Can you develop perfect pitch?

December 26, 2018, 5:41 PM · Is perfect pitch something that you either have or don’t have?

Is it possible to develop perfect pitch? If so, what can I do?

Replies (58)

December 26, 2018, 7:59 PM · No.
December 26, 2018, 9:29 PM · Yeah I don't think it's possible. Apparently the window of opportunity is around 3 years' old
December 26, 2018, 10:28 PM · there used to be an ad that ran on the back page of Strings, or Shar, or the Strad magazine - I forget which one - for a set of discs that promised to teach you perfect pitch. No idea if it works or not.

I think it is possible for most people to teach themselves to recognize a reference pitch - one of my theory teachers back in college had all of the students without perfect pitch sing an A daily and by the end of the semester most of them could produce it without any help (and so by working out the intervals figure out what other notes were).

December 26, 2018, 10:38 PM · It's possible to develop to some extent at least. I have an imperfect sense of perfect pitch, which sounds like a joke, but it's really an imperfect sense of absolute pitch, which I worked to achieve. Here is a good tool: http://pitchimprover.com/index.php?type=Perfect.

It was quite a lot of practice to get my current level of imperfect ability, and for example my son quite easily developed or had perfect pitch from less than three years old (but with a lot of exposure to music). However when I test him with two or more notes he sometimes get confused, so I would say even in the case of a young child with either an innate ability or an easy ability to acquire perfect pitch, more training is required.

Many people will say you can't learn perfect pitch, but you definitely can to some extent. What's the limit? I don't know, since I know I can learn more. People will respond that kids can learn it more easily and fluently, and why bother since relative pitch is what matters. But it's really a fun challenge and I believe it's a different and useful skill.

FYI I also tried the David Lucas Burge course at some point and did not find it helpful.

Finally here's the first thing I found when googling the topic: https://newatlas.com/adults-perfect-pitch-training/37786/.

Good luck, and please report back!

December 26, 2018, 10:58 PM · No, but you can learn relative pitch and memorize a reference pitch.
Edited: December 26, 2018, 11:07 PM · why don't you try then tell us what you've found. Have someone play a random note on a piano and see if you can ID the note. First, ID the note. Once you've mastered this ability, then have someone play a note on a string instrument and see whether you can tell if it's sharp or flat.

I have very good intonation (most the time), but I don't have perfect pitch. I can't name guitar or piano notes.

I can name notes on a violin, because I can hear other strings vibrate.

December 27, 2018, 3:42 AM · I was told that absolute pitch is possible to be "learnt" when our brain was rapidly developing when we were babies. As soon as we passed certain age (different for different people but we are talking about like 5), our brains pass the stage.

However, I have also heard that there are drugs (for epilepsy, I think) that affect the brain. Maybe it can get the brain back to that stage. However, gods know what other side effects it has and dosage you need.

Edited: December 27, 2018, 5:58 AM · Apparently the answer is yes: http://bfy.tw/LWXp

People I know who have had it tell me that it is curse. Imagine living in a world where a lot of what you hear is out of tune.

December 27, 2018, 6:34 AM · The jury is still out on whether you are born with a predisposition, or it is strictly learned, and under what circumstances.

I started musical training when I was 10 and ended up discovering that I had perfect pitch a couple of years later. Before that, in school, we sang folk songs here and there and sporadically messed around with recorder, guitar, and small percussion instruments, but I don’t know if I would call that real training, since we weren’t taught how to read, only touched them once a week, and nobody practiced, so I don’t know if that helped me to end up having it. I don’t speak a tone language, which is supposed to be really helpful, and based on what I read, I was supposed to be way too late.
I don’t remember even how I learned it. I never explicitly practiced identifying notes, and was shocked when my teacher stumbled upon it one lesson.

Edited: December 27, 2018, 7:45 AM · Its possible if you start learning at the age of 3-4. Ive taught my now almost 6 year old girl and she has a perfect pitch now in a sense that she can name notes played on the violin. At the moment Im teaching her the intervals and also to differentiate very small differencies in pitches within a note. If she continues playing the violin and with ear training she will probably later have a perfect pitch that will seem like she was born with it.

BUT it is not a true absolute pitch, its just that she has learned the names of the pitches. The purest form of perfect pitch is not what you get if you teach a child, its probably a kind of relative pitch with a very good ear for memorizing note pitches.

Many say having born with perfect pitch is not even good, but having a ”taught” perfect pitch is definately very very usefull. You dont know how usefull if you dont have it. But it takes a lot of time to teach especially when you have to plan the teaching from zero. But it can be done.

