare among good musicians. I have perfect pitch and at any conservatory it must be like 30% of the student body has it too. It really isn't that special, so I'm guessing most of them.

October 9, 2007 at 06:59 AM · Perfect pitch is in general not that perfect

Many people that have so called perfect pitch can´t tell if it´s a quartertone or 1/8 out of out tune

Pendereckis first Violin concerto features some good pitch training in this respect. Would love to hear more people record that.

Is Stern the only one that performed it in public by the way?

Anyway, The western scales are pretty limited actually and if you learn to apreciate quarterstep, 1/8 scales etc you will think so too.

October 9, 2007 at 07:30 AM · Ms. Mutter performs it.

October 9, 2007 at 09:31 AM · Joshua Bell does.

October 9, 2007 at 09:42 AM · "Ms. Mutter performs it. "

I thought she only performed the second one. Would love to hear her record the first one as well

October 9, 2007 at 06:15 PM · I'm lucky because my perfect pitch is tuned to exactally A440. When I tune my instrument or any of my orchestra kids (I teach 5th grade, so I tune their instruments) the A always winds up 440.

I would imagine that most of the famous violinist have perfect pitch, but I'm only guessing.

October 9, 2007 at 10:31 PM · Marty, you should be able to use several As. I use 442 but I don't have trouble with different pitches.

October 10, 2007 at 01:57 AM · In a radio interview, Julia Fischer said it was difficult to get used to "baroque" tuning for one of the projects she worked on--she has that dreaded and feared "perfect pitch" but she must have managed it somehow!

October 10, 2007 at 02:01 AM · How do people with perfect pitch transpose anything? And is the perfect pitch tuned to a strictly diatonic system (i.e. making quarter-tones next to impossible)?

October 10, 2007 at 02:52 PM · As a pianist with perfect pitch, I think that there are some things that need to be learned - such as how to shut it off when not needed. You must still learn good musicians skills.

If I play harpsichord with a non tempered tuning, I need to adapt. Playing Ive's Quarter Tone Piano Pieces is fun and one can learn to hear in quarter tones - why not?

The great accompanist Gerald Moore once said that the accomplishment that he is most proud of is his ability to overcome his perfect pitch. He wasn't kidding.

October 10, 2007 at 09:35 PM · Well, I find as a violinist that perfect pitch, preferably absolute pitch is an absolute necessity. (I have absolute, which means I am able to differentiate between 1/4, 1/8 and smaller intervals).

The violin is made in such a way that when a note is impecably in tune, it resonates like nothing you've ever heard. However, I have yet to hear anyone without at least perfect pitch creating this sort of resonance, i.e, the true singing voice of the instrument.

October 10, 2007 at 09:55 PM · I thought perfect pitch is better than absolute pitch? Whatever... doesn't matter. At the end of the day, I still know people who were good in ear training, with the perfectist most absolute super dooper pitch... and they can't really do anything special on any instrument. So, I don't think it's that important.

October 11, 2007 at 02:52 AM · Does anyone think there is a difference between having perfect pitch and playing in perfect intonation? I mean, perhaps one can hear the notes that are out of tune, but does that necessarily mean they can easily play them in tune? Or maybe it's just a technical aspect...

October 11, 2007 at 04:06 AM · they have absolutely nothing to do with one another.

Like I said... I know many people with perfect pitch, it isn't that special at a good music school. Some of them are mediocre violinists.

Someone without perfect pitch is capable of finding the center of a note, especially on the violin where the instrument rewards it so clearly.

PS. There's also no difference between perfect pitch and absolute pitch. They're the same thing. Someone with perfect pitch can hear quarter tones, if they can't either they don't have perfect pitch or they aren't listening. Perfect pitch is identifying the pitch without a reference point...

October 11, 2007 at 04:12 AM · i think having perfect pitch actually makes it much harder to play "in tune"...if someone already has an idea of what pitch a note should be and then for whatever reason they have to adjust it(ex. switching between just and pythagorean temperaments) it will feel to them as if they are playing out of tune. this can be really unpleasant and hard to get used to. another problem can be learning the pitch of a single voice that has to be matched with other voices (especially in quartets). if someone practices a part without knowing the chord structure (specifically if they have the third) they might assume it to be in the wrong temperament and end up having a hard time switching later. i'm sure even people without perfect pitch have this problem.

October 11, 2007 at 04:30 AM · Well, I don't have perfect pitch, but I do have good relative pitch. I can tell instantly from listening to a note whether or not it's out of tune. I can also name intervals from hearing them. However, I can't name a pitch from hearing it arbitrarily.

