Perfect pitch

August 19, 2009 at 07:31 PM ·

I was reading an old thread on methods for developing perfect pitch , but people started a debate and perhaps only one person factually mentioned that it did not work. So, without much digression, do you really know people who went through any of these methods available and developed perfect pitch ? I saw the rates of sales and was wondering how many of those customers reached the goal promised...

Replies (61)

August 19, 2009 at 08:09 PM ·

I'm afraid you either have it or you don't .

There are many famous musicians without it so it's no big deal.

One in ten thousand have it apparently.

Here is a test from the University of Southern California

Note the test results, near 100% or zilch!

Daniel Levitin has investigated this subject in depth




August 19, 2009 at 09:39 PM ·

At the end of the day, I guess it depends what you call perfect pitch. I'm a prime example of someone who "developed" it after taking solfege classes as part of my undergraduate training. This involved singing many exercises with the aid of a piano to give the starting pitches. As result, I am able to often (but not always) sing you a note of your choice. I have to keep practicing sight-singing to keep it working though.

On the other hand, if someone plays a note on the violin or piano, I can almost always tell you exactly what the note is. I recognize the timbres of the notes. This doesn't work with other instruments though! I don't know if this is perfect pitch or not....which brings me to another point..

I have trouble believing that people who claim to have perfect pitch really are born with it. They might be born with the ability to recognize pitches, since they learned from an early age to associate a sound with a letter name. Yet, no one came out of the womb magically knowing  the names of the sounds!

August 19, 2009 at 11:53 PM ·

Back in 83-85 I knew a fellow Music Major who was blind and played the piano who had perfect pitch.  His name was Ray Paz.

August 20, 2009 at 01:04 AM ·


Apparently, perfect pitch is rather easily learned at an early stage in human development, but not later than that:

In China, and in other places where people speak tonal languages, the frequency of adults with perfect pitch is many times higher than in places in which languages without tones are spoken.

It is also interesting to note that most of us have perfect "visual pitch" though, of course, we usually don't call it that. We just try to make sure that youngsters "know their colors" before starting school... It appears that we could train kids to have perfect (auditory) pitch just as easily were we to put the same effort into making sure that youngsters "knew their tones" at the same point in their development.

All the best,


August 20, 2009 at 01:56 AM ·

I dont like the idea of perfect pitch I find it sometimes...boring. Everything just needs to be done in a smart way really. With perfect pitch everything is just too unified.

August 20, 2009 at 10:11 AM ·

Some people are innately better and recognizing frequencies than others. Being able to associate those specific frequencies with note letter names instantaneously is what we often define as "perfect pitch." It's a great thing to have!

The issues arise when someone with said "perfect pitch" is inflexible when it comes to tuning intervals, insisting on absolute positions of notes in the frequency range rather than defining the sound of an interval by the distance between the notes (regardless of the actual placement of the pitches on an absolute scale).

August 20, 2009 at 11:21 AM ·

Ah putting name to pitchs is a very handy skill indeed. I can only do that with A unfortunatenly haha :( I'll work my way up to A#

August 20, 2009 at 01:32 PM ·

 When I started my musical education, I had 0 recognition of pitches.

It quickly developed into relative pitch.

Now I have relative pitch and perfect pitch on my instrument.  This is quite common at my university.

August 20, 2009 at 01:53 PM ·

"Perfect Pitch:  That which strikes the batter out every time without fail"

August 20, 2009 at 03:01 PM ·

Don't know about others...

You can develop relative pitch, but you can't develop perfect pitch.

You're more flexible if you have relative pitch, especially when playing non-standard tuning (imagine those who play baroque music where e.g. A=415).

I believe Paganini didn't have perfect pitch, as he did not have a standard tuning for his concerts. I remember reading somewhere here on about what Paganini did on the tuning, something like tune 3 semitone higher sometimes.

Playing out of tune instrument is like a nightmare for perfect pitch musicians, imagine you swap your gas pedal with break pedal on your car, you try to accelerate but your car stop, you try to stop your car but your car accelerate. This is what they felt when they play out of tune (non standard tuning).

August 20, 2009 at 03:46 PM ·

I did not start with perfect pitch, but over the years have developed a perfect A, only, from setting up so many violins. Unfortunately it's a baroque A, so after I tune a violin I go around again and crank everything up a half step, and it's there. :-)

August 20, 2009 at 11:08 PM ·

As per Roland and the study link.

My boy did this and had perfect pitch despite some technical problems with the interface. He has always had it since I can remember and can find the pitch of non-musical tones as well as musical tones. Thanks for the fun link.