December 27, 2018, 7:47 AM · Everyone who says you can learn it as an adult is spewing hooplah. It is NOT possible. You can memorise a note, but you will forget it overnight (if not, 100% after 48 hours).

Only small children can learn perfect pitch.

Edited: December 27, 2018, 8:05 AM · Even if an adult were able to memorise, say, G3 - if you played them Bb6, they'd take a few minutes to calculate it, whereas the one person I knew with perfect pitch was more like the rain man - he'd tell you any note without any thinking time, and he wasn't a musician. There was a piano in their backroom, but no-one knew how to play it - genuine perfect pitch doesn't seem to be just memory, it seems to me to be some kind of autistic savant phenomenon.
December 27, 2018, 10:54 AM · In the past I would have said no. However, I'm not so sure anymore. I doubt someone can fully develop pitch past an early age and without fixed reference points. However, I have begun to be able to hear certain pitches on the piano, such as G5, clear as a bell in my mind. Strange at the age of 54. It's not from tuning, but from practicing piano. Maybe I've listened to the Goldberg Variations too many times...
December 27, 2018, 11:00 AM · I think you can learn it, but only as a child. I'm basing this off my two kids, who started at age 4/5 but were listening to music before that. My oldest has really extreme perfect pitch (the entire world sounds out of tune). I'm not sure when it developed, but it was definitely set by around age 8 or so. My youngest, who isn't as serious, seems to have close to perfect pitch. She's 9 and can name any note you play but doesn't hear notes in everything like her brother.

In my son's music program, about 25/30 have perfect pitch. The likelihood of that happening just by genetics is pretty low. Perfect pitch is also more common in people who speak languages that have pitch content, like a lot of Asian languages.

December 27, 2018, 11:25 AM · I think no one has "perfect pitch" in the strictest definition of the term. But all violinists should have great relative pitch to play well, which most people actually can develop with practice.

"Perfect pitch" is a lofty goal. Perfect in relation to what? Perfect 440 piano pitch? But the piano is usually "out of tune" because of tempered tuning. Perhaps what people mean by perfect pitch is high level relative pitch-otherwise none of it makes sense to me.

As babies we are not born with the capability of knowing what a 440-443 tone sounds like. We learn this, and memorize it to use later on.

Usually I think of A higher than 440, as I am used to slightly higher tuning. But it's easy to think of 440, because I learned it.

I think that having high-level relative pitch is so intrinsic to violin playing that bragging about having "perfect pitch" is more than a bit unbecoming and even silly. Of course you have "perfect pitch"-you play the violin! While I have seen a few more advanced players playing out of tune, I am sure one can reach a very high level of "perfect" pitch. Only once I witnessed someone who seemingly had an beyond-fixable ear, but in my experience, with practice most people can learn to have great relative pitch ("perfect pitch?"), violinists or otherwise.

Edited: December 27, 2018, 11:30 AM · I think no one has "perfect pitch" in the strictest definition of the term. But all violinists should have great relative pitch to play well, which most people actually can develop with practice.

"Perfect pitch" is a lofty goal. Perfect in relation to what? Perfect 440 piano pitch? But the piano is usually "out of tune" because of tempered tuning. Perhaps what people mean by perfect pitch is high level relative pitch-otherwise none of it makes sense to me.

As babies we are not born with the capability of knowing what a 440-443 tone sounds like. We learn this, and memorize it to use later on.

Usually I think of A higher than 440, as I am used to slightly higher tuning. But it's easy to think of 440, because I learned it.

I think that having high-level relative pitch is so intrinsic to violin playing that bragging about having "perfect pitch" is more than a bit unbecoming and even silly. Of course you have "perfect pitch"-you play the violin! While I have seen a few more advanced players playing out of tune, I am sure one can reach a very high level of "perfect" pitch. Only once I witnessed someone who seemingly had an beyond-fixable ear, but in my experience, with practice most people can learn to have great relative pitch ("perfect pitch?"), violinists or otherwise.

(Worth mentioning: "perfect" or relative pitch is useless if you still play out of tune. Playing the violin requires the mental discipline so we can put that "pitch hearing perfection" to use. I used to hate students criticizing the playing of others for being out of tune, brag about their own "superior" sense of pitch, but still play out of tune nonetheless.)

December 27, 2018, 12:04 PM · I agree with you Adalberto - what is perfect pitch? It can't be anything but perfect aural recall of something you have heard and were told the name of in childhood.
Edited: December 27, 2018, 12:37 PM · I don't see how "perfect pitch" can even be evaluated, unless the person being evaluated has some training, like having learned which note names correspond to the frequencies they are hearing.