Speaking of perfect pitch, has anyone tried that "perfect pitch training program" that is frequently advertised in the back of Strings Magazine? Does it work?

October 11, 2007 at 04:56 AM · Does perfect pitch make it easier to memorize? It seems like all a perfect pitcher would have to do would be remember the tune, and wouldn't be as dependent on repetitions and muscle memory. Same might go for very highly developed relative pitch.

October 11, 2007 at 05:47 AM · Joe, you bet Chinese incorporates pitch changes. Be careful with the number four in particular -- you may inadvertently end up wishing someone dead. :-)

October 11, 2007 at 05:36 AM · Hearing pitches is one thing, and it's pretty handy; but being able to hear the correct distance between pitches is a lot more useful. (e.g. if you're playing a D, then F# belongs... HERE) And then you have to be able to tell where the F# belongs if it's the 3rd of a D major chord or whatever. So if you have it or you don't, it makes things both harder and easier either way.

I actually developed perfect pitch (or something like it): when I started taking private lessons at age 11, my teacher had me listen to classical music as much as possible. Being a flute player, I started noticing that I could tell what note a flute was playing. Then (teacher's husband was a violinist) I started listening to violin records (we had some Grumiaux Mozart concerti from the 1950's, and a box set called "Oistrakh Plays The Great Violin Concertos" from Musical Heritage - good good stuff), and eventually became able to recognize notes on the violin. Then cello recordings (teacher's daughter was a cellist), then piano recordings, and of course orchestral recordings through it all. Recognizing pitches sung by opera singers took the longest. (Gee, I wonder why.)

In my orchestra, when the oboist gives the A, I can tell if it's a little sharp or flat before I look at his tuner.

As far as I can tell from looking at the ads, it looks like that's what the "you too can have perfect pitch" program is all about: you listen to pitches, you learn to recognize them, and there you are. I've never looked into it though.

Anyway, perfect pitch (if that's what I have) doesn't help me play in tune, except in the sense that if I play a note sharp I can say "ow, that was sharp." If I have to adjust to someone who is playing sharp (e.g. because they are a trumpet player and are not going to adjust come hell or high water), then I have to play out of tune on purpose -- it doesn't sound "right" just because someone else is doing it louder. But being able to adjust is important; so if the whole orchestra goes sharp together and I don't, then guess what: I'm the out-of-tune one, no matter how sure I am that I'm "in tune."

October 11, 2007 at 08:50 AM · Perfect pitch definitely helps with memorization, as well as relative pitch.

October 11, 2007 at 03:47 PM · I think that logic and the recognition of patterns, relationships, and overall structure are some of the most important skills when it comes to memorizing music. Of course, having a good memory doesn't hurt!

October 11, 2007 at 04:00 PM · My wife has perfect pitch - I have to admit, at times I am jealous :)

I have very good relative pitch. What is strange is that I can sing an F# on demand, but if you ask me to sing another note without reference I have to start with F# in my head and work it out. (All I do is sing the Meditation of Thais in my head and I can nail that first F# - most of the time.) Weird...

October 11, 2007 at 06:27 PM · Kristina said, "Well, I find as a violinist that perfect pitch, preferably absolute pitch is an absolute necessity. (I have absolute, which means I am able to differentiate between 1/4, 1/8 and smaller intervals)."

Good for you.

Kristina said, "The violin is made in such a way that when a note is impecably in tune, it resonates like nothing you've ever heard. However, I have yet to hear anyone without at least perfect pitch creating this sort of resonance, i.e, the true singing voice of the instrument. "

I'm sorry, this is absolute Bunk. Apparently you've not been listening to many violinists, or you've been doing so with an assumed authoritative gaze.

To play in tune it matters not if you have perfect pitch or relative pitch. What matters is that you have ears and that you've learned to listen. I can't count how many violinists I've heard who have perfect pitch you can't play a C+ scale in tune to save their life. Conversely, I've heard many students who do not possess perfect pitch play better in tune than some major soloists out there. Perfect pitch is simply the ability to pull a pitch out of thin air and sing or identify it, it as ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with playing in tune.

Furthermore, the idea that playing in tune has anything to do with creating a certain frequency time and time again is a very incomplete concept of in tune playing. Playing in tune is driven and defined entirely by context BECAUSE the instrument is not limited by set pitch mechanisms (like frets).