As per methods, we were very careful at the beginning to always make sure he listened to instruments that were in-tune and played on instruments that were in tune. Also, we bought a digital piano because we were worried that traditional pianos go out of tune so quickly that we wanted to make sure he never played on anything that was way out of tune. I was very sensitive about this because I think I had much better pitch at a very young age but our piano was often out of tune and I think this caused confusion for me on what the notes sounded like. He has great relative pitch too and handles those and almost "real time" transpositions" on the fly.  I asked him about playing with others who were out of tune and he said is able to do that as well but he tunes to the out of tune piano if need be and then adjusts the notes that are really bad if need be.  As a very young toddler he took Orff for 3 years and has some experiences with solfege off and on for 8 years. Many hours, many etudes, many scales etc. Also, the kid has has an amazing memory for patterns. He can hear things or see things once or twice and can repeat them almost verabtim. This is with music or pictures, pretty much anything you put in front of him. A funny example is that in the Guitar Hero he sings and gets very high scores on the intonation of those old rock songs. Some near perfect. When I try it is many points lower. So he thinks of the note he wants and then sings it to match what is in his head. A transposition for example happens in his head very quickly and then comes out as voice or on the violin. When he writes songs he sings out notes and then one of us jots them down on the staff paper for example. They are always right too which makes me rather jealous some days.

He has played around with Practica Musica some and liked it very much. In particular he found the interval section very challenging and fun. While he use to cover his ears at recitals as a 4 year old he told me has learned to adapt and bad intonation does not drive him nuts anymore although he still finds it annoying to some degree in his orchestra section. He just adjusts the tones in his mind. He told me he is aware of tone, "all the time day in, day out", much like others are aware of color or weather or something that is pervasive. That is not a method but it was our approach and it seemed to work well enough for his purposes.

August 21, 2009 at 01:22 AM ·

I actually when to a summer Govenor's School program for visual and performing arts.  I actually met a girl who had perfect pitch.  It was pretty cool, but she didn't think it was anything special. 

Personally, if someone could play or sing a note and I could name the note and get it right 95% of the time.  But that's just because I compare it to the constant droning 'A' in my head.  I hear that 'A' all the time because you hear it in orchestra all the time to tune and I tune with it to practice everyday.  Recently it's I'm beginning to hear more notes immediately like 'F' and 'G'... I don't know why.   However, I don't know if you'd call this perfect pitch...

August 21, 2009 at 03:50 AM ·

Lawrence, that's not perfect pitch. Perfect pitch musicians can even recognize any pitch from any sound - spoon dropped on the floor, door knocking, coin tossing, etc.

And they recognize pitch immediately and can tell you right away what note is that, without comparing to anything, and they are 100% correct, hence the word "perfect" pitch. They can even tell you the pitch is slightly lower/higher than the nearest pitch.

August 21, 2009 at 05:55 AM ·

I think most people would consider that perfect pitch and if somebody can actually do that they probably would be able to eventually identify the pitches of normal sounds. 

In my experience though, people who claim to be able to accurately tune one pitch are usually off by some amount and have convinced themselves that they can tune an A accurately.  Even some very experienced musicians have insisted that I tune to  a "good A" and when compared to my tuning fork or tuner are insisting on a Bb. 

I have many friends who have "overcome" their perfect pitch.  It's not as much of a blessing as you'd think and I wouldn't make an effort to try to aquire it. 

August 21, 2009 at 08:44 AM ·

People with perfect pitch are able to sing or at least hum the named pitch without any point of reference.  I had a friend in college who had perfect pitch.  He was able to sing a named pitch or identify a played pitch during a "blindfold test" regardless of the instrument.

I also have a young student whom I strongly suspect to have perfect pitch.  She's four years old.  I played something for her (she was not looking at my fingers) and she exclaimed "oh! you played a D!"  I had played a third finger on the A string which was not a note that she could play at that point.  So I asked her why she said that and she said it was becuase it was the same sound as an open D.  I was curious, so at her next lesson I asked her to sing me an open E and then an open A without any help from me.  She nailed both pitches.

I think that perfect pitch does exist.  But I think it's just an ability and nothing more.  People with perfect pitch can identify sounds as easily as some would name a color.  This is useful to have when in college doing melodic dictation lol.  But I don't think it makes someone a better or worse musician.  It's like if you were to put that in the context of an art career.  One person may be able to identify sky blue versus navy blue while another person may not.  Does that really affect their ability to paint a beautiful picture?  Not really.

August 21, 2009 at 09:02 AM ·


When I was in the US Army in my early 20s I was asked to play my violin for an Easter sunrise service at the local post chapel. There was no rehearsal and when I got there the organist gave me the “A” which was horribly flat. I then told the organist to play the organ’s B flat which turned out to be almost identical to my “A” and I re-tuned my violin. The organist then gave me the solo part for J.S. Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”

The solo part is a perpetual motion of triplets from beginning to end. I looked at the sheet music and it was a band part for D flat flute with a key signature of 5 flats.

I was still groggy at 5:45 in the morning and not capable of wrestling with this thorny problem of music theory. I told the organist to play whatever notes there were in the first chord. Then I slid up to the first note and started playing the triplets by intervals, the tune from what I remembered from playing the piece a few years ago, and by using sheer finger memory. If I would have thought about pitches it would have been a total disaster. I played about 95 % of the notes and faked the rest.

Ted Kruzich

August 21, 2009 at 03:52 PM ·

Your contributions to this thread are interesting, but what I specifically meant is :

Do you know anyone who, after studying music for some time and knowing very well that he/she didn't have perfect pitch, one day bought a method and VOILA' - developed perfect pitch !  At this point, I might say, even if we get one or two cases, it simply doesn't seen to be a thing we can learn in a course... and we have to admit, people are wasting money for nothing...