At one time, I could nail a 440 A, and the conductor even used me to tune the orchestra, rather than the oboe. And I could instantly nail any other pitch based on a 440ish A frequency.

My mother was a pianist and organist, so I was heavily exposed to music, from the time I was in the womb. Is that the entire explanation? Probably not, since my sister (who does not have perfect pitch) had the same exposure.

An interesting aside is that my wife, who doesn't even know what the various definitions of perfect pitch are, will usually sing popular songs at exactly the right pitch and key.

December 27, 2018, 9:55 PM · "Everyone who says you can learn it as an adult is spewing hooplah. It is NOT possible. You can memorise a note, but you will forget it overnight (if not, 100% after 48 hours).
Only small children can learn perfect pitch."

Not sure why you want to be so dogmatic about a lack of knowledge/skill. People above have cited the ability to reliably recall a reference pitch. This ability is well known. If you can do it with one reference pitch, why not two or three or twelve?

I agree you'll forget the pitch after a short time. Same thing playing the violin. If you don't practice it you will lose it. Some learn more easily than others, but this is a skill that can be developed.

December 27, 2018, 10:13 PM · I've only ever met one person with absolute pitch. She was a violist, and said it was a handicap because she couldn't play in any ensemble that tuned to an A other than 440 and even had a hard time listening to recordings that were tuned to anything other than 440. She even found 443 a little jarring. It was as if 440 was hardwired as "A" early on.

I've heard the hypothesis that all people with absolute pitch have a defect in their inner ear that makes them either more or less sensitive to some specific frequency; absolute pitch would then be relative pitch in reference to that frequency.

FWIW, there's a study showing that absolute pitch is likely genetic, but actually being able to use it requires both the right genes and early musical training. Many people with the genes for absolute pitch likely never develop it because they lack the early exposure to music that would associate a name with a particular pitch.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/perfect-pitch-youve-eithe/

Edited: December 27, 2018, 10:31 PM · Memorizing notes is not perfect pitch. Perfect pitch is instantaneous; perfect pitch is hearing the note and knowing immediately that it's a C or an F# or whatever. If you have to stop and think "well, I know what C sounds like, and that was an augmented fourth higher than that C, so it must be F#", you don't have it.

I'm passionate about this because there's always that ONE GUY who thinks he can "learn perfect pitch" by doing note recognition exercises at age 50. If that worked, I would have it. There are so many "learn perfect pitch" scams out there, and people fall for them all the time...

December 27, 2018, 11:44 PM · You can't learn perfect pitch. It's innate, you either have it or you don't.

You can memorize reference pitch(es), but that's pitch memory and is different. What Cotton said.

December 28, 2018, 10:45 AM · What Dorian seems to be saying is that we should be able to recognize people without knowing them--that it is innate. Adalberto seems to be saying that if someone changes their shirt you won't recognize them.

Pitch memory IS perfect pitch, and isn't innate. You do have to learn to correlate letters with pitches at some point.

"Perfect in relation to what? Perfect 440 piano pitch? But the piano is usually "out of tune" because of tempered tuning"

Yes, people who are exposed to a 440 piano learn to identify pitch in relation to 440. It doesn't seem to matter that the other pitches are tempered--they are close enough. There is a "slop factor": those who have pitch ID can still recognize A440 even if it's slightly sharp or flat. They can still ID the other pitches regardless of the exact temperament used, or if the piano rose or fell. It's like being able to recognize someone instantly, even if they have on a hat, or sunglasses, or both. If your spouse came home from work with a mustache, you'd still recognize them. To a point...


What's the limit? Can a person immediately recognize the pitch of a piano tuned to 415 or 465? I don't know. The exact tolerance probably varies with the person.

I'm not sure what "higher level relative pitch is." I have the "highest level" relative pitch--I never missed a single interval question in all my years of training. Intervals are as obvious to me as the colors of the rainbow. But I don't have pitch ID--that is entirely different.

"...there's always that ONE GUY who thinks he can "learn perfect pitch" by doing note recognition exercises at age 50. If that worked, I would have it.

Not necessarily. Memory ability varies tremendously. Some people do have photographic memory. Some have lousy memories. Anyone who teaches for a living recognizes this. And by the way potheads: you're not helping your memory.