You have much to learn about playing in tune. And I hope you realize that before you ever begin teaching, as you will have a severe barrier between you and a successful teaching experience.


October 11, 2007 at 06:46 PM · ahahaha Preston I wanted to lay the smack down but was way too lazy...


October 11, 2007 at 10:52 PM · Greetings,

thanks Preston. I don@t have perfetc or absolute picth or whatever. I can hear quarter tones, eights an dmuch smaller intervals. Why? Because I pracitce them. I can hear the true resonance of an instrumenty because I am not hearing impaired and I can pay attention.

I play in tune according to context because I practice scales in 3rds, 4ths fifths and especially sevenths. This last is a great method of sharpening the ears.

Finally, when I play I am always considering a) the harmonic context and musicla line b) the othe rpeople I am playign with.

The main reason player splay out of tune is that the teacher was not stricvt enough right from the beginning. I insist that my young students sing and play in tune right from the beginning. This is utterly realistic and teachers who maintain that good intonation should be phased in with maturity as technique grows make me cringe.



October 12, 2007 at 03:42 AM · Preston,

Wouldn't you say that when playing the violin, one can only just about figure out where the note is? There are no indicators on the strings...which means you've GOT to pull the note out of thin air (sorry). And playing a scale in tune is a whole lot different than playing the Schoenberg concerto in tune...or Bartok solo sonata (the way it was actually written).

October 12, 2007 at 03:47 AM · And furthemore Preston, YOU have a lot of learning to do about physics and sound. I suggest you present your responses in a civil manner and not call someones experiences and research bunk before you know what it is they are talking about.

October 12, 2007 at 04:13 AM · even if you have perfect pitch this doesn't mean that you're automatically going to hit the right spot on the fingerboard...everyone is going to have to pull the note out of thin air (muscle memory) and chances are they will have to adjust. assuming the player had the chance to tune before they started playing (or at least quitely plucked an open string) they would be able to use relative pitch to find the right spot on the fingerboard.

October 12, 2007 at 04:33 AM · This is probably a dumb question but can you please enlighten my pea brain on what exactly is perfect pitch? I am an engineer and look at things from that perspective. Obviously there is nothing in our DNA that causes a note to be 440 cycles/second. Being able to identify integer multiples of any note (e.g. 2x which we call an "octave" or 3/2 which we call a "fifth") would obviously be very useful. Is this how the brain of a "perfect pitch" being operates?

I have noticed also in my extremely limited playing aptitude that notes which correspond to an open string if hit exactly right will give that magical ringing tone but other notes are unimpressive in this way....c natural does nothing even when I rarely hit it right on.



October 12, 2007 at 04:46 AM · I once sang in a choir with a fine conductor who was also a fine musician with an incredible ability to hear things invisible to most ears including mine. During our tonalisation exercises he would have us change vowel sounds slightly while singing 4 parts until he heard the partials he was listening for and would say 'ah, do you hear that?' We didn't, but I believed that what he said was real.

He didn't have perfect pitch and I wasn't a good enough singer to gain membership into a choir of that caliber. He only let me in so that he could call on me for my pianistic skills when needed.

A great ear and a great musician do not require perfect pitch. It often comes along with the package though.

October 12, 2007 at 07:59 AM · Tom, a better term for this trait would be "pitch memory". It is the ability to remember the specific sounds of pitches. Being able to hear 440 A in one's head with no reference point is one example.

October 12, 2007 at 12:16 PM · I think Kristina and Preston are to some extent talking past each other. Also I don't think Kristina bothered to listen to Preston's point. "Pulling a note out of thin air" is only a starting point--if you have a good sense of pitch (not absolute pitch) then you can build in-tune from any starting point--regardless of what the absolute pitch is. This fact is really not up for debate. If Kristina thinks it is, then she is deceiving herself.

October 12, 2007 at 02:38 PM · Bilbo, I do agree with you. I do think on review that we are actually talking about two different things and trying to bring them together. I also think that Preston misunderstood what I was trying to say in my first posting. (English is NOT my first language, so perhaps I wasn't particularly clear on what I meant to say).

October 12, 2007 at 03:50 PM · When I was young I played the piano, and later in life I turned to the guitar, eventually discovering the classical guitar. One thing I never liked about either of these instruments was their fixed tuning, although with the guitar one can make some adjustments now and then while playing. However, I now play the violin and the shackles have been removed...no frets and no keys! The beauty of the violin is that you can play the note however you want and color your sound, bringing subtle expression unknown to the player of other, fixed-tuning instruments.