August 21, 2009 at 06:31 PM ·

I don't see why you couldn't train yourself.  It would take a lot of work, but it could theoretically be possible.

August 21, 2009 at 07:38 PM ·

David Lucas Burge,

he has 25 or so cd's on developing perfect pitch.
it isn't impossible to develope it....


August 21, 2009 at 08:00 PM ·

I'm not convinced that perfect pitch can be developed, but even if it could, why would you want to?  Is there any practical use for it?  If you wanted to be a better violinist, wouldn't you be better off spending that time practicing violin, rather than practicing perfect pitch?


August 21, 2009 at 10:54 PM ·

I'm pretty sure a violinist with perfect pitch would still have to work on intonation since it is more of a finger placement issue rather than having a good ear/perfect pitch.  I don't see how perfect pitch would help anyone in that area.

August 22, 2009 at 02:03 PM ·

For what's worth mentioning, perfect pitch student tends to have a bad habit of randomly finding the finger position until they get the pitch they want, instead of trying to figure out the finger position that falls on the correct pitch and practice it patiently.

Sometimes they still don't really catch the correct pitch though, the pitch is close but not quite acceptable.

The only thing I can see that's helping is when you're playing unaccompanied pieces like Bach, where you can go out of tune slightly (I can go off 1 semitone sometime!) so you'll notice it right away.

August 22, 2009 at 05:57 PM ·

I developed perfect pitch, without really trying, and without even knowing what perfect pitch was.

I started out with no idea what pitch anything was.

My teacher made me a long-term assignment of listening to classical recordings as much as possible.  Every week I had to show her a list of what new pieces I had heard, and what pieces I had gotten to know well enough that I could recognize them at any point (not just the opening of the 1st movement).

After awhile I noticed that I could tell what every note was when someone was playing the flute (my instrument).  Then I started being able to tell on the violin, and that turned out to be true for all the string instruments.  Gradually I could tell the pitches on more & more instruments.  The last ones were piano (because every note seemed to have the same timbre) and the voice (because different instruments don't sound alike).  

Eventually I got so I could identify the pitch of anything -- any instrument, someone dinging on a wine glass, my cat saying "meow," anything that made a pitch.  Finally I realized I could produce any pitch, if I thought of it in my head first before singing/whistling.

People have told me it's not "really" perfect pitch because I wasn't born with it.   I don't know if that's true, and I don't really care! :-D

August 22, 2009 at 08:51 PM ·

I don't consider myself as having perfect pitch, and I'm fine with that. I play a lot of fiddle, with assorted tunings, listen to a lot of vintage recordings, etc., etc. Over the years, though, I seem to have memorized an A. I haven't my violin out in a couple days, and just tested myself. I "imagined" bowing an A, hummed what I heard in my head, and confirmed it was 440 on my metronome/tuner. :) So I guess at this point I could parlay that into a workable version of perfect pitch. Sue

August 29, 2009 at 08:54 AM ·

There are so many different theories on perfect pitch, can be quite confusing.

I've been a bit of a guinea pig when it comes to this subject - here's why:-

I remember hearing my mother practiving her piano scales like crazy when I was very young (still a baby).  Apparently I then used to sit in my cot singing "Ooh waa waa" up and down a one octave scale in the middle of the night.  Enough to drive my parents nuts.

I started learning to play piano when I was 4.  We had an old pianola that was just a fraction flatter than concert pitch (important to note).

When I was about 6 or 7, my mother was testing me on aural tests (AMEB) many years back when the examiner would play a note on the piano and you would have to say what it was.  I managed to say the correct note each time and got in dreadful trouble from my mother for cheating, until she had her mother put her hands over my eyes to make sure I couldn't see in any window reflections, off the wall etc.

Many other tests were done, and they realised that I had developed perfect pitch, or absolute pitch as my music teachers told me later.

My high school music teachers had an asbolute ball testing me on this, and they came to the conclusion that my memory had the notes on my mother's pianola ingrained in my memory, to have my "inbuilt tuning fork" adjusted to just below concert pitch - the same pitch our pianola was at.  Very interesting!

They used to hammer out notes, delighted that I could name them, and also took turns blindfolding me for 'testing purposes'.  Odd thing too was that I couldn't quite get the really really high notes on the piano, or the really low notes.  To this day those notes sound a little more jumbled up.

Also, if you ask me to sing a note - I can!

Also interesting - A above middle C is the absolute easiest note I can get - with difficulty at all.  To hear the other notes though, I have to search around in my memory a bit more before I sound it.

I guess my point is that with the testing I've had, and my own personal experience - it's a learned thing in your memory.  I don't know why my memory decided to store that information.  It also has its disadvantages - I think some days I totally chose the wrong profession as a violin teacher as a student playing the wrong note is physically painful, and will send shivers of pain down my spine.  I also have to switch to relative pitch if for eg a CD is out of tune and block out the fact that it's slightly flat or sharp but hey!

It does help me play in tune much better ;)

August 29, 2009 at 08:59 AM ·

Oh, and I have to add that I would really LOVE for someone to empty the petrol out of the truck that hides near me... its low pitched lengthy vibrating 'hum' is terribly out of tune and leaves me with a migraine :(

September 17, 2009 at 02:44 AM ·

All you naysayers, I did not have perfect pitch before the age of nine (the age when I started the violin) and probably not until first hearing the Brahms Concerto, which I loved and wanted to commit to memory.  Being a bit anal, I would not be satisfied to hum incorrect pitches to myself.  I began by just remembering 'D,' then 'D--F#-D-B-A,' etc.