December 28, 2018, 9:48 PM · I’ll just leave this here:

https://youtu.be/816VLQNdPMM

December 29, 2018, 12:20 AM · "Can a person immediately recognize the pitch of a piano tuned to 415 or 465? I don't know. The exact tolerance probably varies with the person."

I can say all my early music colleagues with perfect pitch had a terrible time when they first started out because they were constantly oriented as a a high step off, and many would rather play at 430 because it's just not any of the pitches they have internalized.

I should amend my comment and say instead of innate (because that would imply it is 100% genetic), absolute pitch is an ability somehow acquired at very young age, and cannot be taught.

The Rick Beato video is great! That really ought to settle the essence of the discussion...

Edited: December 29, 2018, 3:31 AM · I don't understand why "perfect pitch" is such a big deal. Rick B. looks like a very nice man, but do we really have to treat our kids like trained monkeys?

It also seems to based on the misunderstanding that A = 440, which is not necessarily the case.

It's like believing cars are Ford, rather than the other way around.

December 29, 2018, 7:39 AM · Herman, if this kid is like many other kids, he probably enjoys exhibiting his "special ability".

Is perfect pitch a big deal? In some ways it can be an asset, and in others a handicap. When I was playing a B flat trumpet, the notes on the page did not correspond with the pitches I heard in my head when reading them. I had to go through the extra step of transposing to a different key as I played. And unaccompanied singers or choruses who would drift sharp or flat during a piece would drive me nuts. Or a record turntable that didn't spin at exactly the right speed.

As far as A=440, or a "C" instrument, note names need to be based on some sort of system, don't they?

December 29, 2018, 7:44 AM · Is it possible to learn to play the violin? Yes if you practice 1-2 hours per day. Has anyone ever seriously committed this kind of effort to the establishment of "perfect pitch"? I doubt it.

I'm with David. I can't sing in Alto Clef at all.

December 29, 2018, 10:13 AM · One of the perfect-pitch people I know told me about how she used to play a summer festival in Austria every year that used a higher A. She said it took her all two weeks to readjust so that she was in tune with that, and then when she returned to the US, another two weeks getting back to A-440. Each two-week period was misery.

Nothing impresses me less than an angry guy on youtube repeatedly saying "you're wrong; I'm right" over and over to letter writers. Apparently no one followed up on the link I posted at the beginning of this discussion which had links to a recent University study about teaching adults perfect pitch, some actual evidence which contradicts most of the opinions given above that it's not possible

December 29, 2018, 11:08 AM · I'm still not sure why someone would devote much time and effort to learning perfect pitch. The time would be better spent developing perfect rhythmic steadiness. Even just something like becoming really comfortable at the frog would be a better use of time.
Edited: December 29, 2018, 12:49 PM · There are lots of scams, but I agree it's a learned skill (and thus disagree it can't be learned after childhood). I am almost 100% sure we are just not agreeing with what perfect pitch is.

I memorized how every note sounds between 438-445 (really estimating, but not intentionally lying.) I have the "gift" of hearing even childhood songs in their original pitch (I don't consider it a big "skill", but whatever.) For me, if this "perfect pitch" limits the player to 440, then "relative pitch" IS better, as it will bother the musician much less.

One must learn to hear notes in pitch regarding the current scale and reference A. G# on the violin is relative. Hearing G#/B-flat only one way "in tune" is bad for music making. Pitch as far as stringed instruments go, is relative (which is no excuse for bad intonation, of course). We all know that. Perfect pitch, defined as "perfect 440" does nothing for the musician who must play their stringed instruments in tune, rather than to 440. Therefore, lamenting whether one has or lacks "perfect pitch" is kind of a waste of time. Improve your violin intonation, and forget you "need" perfect pitch (as defined as "perfect 440".)

I didn't learn music at 4 years old, and can tell any note. It may have been "innate", but I suspect it's more working with my violin and listening to music every day. (The 465 is a bit extreme, though I suppose one could learn that much as some baroque players get used to lower tunings.)

In summary, I have "perfect" 440+ pitches (441, 442, etc.) and likely, so do most of you. I am sure you don't need this much coveted "perfect pitch", for as long as you play in tune, no one cares whether you are "gifted" with this particular "ability".

Most people can learn to play in tune, and that's all you really need to make good music.

Never brag about "perfect pitch". No one cares. And if you do not have "it", work with the tools you do have (usually more than enough to play in tune.)

I think that teaching "ear training" is more helpful than these "learn perfect pitch" methods.

I still hold to the idea that one cannot have that which one doesn't know. Very few non musicians know 440. I think the term "good ear" is much better-and useful/practical-than having "perfect pitch".