I, myself, do not have perfect pitch, but I do have very good relative pitch as a result of much exposure. I know when something is in tune and when it is not, and am able to make the needed adjustment. The key for someone such as myself is discipline, not allowing myself to become sloppy and lose all that I have gained, and this in my mind would be the benefit of the one with perfect pitch. However, they as well as any have to go through the work of training their body to do things right.

October 12, 2007 at 06:23 PM · I have known people who seemingly lacked any hint of musical intelligence and aptitude but were able to name notes that they heard. They have perfect pitch.

Perfect pitch can belong to anyone, not just geniuses.

October 19, 2007 at 02:11 AM · Tom,

What you're referring to in the second part of your post are overtones. There's some mathematical reason for them that my Theory teacher explained to us a while back, but I've forgotten already.

October 19, 2007 at 10:56 AM · Chris points out the subtility between what is "sound color" and what is out of tune .Is'nt everything really relative ?

Perfect pitch (absolute hear) let me thougthful :A=440 A=442 but was A also =415(practically half a tone lower) so with no reference one can name something but not necessarily the same thing

In my youth I was a clarinettist and unfortunately my hearing seems to be has formed to it so I can recognize any sounds but I name them a tone lower

January 7, 2014 at 02:28 PM · 1. Bruce is right. I heard on the radio about police forensic workers using oscilloscopes; they would remember pitch to a very narrow margin.

2. I don't think the tonal aspect of any tonal language would have any correlation with absolute pitch, even one spoken in West Africa, where all the tones are steady tones and sliding tones are absent. I remember, in a phonemics exercise, listening to two taped short utterances and being "jumped on" (in a nice way) because I had reported that the first was low to middle and the second was middle to high. "No", I was told, "If they were recorded at different times, either could be low to middle, middle to high, or low to high". Another time I was listening to "men ba:a mu" ("This is a lion"; there should be a ~ above the u because it is nasalised, and I went to the trouble of copying and pasting from a website a u with a ~, but software here cannot handle it. I'm sure you all care DEEPLY!) and thought there must be four tones, because the mu was so low. "No", said Iain, "he probably got impatient with the language learner and his message is 'You silly fool, men ba:a MU!'".

3. Some 30 years ago I met Gerald Finzi's violinist granddaughter at a time when she was playing "gothic" and asked her how her absolute pitch coped with that. The reply was that for the first month or so it was pure torture, but after that she found she had TWO absolute pitches.

Because of playing out of tune pianos when I wasn't practising much, and perhaps for other reasons, my own absolute pitch is no longer reliable.

January 7, 2014 at 03:55 PM · Gotta love resurrecting old posts!

Maybe it would help to nail down definitions. Here's what I was told about pitch:

Perfect pitch- the ability to identify a note with no reference point.

Relative pitch- the ability to identify a note with a reference pitch. (here is a C- what is this note or chord: X)

Pitch memory- The ability to memorize pitches in a context.

Pitches will change slightly depending on context (at least on a violin) and a person with perfect pitch or perfect relative pitch will be able to distinguish those differences.

The problem is that many people who say they have perfect pitch actually don't. Being able to recognize an 'a' at 440 isn't perfect pitch- it's that you've heard it so many times you've memorized how it sounds. That's actually pitch memory. Hearing a lawnmower or a bird call and telling what pitches you hear are examples of perfect pitch. The better your ability is, the closer you can get to the notes. I have an insanely amazing autistic neighbor who can identify G at 438.

(Incidentally, that's why people who say that they can't listen to baroque tuning because of their 'perfect pitch' are full of it. They have good pitch memory and have memorized how the notes sound, but haven't significantly broadened their listening horizons to admit other pitches to their brain's database of pitches)

By the time people graduate from music programs, they have had 2 years of ear training classes in addition to the other music classes, so their perfect, relative, and pitch memory are all pretty sharp. Some people don't ever need to be taught, most people need training and can do it, some people never learn it.

January 7, 2014 at 06:15 PM · When I was in the Army in Missouri, I was asked to play for a New Years Sunrise Service by the choir director. The prelude was to be the solo part to “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” by J S Bach.

At the pre dawn rehearsal I tuned to an organ which was a tiny bit lower than one full step. So I tuned my violin to the organ’s peculiar “A” natural. The choir director then gave me a special band part to read off of, which was for “E“ flat alto sax.