Funny, I was going to reference Daniel Levitin's experiment showing that people with no musical training can learn fixed pitch memory -- only they used labels like Fred and Ethel instead of F and E. 

Yes, it does have practical applications.  It enables me to notate/arrange/transcribe music quickly by ear; I don't bother with a keyboard and I don't have to look up the key of a piece.  I also used to improvise in church a lot; I never needed music, a stand, or hardly any supervision by the pianist.  Very convenient for everyone involved!

Let's not even get into "pitched" and "unpitched" percussion, which from what I understand are misnomers.  Also, I don't need PP at all when applying set theory -- thank goodness!

September 17, 2009 at 03:08 AM ·

The case of Nicole and Bruce are doubtful, and for many it will appear to confirm the opposite: you both were not aware of what perfect pitch was, and simply needed the proper training to get it handed.

Anyone born with the perfect pitch "plugins" will also need a formal and focused musical education to know it, and one may find this out only at a later stage.

If factually it would be possible to develop it as an adult, then the method applied should work for most people, not just for a few, who probably had it from childhood, but didn't know it.

September 17, 2009 at 04:03 AM ·

Fine, don't believe me.  It took many failed attempts before I could remember D.  Now maybe it was easier for me the way higher calculus is easy for my best friend, but an inclination is not the same as "being born with" something, "having it or not having it."  So much discussion on the topic suffers from imprecise language. 

As someone with a music ed background, I am wondering why you assume that one method would necessarily work for most people.  Or why you are making an across-the-board comparison between learning in early adolescence and learning as an "adult"; I only said I was not younger than 9.   Learning something truly new as an adult is generally harder (though not by any means impossible).  Going back to Levitin and neuroscience, the brain streamlines its connections as we age -- literally use it or lose it.  There was an extreme case of a girl who had been kept captive in awful conditions with minimal social interaction until she was discovered at the age of 13.  She learned words but grammar and syntax eluded her for the rest of her life.  Clearly it would be an understatement to say there's an advantage to starting early.

 You need to factor in relevance and desire, too; not everyone would consider it a worthwhile effort to remember pitches, or delve into astrophysics. 

September 17, 2009 at 05:25 AM ·

I wrote a short blog here on the subject:

I have come to the conclusion that I do not know what the actual practical application would be for perfect pitch (if any), but there is a great deal of  practical application involved when it comes to the ability to practice relative pitch (playing in tune and/or playing by ear). There are a great too many "gimmicks" that are presented to the public looking for something that can easily be aquired through simple listening exercises. I am particularly amused at the ads that claim one can become a master violinist in a few lessons!

I used to use phonograph records and play along with some Vivaldi concerti (often the recordings were slightly higher in pitch due to the speed of the turntable unless there was a pitch control on the turntable). Cassette tape machines were often notoriously high in pitch and it was a blessing when CDs arrived on the scene. This is a great exercise to train the ear to hear relative pitch and develop a good ear. It would seem that perfect pitch is only relative to what is considered as "standard" pitch. We consider it at 'A=440 today, but it is possible that that could change in the future. The interval space always remain the same in all keys, no matter what the tuning standard is.

September 17, 2009 at 05:56 AM ·

 There are hundreds of people in this community who have been playing for hours daily  since many years, but ask them how many developed perfect pitch. Many violin heroes don't have it and possibly many great composers also didn't . Do you think they lacked interest, skill or practice?

Unless we speak of an inborn capacity (though needing to be explored), how to explain it? I know several people who simply cannot sing a note in tune, with the best efforts. Isn't that a physical limitation too? Not to speak that some people hardly hear, and others are totally deaf.  Some animals can hear a way more than the humans. It seems easier  to assume that we are dealing with something biological here.

As said above, some may develop a perfect pitch in their own instrument, but not for anything else. That could be classified as an acquired skill, though much more limited than the "full fledged" perfect pitch.



September 17, 2009 at 08:26 AM ·

I just think it's interesting, the people who are adamant that it cannot be learned in the face of those who say they did.  They must believe that those who claim they learned it are:



-using a different definition of the term

-proof of the contrary, but must be denied, nevertheless

I myself have gained a pretty good sense of pitch memory over the years.  I believe that it is partly inherited, and partly due to exposure and effort to remember pitches.  I don't believe that everyone can be good at this, just as I believe that not everyone can be good at basketball.  Some people have the ability to learn it, and some people were born already fully ingrained, and some people will never be able to learn it.   I also believe it matters little in the realm of musical achievement.  Whether or not one should invest money in the pursuit of its aquisition is up to the individual to decide.