My apologies to those who I have offended. I mean well, as too many spend too much time lamenting "not having" "perfect pitch", as if it had any relevance to their playing. Don't let that be an excuse to play out of tune. Most people can, with conscientious practice.

Best wishes on your music-making, and a Happy New Year-whether you have "the gift" or otherwise.

Edit: I guess the answer to the original question would be: "maybe, but it doesn't matter much". "Can you develop a good ear?" "Yes, by training it to be good" (some have a "better ear" than others, in the sense that they learn the tune-out of tune scale relationships much easier/faster, but I think this should be the focus, not "perfect pitch" as such. And playing in tune trumps any of these "innate/chilhood abilities" anyway.)

December 29, 2018, 2:32 PM · "no one cares whether you are "gifted" with this particular "ability"."
_______________

Well, some people do. I had a middle school teacher who bugged me relentlessly about it, trying to "figure it out", and asking lots of questions related to synesthesia-based theories.
No, I didn't see the color red, or smell hot dogs when I heard a B-flat. LOL

December 29, 2018, 3:12 PM · "In summary, I have "perfect" 440+ pitches (441, 442, etc.) and likely, so do most of you..."

No, I don't think most people do. The best test of perfect pitch is to be able to sing the pitch. I doubt many people can do that. You have to actually hear the note clearly in your head.

Edited: December 29, 2018, 4:36 PM · I have perfect pitch, can hear the note clearly in my head but can't sing it accurately at all - if I try to sing an A it comes out flat. I haven't sung enough recently to know how it feels in my vocal chords, or to be able to adjust precisely. That seems like more of a technique issue to me than a pitch knowledge issue.
December 29, 2018, 10:56 PM · I don't find that youtube video convincing at all, but the kid's really something. Scott's summary is very good. I think a lot of the problem with this discussion is terminology, especially but not solely the word "perfect", which really doesn't mean that. If you have mastered one reference pitch, that is absolute or perfect pitch. The question of speed and facility are important but secondary. There are also varying degrees of mastery of relative pitch. Rather than saying you can't develop perfect pitch, I think people mean that musicians agree you can train to develop a high functional level of relative pitch (interval recognition), and even if you can develop some level of perfect pitch (note recognition), we don't know of examples where people have trained to the same high functional level.

So is it worth it to try and develop perfect pitch rather than relative pitch or even various aspects of violin playing? To some degree it's apples and oranges. I don't think perfect pitch is needed to excel in any area of music, but take Mozart for example. It seems he could understand music from any direction - melodically, harmonically, and from a relative and "perfect" pitch perspective. So can we train to be Mozart? I don't think so. But coming at understanding music from a different direction can only add richness to our understanding. If you have perfect relative pitch and limited perfect pitch, I would think that only adds to your ability and appreciation. If it's a question of efficiency or bang for your buck, perfect pitch so far does not seem like the best way to go. And from a performing perspective, you may be able to identify notes or intervals perfectly, but it doesn't mean you play in tune.

Michael, I clicked your link and the first item there is someone saying they developed perfect pitch in 30 days. Specifically, "can I correctly identify 20 consecutive, randomly-generated musical notes without a reference tone?". I can do that, but again that's a very limited ability. When I practiced to do that, essentially I found that each new aspect needed to be learned. For example, I used a software program (noted in my first post above) to be able to recognize all the "piano" sounds. But when I tried the "guitar" sounds, it was almost like starting over. Again, I listened and identified notes one by one, not going for speed. When I used a relative pitch test of two notes at a time, but tried to treat it as a perfect pitch test, identifying both notes, again it was originally almost like starting over. And singing the notes rather than identifying them upon hearing (out vs in) seemed a lot harder. I don't know if this would hold true for everyone, or if as some people have suggested there are genetic or personal factors that make these steps harder or easier.

December 30, 2018, 12:29 AM · "If you have mastered one reference pitch, that is absolute or perfect pitch."

No...[sigh]...that is just wrong. I think it is important not to spread confusion. I can sing an A at ~440 Hz but I don't have absolute pitch.

See Grove's entry on absolute pitch:

"The ability either to identify the chroma (pitch class) of any isolated tone, using labels such as C, 261 Hz or do (‘passive’ absolute pitch), or to reproduce a specified chroma – for example, by singing or adjusting the frequency of a tone generator – without reference to an external standard (‘active’ absolute pitch (AP): Bachem, 1937; Baggaley, 1974; Ward, 1982)."