At this time of the morning (6:00 AM) I was in no mood to do mental gymnastics so I asked the organist to sound me the organ’s G major chord just before we started to play. I slid up to that chord’s “G” and began to play using a combination of my memory and by fingering intervals from the E flat Sax part.

I had no idea what notes I was playing but I maneuvered through the tune quite nicely. This phenomenon was acquired through my very first violin lessons from a talented Gypsy cabaret violinist. He taught me to play the violin by ear without the benefit of printed notes.

He would also accompany me on guitar and when I learned a piece he would modulate to different keys while I repeated the melody a number of times.

This Gypsy violinist also taught me to accompany a melody using a wide variety of rhythms and to accompany by strumming chords on the violin as well as producing various types of accompanying tremolos. Also as part of a lesson we practiced playing in 3rds and 6ths with rhythmic embroidery using chordal upbeats and chordal drones.

May 4, 2015 at 02:12 PM · Relative pitch ? Absolutely essential and mandatory.

Musical memory ? Extremely convenient ! I know excellent violinists that play and sight-read very well but are incapable of playing even simple melodies "by ear" ... They need to read the music; otherwise they cannot play.

Musical sensibility ? You better have it; otherwise you will always be a mediocre musician.

Absolute pitch ? At times it can help and therefore may be regarded as an asset; however, many a times, having it becomes a torture and you become a slave of your absolute pitch. Therefore I think it is only a "nice to have" thing. You can be an excellent musician without having absolute pitch and inversely, you can have absolute pitch and even so be a mediocre musician.

Perfect pitch ? (whatever that means) I think that if you don't have absolute pitch but have an excellent relative pitch, then you can perfectly tell when a note is out of tune. If that is perfect pitch ? Then you better have it !

Finally, I know musicians that have a perfect and absolute pitch (and they feel proud of that), have a good relative pitch BUT do not have a good musical memory (they can't play by ear), have a mediocre musical sensibility and don't play so well.

May 4, 2015 at 09:38 PM · I have perfect pitch, but in spite of that I'm a HOPELESS salesman.

May 5, 2015 at 01:40 PM · I think in this day and age, having a perfect pitch shouldn't be that important. My school makes sure we always have a metronome on us, and nowadays metronomes and tuners come in one machine. If you ever need an A, you can just get it off the tuner part of the metronome/tuner.

I myself only have an okay relative pitch, but its easy enough for me to pick up a melody. After a few rounds of experimenting, I can usually notate or play back a simple melody. So I’m not so sure that having a perfect pitch helps with picking up or memorising a tune.

May 5, 2015 at 02:12 PM · We have to be careful about drawing conclusions. If 90% of the top artists of our day have perfect pitch, that does not mean perfect pitch was substantially helpful to their development. It could simply be a side-benefit of some other, more fundamental innate musical capability. A correlation does not necessarily imply a causal relationship.

May 7, 2015 at 12:55 AM · Paul, I agree with you, although I am not so sure that 90% of the top artists have perfect pitch and I don´t know if there are any serious statistics regarding this matter. I wouldn´t be surprised to find out that this percentage is in fact less than 90%.

August 1, 2015 at 01:00 AM · My grandfather, Jacques Malkin, had perfect pitch. He was a pedagogue mentioned in older editions of Grove's, and was the violinist in the Malkin Trio, popular in NYC between the 2 great wars and recorded on Decca. The only thing perfect pitch did for him, that I know of, was that he could recognize a Bflat car horn when he heard it in the street :)

August 1, 2015 at 12:16 PM · A lifetime of studying and playing music has given me very good relative pitch, in that I can tell if I'm in our out of tune against another pitch. However, it doesn't prevent a certain amount of "drift". For example, if I'm playing up in 3rd or 5th position, my pitch can sometimes migrate rather sharp or flat, usually sharp, which becomes obvious when I get back to an open string. I would think perfect pitch would help against that drifting, especially for leaps that are over an octave.

August 1, 2015 at 01:50 PM · The term "perfect" has several meanings, e.g:

- perfect fifth, as opposed to augmented or diminished fifth, (nothing to do with keyboard temperaments);

- perfect intonation, dependent on context;

- Perfect Pitch, apparently more Nature than Nurture, which recognises the note without external reference.

So I much prefer the term Absolute Pitch, ("L'oreille absolue," or asbolute ear, in French)

August 1, 2015 at 09:31 PM · This lady does, she sees colors too! :D


August 2, 2015 at 09:13 AM · perfect pitch is not such a great thing to have. seeing colors is. especially if its seeing tonalities for colors and not pitch.

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