September 17, 2009 at 01:06 PM ·

I agree with Emily about part inheritted and part the context you are in (exposure).   My dad is the most non-musician you could find but he can whistle and remember any melodies he hears on the radio.   He is the only one in my family like this.  I am the children amongst my siblings who has herited the most from him physically (don't worry I look like a girl lol) and mentally. I am the one who has the most ear and natural pitch of my family except that I have the musician's personnality as he doesn't at all. (he would smash it at the first wrong note...)  In kindergarden, my teacher told my mom to inscribe me in music classes but she didn't since my parents though music was a "slavery" thing. (because you practice and practice and practice)

I just learned later on (when I decided to play violin) to put names on what I hear.  I don't think my ear has become better but I think I just learned how to name things and intervals.  Inconsciously when you sing something in tune or find a melody on a piano, you have an interval knowledge even if you ignore it because not musically trained yet, no?


September 17, 2009 at 02:15 PM ·

I have perfect pitch.I didn't have it as a child. I had musical training throughout my childhood., but I didn't develop it until I started playing the violin in my late teens.

September 17, 2009 at 02:29 PM ·

I just think it's interesting, the people who are adamant that it cannot be learned in the face of those who say they did.  They must believe that those who claim they learned it are:



-using a different definition of the term

-proof of the contrary, but must be denied, nevertheless

That's just what I was thinking, Emily.

Some people may be able to acquire perfect pitch passively, i.e. by practicing the violin, but I did it by actually practicing perfect pitch.**  Where motivation is concerned, Rick, please don't put words in my mouth.  I just mean that some people among the general population may appear not to be able to do it because they a) never had a reason to try, or b) tried and gave up.  I never said it wasn't easier for some than for others, but that's true of a lot of endeavors.

My friend, the aforementioned rocket scientist, tried it for a while in college but would get frustrated quickly and write himself off as hopeless.  Adults especially are at a disadvantage, not just for perfect pitch either.  "Pruning' happens in the brain (not Buri's prunes!), then add the inhibitions of self-consciousness and pressure.  Every year my teacher had those Suzuki-style recitals where you line the kids up from tall to short, you know, and with a lot of those kids I could practically see the moment they became self-conscious enough to be nervous.

My friend was self-conscious about his singing.  He had to slurp into notes to find them even though, as he told me, he could hear them just fine in his head.  The singing voice is muscle-based.  Those muscles aren't usually going to snap to attention overnight, and it can be tricky to figure out at first because you have to do it by feel.  Comparing physical limitations to mental limitations is apples and oranges; we are talking about things a lot less tangible than, say, not being able to play the violin because you are missing a hand.

**For what it's worth: nobody in my immediate family was a musician.  Our house wasn't devoid of music but it wasn't full of it either. 

September 17, 2009 at 03:51 PM ·

I am not necessarily taking part in any group, but from the previous posts it appears that the NO-party is the majority. Marty may be a bonafide example of one who developed perfect pitch as an adult and after long musical education, but a single case doesn't make rule.

I am not sure that having it or not is 100% a neurological factor. If anyone has any evidence, let me know. Every note is followed by a harmonic series consisting in many other notes, but normal people can perceive only a few of them: is this purely neurological or physical too? Those with perfect pitch speak of the notes'  'colors', while the others have no idea of what they are taking about- is this purely neurological or physical too?

In case it is really 100% neurological, it would be interesting to know how  possibly many musical geniuses with highly developed brains and skills could be lacking something that eventually even some barely musically educated people have. (no offense is meant here)

September 17, 2009 at 04:11 PM ·

To be fair, your tagline was "Do you really know anyone who developed perfect pitch?"  Not whether everyone can do it, or if adults can do it (the latter could be inferred from your OP, but only indirectly, since most children don't have that kind of disposable income).

Can it be done?  Yes.  That is a simple question with a simple answer.  Do these pay methods work better than informal ones, or at all, and why?  That's more complicated.


September 17, 2009 at 04:31 PM ·

 I don't agree that it is or it isn't. 

I had a teacher who could pick out the missing note in a chromatic cluster that in cluded 11 of the 12 notes of the scale.

My sister could do it with a diatonic cluster of six notes out of seven

I have a friend who can sing themes musical works  and he always starts in the right key but he disclaims instant pitch recognition. 

There are others. Everyone I have known who claimed any degree of it also said that they had to train it.

September 17, 2009 at 04:36 PM ·

>To be fair, your tagline was "Do you really know anyone who developed perfect pitch?"  Not >whether everyone can do it, or if adults can do it

I also wrote "...was wondering how many of those customers reached the goal promised..."  from which you may conclude that I am also concerned with numbers.

>Do these pay methods work better than informal ones, or at all, and why?  That's more >complicated.

Thank you for coming back to the point. So far we didn't have a single case that fits in this category, but in an old thread there were some who frankly admitted it was useless...

September 18, 2009 at 12:24 AM ·

I agree about the "trained"  but I think (my opinion only) that most of the ear training lessons (except at a super high level like university, masters and phd) is just to put names on things we naturally can do or hear since a very young age.    Sure, ear training lessons are also there so that one can get faster than it would naturally be but does getting faster and gaining sigh reading abilities are considered "ear"??? 

per example, when I was 4-5, if someone would have played a dominant seventh (without telling me it is named a dominant 7th) and would have said, sing the same or sing a similar thing starting from a key they chose to press on the piano, I could have done it but I wouldn't have had a heck of an idea this is named a dominant 7th. My kindergarden teacher said to my mom that I sang transposed things naturally to make jokes with other kids at the same time they sang but I had no idea I made transposition when I did the thing.  Of course, to read it, recognize it and sign it fast is much harder and this is why ear training exists but the basic notion is there since a young age even if the young kid ignores it (I think).   