December 30, 2018, 8:01 AM · Dorian, I'm not sure what you're disagreeing with exactly. Why isn't the statement "I can sing an A at ~440 Hz" (assuming you mean without external reference) an example of the ability "to reproduce a specified chroma ... without reference to an external standard"? Seems like you're taking "any isolated tone" to mean "any AND ALL isolated tone(s)"?

Edited: December 30, 2018, 10:09 AM · The terminology is a mess. I saw one documentary and it claimed that you can define if the person has absolute pitch or is just very good at memorizing pitches. Cannot recall all, there was probably MRI involves and also they measured reaction times meaning how many seconds it takes for people with perfect pitch to accurately define the pitch,

And with my experiences with my girl I absolutely agree. There are probably a lot of people who have perfect pitch but it is not the real absolute pitch, if that could be termed to have certain brain differencies.but instead they have very sensitive ears and have learned the pitches so well that it is difficult to define if they have the real perfect pitch or absolute pitch or not.

And if you have the certain brain differencies and the purest form of genetical perfect pitch you may have difficulties that people with a learned perfect pitch dont have, and that is why some people say that perfect pitch is not something that would help in violin playing, they are talking about people with genetical modifications in their brains that they were born with. And not about those people that have somehow learned the pitches when young. Like many who speak certain languages that differ pitches in speak. The former experience pitches very differently from the latter and may have oversensitivity to sounds and maybe even asperger-autism-spectrum disorders more often than other people do. Similarly like there is a higher rate of autism-spectrum disorders in the prodigies or their close families,

So it should be that the genetical and learned perfect pitch were called different things as they actually are, but the teerminology is at the moment so that the 2 different kinds of perfect pitch are all under the same name. I think it would be so much easier if the genetical form were called absolute pitch and then the rest perfect pitch, but alas how would a regular person know which is correct?

So how can people ever agree on anything in the terminology as they are speaking about 2 different structural things in brains which are hard to distinguish from one another as the persons themselves may not even be able to tell what kind of perfect pitch they have.

Edited: December 30, 2018, 10:01 AM · Similarly, tone-deafness suffers from misunderstanding and poor terminology. I've only ever known one tone-deaf person in my life, but on Youtube tonedeaf means anyone who sings badly.

True perfect pitch is possibly as rare as rain men. "Can I acquire it?" is like asking "can I become a rain man?" Would you really want to be? Well, yes, I would like to have a sort of perfect pitch. How about a fully adjustable one? That is probably non-existent or even rarer than rain men.

In agreement with Dorian, memorising a note and saying you have perfect pitch is like memorising Newton's method for finding an exact square root and thinking you are the rain man.

Jeez, I seem to be obsessed by the rain man, lol!

December 30, 2018, 10:39 AM · As I suspected-there's no agreement on these terms. Also agree tone-deaf is too easily thrown about. I have probably met less than 5 people who are tonedeaf... likeky even less.

Some of you make it sound as it's so rare, yet I know of more "perfect pitch" people than tone-deaf ones (with the caveat... of course, most tone-deaf people are difficult to discover, and they usually are not musicians.)

I do not understand the dictionary definition of "perfect pitch" given above. It doesn't help clear the issue about what it really is. When I was young I was told I had it by others (not myself-I just think I have a "good ear"... another vague term.) If living and playing by 440 *is* perfect pitch, then it's a non-issie, for those players need to overcome that "liability", and no one needs to have it to play well in tune. In short, whatever the Grove says, if you can play in tune, none of that matters.

December 30, 2018, 10:41 AM · I do not have perfect pitch. But my digital hearing aid does - it resonates on 440 A and the corresponding D (at least when played by a string instrument must be the overtone). Damned annoying!

A late friend of mine, a former tone master-recording engineer and bass player, Stan Ricker, had perfect pitch to the degree that he could instantly tell you any note and how many Hertz it was off of the 440 A "standard." It was a useful skill - he could aurally tell how fast a car was going by the pitch of the tires and he could identify propeller aircraft by the engine sound.

The year he conducted our community orchestra we marveled to watch him tune a "sour" wind quartet within the orchestra as they were all playing together - very efficient. Never, before or since, have I had a conductor able to do that without working with the musicians separately.

He did not seem to be threatened by "flexible" A's. He was a bassist in our orchestra for years, but I did rehearse and perform Schubert's Trout Quintet with him once.

December 30, 2018, 12:37 PM · Adalberto wrote:
"If living and playing by 440 *is* perfect pitch, then it's a non-issie, for those players need to overcome that "liability", and no one needs to have it to play well in tune."
_____________________

Agreed. I have finally managed to overcome that liability, but I can also no longer nail a pitch or key instantly or flawlessly.