  Of course, they always put it more and more complex but to the point that it isn't natural anymore (like atonal dictations etc) is a very high level that usually, we  don't need to perform music. Pavarotti (sory for the spelling) was this extraordinairy famous opera signer and didn't read music so he surely didn't do harmony and ear training in the traditional way... Still his natural ear was probably perfect ennough to perform at this high level. He could probably hear things as well as someone trained who knows the real name of things.

Am I wrong to think that many many things related to ear are "there" since birth and that ear training (except at a very high level) is mostly to put names on things and help you to go faster and associate things (between what you see and what you must sing) etc because this is not so natural ?    Thus can we say one has no ear before taking lessons and has better ear after?  When we say the ear is trained, is it just that one aquires the "culture" to know what he or she hears???   I often wonder...

In the same way that I believe a musician is the same musician since birth (since day 1 on instrument when everything was scratchy...) but that music lessons is there to show you how to materialize what is in your head (the musical ideas you have in your head)...

Maybe I say this because I'm a late starter that though like an adult when I started to play so I am convinced I have always been the same musician in my head. lol   

interesting topic!!!


September 18, 2009 at 03:46 AM ·

I can sing back almost all intervals that my teacher plays but ask me to name the internval or the note and I get confused. [unless its a 440 A]

What would you say that is?

@Anne-Marie , I agree with your thoughts. Its to learn what is accepted in the culture mostly. I'd say an east vs west ear training would be differnet. So many intervals in Indian music

September 18, 2009 at 06:43 AM ·

I have absolute pitch, but I don't remember when I actually realized I had it. I think I first realized I had it when I told my Dad our vacuum was an F#.

And, as people have been saying before, absolute pitch is not something you are born with. It is acquired through a certain critical period of development around age 5 and I believe there's another one around 11 or 12. It's like learning a language at an early age. Learning the language through that developmental period helps one to understand certain complexities and nuances of the language that someone else might not grasp when learning it as an adult.

I've read also that it is a skill centered in the language area of the brain. Apparently it helps to recognize phonemes (speech sounds) in languages. I've also noticed that people with absolute pitch tend to have an uncanny ability to recognize voices (cartoons, anime, etc) which really isn't useful at all but I've impressed a few friends with it, haha.

As for transposition, I played Bb trumpet in high school and didn't find any problems transposing, although I've met people with AP that have a terrible time doing it.

I don't think I would ever give it up for anything really. I enjoy listening to music in my head way too much, which ended up being the bane of my High School teachers and my marks, lol.

September 18, 2009 at 11:01 AM ·

Innate and acquired arguments are both partly true.

To name a note the common relative ear compare the note frequency to a reference note frequency say A440. Absolute ear needs not to  hear the reference frequency that is stored in a special auditory memory.So absolute pitch has a "inner tuner"

Comparison of frequency is more or less easy according to the frequency difference . This  discriminating ability  to perceive frequencies depends upon inner ear cells that are highly developped in absolute pitch. It may be inhanced by training but in anycase will decrease with age and cause problems to musician with asolute pitch.

Interpretation of frequencies depends upon right brain while ability to name note dwells on left brain.

Absolute pitch has left brain more developped than right one along with special auditory memory and high specialized inner ear cells.

Since absolute pitch is more frequent in musicians family (Bach,Mozart ) or some culture (Japanese), the evolved hypothesis is that,  like languages, every new born has a universal ability that is built in some directions with learning before the age 7

September 18, 2009 at 11:45 AM ·

I am a little astonished how misinformed people are.  You can't develop perfect pitch.  It is an anomaly, really a hindrance as much as anything, extremely rare, and not even necessary for musical ability.  Relative pitch, on the other hand, can and must be developed in the context of string pedagogy.  Anyone saying they developed perfect pitch is simply misinformed. 

September 18, 2009 at 11:52 AM ·

wow ! Here is someone with a strong position. Of course, there are several people there waiting for you to back up this definite statement...

September 18, 2009 at 01:46 PM ·

 The best definition of perfect pitch that I heard is when you throw a viola into the rubbish bin and it doesn't touch the sides! 

September 18, 2009 at 01:52 PM ·

Martin - that is a perfect pitch, indeed, bravo! I'd define absolute pitch as when you can do the same thing with a conductor! ;-)

Ok, I hope to respond more seriously when I have more time - for I did indeed, develop perfect pitch (sans viola toss ) as a teenager.

September 18, 2009 at 05:54 PM ·

Connie,I think you a little misunderstood me. Absolute pitch is genetic with specific brain conditions and concern as well musician as non musician . It cannot be acquired by training.

However it seems that every one has originally the same potential like language. Connie born in USA speaks english because is initial surrounding was american english but the Connie with same genetics born in China or in France would have spoken Chinese or French.

I agree that absolute pitch is sometimes a disadvantage especially in orchestra when the tuning changes or when the ear gets older because of  the loss of discrimination of near frequencies


September 18, 2009 at 05:58 PM ·

 I only know Perfect Pitch and Relative Pitch.  You're saying Absolute and Perfect Pitch are the same?  Then I agree if you say it is genetically inherent and cannot be acquired by study (I think we do agree).

I could be wrong about this (I frequently am wrong about things, and more than willing to admit it!), but unless I am mistaken, this is not an opinion, but an established fact, backed by clear and convincing data -- that other people need to look up.  I'm sorry;  no time.  But I'm certain.

Not to single out anyone in particular (I don't recall who wrote this), but to state that "I developed perfect pitch" is inconceivable.  It's just not possible.  Relative pitch, yes.  See Slonimsky's book by that name;  it may be in there:

Perfect Pitch:  An Autobiography


September 18, 2009 at 06:21 PM ·

Nicole, can you say what is the pitch of the post above ?  :D

September 19, 2009 at 12:39 AM ·

I strongly urge you to look up David Lucas Burge and his Perect Pitch Program. Before listening to him, I thought perfect pitch was an unattainable magic trick. Mr. Burge teaches you how to naturally open your ear, and he answers virtually every question about developing perfect pitch in his program. It costs a bit of money, but it's totally worth it!

September 19, 2009 at 04:21 AM ·

I'll tell you what, for those who don't believe that I developed perfect pitch, I invite you to come to Oklahoma and meet me. We'll find two pianos, you can play as many notes as you want and I will play them right back for you. I didn't have perfect pitch when I was a child. As a young teenager I did a lot of arrangements of pieces (mostly Danny Elfman soundtracks) from a cassette tape using my keyboard. I did this for hours a day and I believe that contributed to my development of perfect pitch. I would listen for each and every note being played on the tape and I plunked it out on the piano. It was only after I started to play the violin (at age 18) that I was really able to start recognizing pitches by name. I was NOT able to do this when I was a child. 

September 19, 2009 at 08:18 AM ·

Ambiguity lies on Marty 's exemple.To memorize an whole melody then  accompanied melody is the aim of  training and a importance hindrance to get music degree(at least in France). This abilty is more or less acquired by training according to pupil's gift but  complete achievement  does'nt mean necessary absolute pitch which requires no reference sound.

I personnally can name all notes of a melody but most of the time ,a tone too low ,probably because of a long practice of clarinet

September 19, 2009 at 02:08 PM ·

If I use Solfege (sp?) I do pretty good.

September 19, 2009 at 03:06 PM ·

Sorry, it's too high-pitched, I'll have to get my neighbor's dog to hum it down a few octaves for me. :P

I'm surprised that no one wants to make more of the Daniel Levitin example I mentioned, which appears in This Is Your Brain On Music p. 149-151.  If I'm reading it correctly, it seems that half the test subjects were given some context to respond to and the other half were not; still, he writes, they "were overwhelmingly able to reproduce or recognize 'their' note."  What I found so striking reading about this experiment for the first time, and still do today, is how familiar it sounds.  It's basically the way I learned.  I chose a single pitch to start with and branched out from there using relative pitch.  Today I can name pitches without comparing them to D first.  

Bear in mind that I have practiced pitch memory almost incessantly for something like 15 years -- even as I sit here writing I have a mental soundtrack playing.  Come to think of it, why would anybody want to do that if they didn't already?  It's insane.

September 19, 2009 at 05:11 PM ·

I echo Nicole:  Fine, don't believe me.

I can't answer the argument that this is impossible to learn, except from my own experience.  I did not used to have the ability to sing something in the right key, and now I do.  Call that whatever you want.

Here's my understanding of the terms we're using.  My understanding might be wrong.  (Or it must be wrong, according to some.  Whatever.)

Relative pitch = ability to hear the relationships between pitches.  My partner has this:  he can't tell you what key a piece has modulated to, but he can say it is, for example, flat VI and then figure out that if the piece started in C major, it is now in A-flat.   Also, because he hears relationships instead of pitches, he can basically play anything in any key.  I was turning pages once for him at a vocal master class (he's a pianist) and the teacher told the student, "I think this key is a little too low for your voice.  Try it in F."  My partner played the piece in F.  Then the teacher said "Better, but now try it in G."  He played it in G.  They did this with 3 or 4 different keys, none of which posed a problem.

Perfect pitch = the simple ability to tell what note something is.  This is what I have.  I could hear a car horn, for example, and be able to say "That's an A."  440 or 441, I would probably not be able to tell.  This would include the ability to produce a pitch on demand, although perhaps not at precisely A-440 or 441 or whatever.

Absolute pitch = the ability to tell if a note heard in isolation is sharp or flat (according to some preset standard).  Example:  if someone hears that same car horn from the previous example and is able to say "That was an A-441."  This would also include the ability to produce such a precise pitch on demand.

I agree in advance with anyone who says the final two terms are confusing and imprecise.  These are just the names I learned for things.

September 19, 2009 at 07:01 PM ·

Nicole, in your first post you wrote:

>All you naysayers, I did not have perfect pitch before the age of nine

And now you say:

>Bear in mind that I have practiced pitch memory almost incessantly for something like 15 years -- even as I sit here writing I have a mental soundtrack playing.  Come to think of it, why would anybody want to do that if they didn't already?