December 30, 2018, 1:06 PM · Having perfect pitch is not rare, if broadly defined as the ability to tell what any pitch is named. It differs according to the mother tongue. If I now remember correctly its about 10 procent in western countries, less than 5 procent in Finnish and even as much as 40 procent in mandarin china. (Not sure about the numbers here but you get my meaning)

But some sources say, if you define it very tightly, meaning probably trying to take only the genetical perfect pitch (not learned perfect pitch) its 1 procent or less, but its much more common in people with autism spectrum disorders.

In my language its called absolute pitch, not perfect pitch and because our language does not encourage its development, I think its generally thought to be more of an organic brain thing and probably our definition of it is very different than the definition of perfect pitch.

Edited: December 30, 2018, 1:34 PM · I'm pretty sure that I don't have perfect/absolute* pitch, but what I do have is the ability - shared, I am sure, with most string players of any experience - of telling whether the A-string has gone out of tune just by bowing or plucking it, without reference to a tuning fork. Occasionally, I've even been able to visually identify it as being out of tune. This is when I've noticed that the A-peg isn't turned to the same angle as when I last put the violin in its case, particularly if the string has gone all floppy ;)

What is more important, in my opinion, than a memory of a specific pitch, is the ability to distinguish between two closely spaced frequencies. In this connection may I draw attention to Dr. Noa Kageyama's latest Bulletproof Musician blog, https://bulletproofmusician.com/how-perfect-does-your-intonation-have-to-be/. I tried his Sound Challenge 3 test ("Can You Hear Like an Audio Engineer?") which, in stages, asks the listener to distinguish between two tones that are 1/16 of a semi-tone apart. I'll just say that I was quite satisfied with my result, and wish I could say that of some of the exams I've taken in the last 80 years!

* thank you, Maria, for that enlightening comment

[Edit added. Retaining the ability to distinguish between finely spaced frequencies would not seem to have any relation to common aged-related upper hearing loss - I cannot now identify frequencies above about 9-10 KHz, as an example.]

December 30, 2018, 4:34 PM · Why would you want perfect pitch?
One orchestra I played in had an oboist who (I think ) had perfect pitch.
So, by the end of a concert, and with the heat, we'd probably all gone sharp together - except him. So, effectively, he was miles out with the rest of the orchestra.
December 30, 2018, 4:34 PM · Why would you want perfect pitch?
One orchestra I played in had an oboist who (I think ) had perfect pitch.
So, by the end of a concert, and with the heat, we'd probably all gone sharp together - except him. So, effectively, he was miles out with the rest of the orchestra.
Edited: December 31, 2018, 3:53 AM · The thing I dont understand is how can an orchestra go flat or sharp? Because all the string players for sure can correct their notes to the right pitches even if their strings have gone flat.
December 31, 2018, 7:16 AM · @Maria. Orchestras can go flat, or more often sharp in my experience, during performance in a crowded hall due to changes in temperature and humidity. This happens particularly with the brass and woodwind, and I remember several occasions when the conductor has called for a general re-tune after the first or second item in the programme. Problem can be if the third item is a piano concerto ... you just hope the audience doesn't notice a disparity in the tuning ... and more often than not they mercifully don't, so I'm told ;)

"all the string players for sure can correct their notes to the right pitches". Sure, that may be so in a perfect world of the trained professional. But in the real world of the community orchestras (which greatly outnumber the pros) many of the string players are not capable of that trick and probably can't hear themselves well enough to recognise the problem. If the out-of-tuneness is less than 1/4 of a tone then it's not a major issue especially if the programme is wisely chosen to include plenty of brass, woodwind and percussion to mask intonation deficiencies in the strings. I've also heard it said that such out-of-tuneness can "add to the richness of the harmonic texture" - an interesting concept.

Edited: January 1, 2019, 6:25 AM · A few observations.

- Can we avoid confusing perfect (absolute) pitch with perfect intonation.
- A colleague of mine with PP insists that it is quite independent of timbre.
- It does not even require a musical reference: a friend told me the ping on my microwave oven was the same as the squeak on my front gate; but with no musical background he couldn't name the tone.
- I am fairly certain that acquired perfect pitch is something else. For some years I alternated classical music (A=440Hz) with Argentine tango where the bandoneons were tuned at 445Hz: I could tune my violin to one or the other without help, and even guess the A of the piano on stage. To me it was a question of unconscious timbre memory.