Actually everyone here can wonder how someone who claims to have gotten perfect pitch at the age of 9 would need to practise pitch memory for 15 years.


  >It's insane.

You are saying it...

September 20, 2009 at 11:02 PM ·

I can understand why you are confused, but all I can say is that even when you're always right, it's still practice.  It's not the time to become complacent.  I didn't just get it like John Travolta's character in "Phenomenon" just gets psychokinesis, so I don't think it is at all shocking that it would benefit from maintenance.

I stand by my assertion that it was not prior to the age of nine (this can be confirmed by the 1994 release of Anne-Sophie Mutter's Mendelssohn/Brahms, which was the first recording I ever heard of the latter).  Nine plus fifteen equals my current age, 24.  The only reason I can't nail it down more is because I was older than that when I got the CD, but I don't remember how old.

September 21, 2009 at 02:17 AM ·

OK - time for my 2 cents. I've scanned a lot of the previous posts, but haven't read everything, so I hope I won't be too redundant.

I think that most people would define perfect pitch (Henceforth abreviated as "PP") as the ability to recognize and a name a note that is being played w.o. any reference to any other note. Closely related is the ability to sing any particular note that is asked for.

I would cite the above as a useful definition, but I feel that there is more to it, and will shortly come back to it. But first I'd like to speculate a bit on what goes into it. I think that it is a certain kind of memory as well as an intrinsic kind of recognition of a note where most would need a reference point of at least one other note to figure out (relative pitch). Try this experiment: lift your right hand. That was a no-brainer, right? Well, not for everybody! Some people might hesitate for a second and say "wait - which is my right?" I'm talking about otherwise intelligent people whose brains are somehow wired such that an intrinsic, immediate recognition of their right (or left) arm is not a given. As soon as you tell them "this is your left', they certainly immediatley deduce that the remaining choice must be their right. It's a kind of relative pitch for them. OK - for most of us, again, such a test is a no-brainer. But what if we had 12 arms, instead of 2? Maybe immediately knowing which is, say, arm #7 would be a more difficult and rare ability.

I think that the above may convey some idea of what it feels like - at least to me. You see, I have perfect pitch, myself - sort of. That leads me to a more expanded view of "PP" I think that PP, like other musical abilities, lies along a spectrum. At its most acute level is someone who, if you put your whole forearm down on a piano keyboard, they can name every single note of that 15 note or so tone cluster, top to bottom or bottom to top, w.o. a mistake, and w.o. a moment's hesitaion. Very few PP-ers are at that level. I'm certainly not. Others can infallibly name single notes or tell you what key the music is in that is being played. As I write this from my apartment in Brooklyn's Coney Island, I'm being "treated" to a rather banal rock concert from a nearby stadium. I can't say that I'm enjoying it. But I can tell you that the current song is in E. Oh, they just changed to a song in C. This one is more paletable! I'm not infallible. I have times of greater and lesser acuity. I'll never confuse a D with an A. But on an off-day I might confuse say an A with an Ab. I believe that if tuning were more consistant, I would be, too. I'm not talking about the dubious vagaries of the 415 period-performance crowd - even though that does annoy the **** out of me. It's the more subtle vagaries that I think do it to me. I'll be listening on the radio to say an old piano recording where A=435 cps, and right after that to a modern recording by a European orchestra that tuned its A to say 444. So where and what is the A?

Now to the question of whether one is born with this ability or if one can develop it later in life. There is no doubt that sometimes one develops it later in life, because I did. For anyone who finds this "inconceiveable" you just need to accept facts over conceptions. I mean, why wouldn't I sooner brag that I was born with it? Wouldn't that be a bit more impressive? But that's not what happened in my case. I began violin at about 10, and it was not till was about 16 or 17 that I started developing it. If one were to argue that one is or is not born with a predisposition for it, I could accept that. But, not unlike certain diseases, that would not preclude its not manifesting, or manifesting at different times in different people. At any rate, I doubt that the Human Genome Project has weighed-in about this one way or the other.

Back to my teenage pitch day as I was about to put on a Heifetz record, I started to hum the opening of the piece in happy anticipation of the stellar performance I was about to hear. To my surprize, I was right on key. That hadn't happened before. Was this just a 12-to-1 coincidence? Well it started to happen more and more consistently, to the point that I could name/sing notes at will. My teacher said that with a lot of training he might be able to get me to that forearm-on-piano level, but I never took that too far. I also find that there is a vigilence aspect to it for me, as someone else mentioned. Some have preferred to let that vigilence lapse, as it is a mixed blessing. But I do find that it lends one more aspect of color and complexity to the musical experience. It helps me pick things up by ear - useful in certain gigs. But It certainly does not insure great intonation, where in the heat of battle, we can get into so many 'cracks'

Do these pp-training courses work? I don't know, as I haven't needed them. I think someone here said that they do work. Try it!

September 22, 2009 at 03:07 AM ·

I've come pretty close to perfect pitch a few times, within a half-step.  My favorite perfect pitch notes are G (using A Handel Celebration as a reference song), Bb (using the main title from Star Wars), and A (using that oboe which is forever engraved in my mind).

Never had perfect pitch training, just play a lot and listen to a lot of the same music.

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