December 31, 2018, 10:16 AM · Mr. Heath,

Thing is, only "perfect intonation" matters as far as violin playing goes. So I do not understand why it's so "crucial" for people to think they should have "perfect pitch" (and the argument that adults can't learn it... which I doubt is true, is irrelevant because they can still learn the more practical "perfect intonation", as you call it.)

When people reminisce of so and so well-known musician like this: "his/her parents discovered he/she had perfect pitch at age 3... etc." as if that had ANY bearing on his/her career or real, vital importance for musicians is both funny and a bit absurd. As long as the violinist can play in tune, it's sort of a "conversation piece" ability.

With this I mean no disrespect to "real perfect pitch" individuals. I am sure it can come handy. I just want to reassure everyone else that it's not all it's meant to be by many. Train your ear, play music in tune-end of story.

I do not understand the timbre part. Isn't it easy for most trained ears to tell A 440 whether it comes from a microwave, or even from a much higher A frequency from a whistle or bird's song? Frankly I do not understand the term anymore-though I still maintain it is not important.

Happy New Year, whether Perfectly, Absolutely, or Relatively so.

Edited: December 31, 2018, 10:55 AM · I heard on the radio that police personnel learn to recognise pitch on some of their audio equipment very accurately, in a way analogous to developing absolute pitch, so I'm sure it can be learned - but be very careful about what you want, in case you get it.
David Burgess's experience rings a strong bell with me! (I used to have absolute pitch, but it's gone awry now)
See my post on https://www.violinist.com/blog/laurie/201711/23524/ , regarding "two absolute pitches"
Edited: January 1, 2019, 6:26 AM · Timbre?

If we see the frequency response of any violin, it is a mass if tiny spikes and hollows; so a minute shift of the fingertip, or a few Hz in the tuning, will give a slightly different timbre. When tuning without help, I could Imagine the sound of the high and low A's on my own violin, with great precision, as I had heard them so often, and I was the only violin in the two ensembles. In a full orchestra , where the winds rise as they warm up, I am not so sure anymore.

Also, the "methods" which claim to teach one Perfect Pitch often refer to the "colour" of each note, which I assume refers to timbre. (I am colour-blind...)

Yes, anyone can develop perfect intonation without Perfect Pitch, which is why I prefer the term Absolute Pitch (in French, Absolute Ear!)

December 31, 2018, 2:08 PM · I babysat for a boy who had perfect pitch, which he started displaying at about 3 years old. He had not been taught pitch names at that point, but their family did listen to a lot of classical music. He was able to extrapolate pitches based on the titles of pieces- Mozart's Concerto in D major, Symphony in G major, etc. By about aged 6, after starting piano lessons, he could also tell you pitches of things like creaking doors or refrigerator hums. I've never seen anything else like it. Pitch systems are just patterns, and he was really good with pattern recognition of any kind. (He had an absurdly high I.Q.)

I can hear any pitch on a violin or viola and tell you what note is being played. I can hear a chord and I'll know which notes are in the chord. I can do the same with other instruments, but not with 100% accuracy. I can often tell what key a piece of music is in and I don't need an A at 440 to tune. But I think that's just come with 30 years of playing experience and ear training classes in college, not with any innate skill I have.

I feel like that kid and I thought about pitch in two completely different ways. I was just memorizing the sound, he actually understood the underlying patterns of the different frequencies.

December 31, 2018, 2:59 PM · Pitch references and pitch training:
Alternating current in the US is 60 cycles per second, so this will cause many electrical appliances to buzz at around A-sharp/B.

In Europe, where the frequency is mostly 50 cycles per second, this will be lower, more like G/G-sharp. :-)

December 31, 2018, 4:44 PM · David, when I start my car it the bleep tone is a G, and it's a Dodge...
December 31, 2018, 8:11 PM · I have seen it come to people later in life, but can't say whether it's possible to deliberately develop it.
January 1, 2019, 4:47 AM · "David, when I start my car it the bleep tone is a G, and it's a Dodge..."
__________________________

See how valuable this stuff is? It might save you and I from accidentally driving off in the wrong car. LOL

Edited: January 3, 2019, 1:52 PM · If perfect pitch means that you can immediately sing the tones as they sound on a piano with A tuned to 440 then the tones you sing are actually relative to that tuning. Thus if your sense of pitches is 100% related to those tones then I would call it a type of relative pitch. A type where the tones are not related to each other but instead related to a certain tuning.

If your intonation rely on those tones when playing on a violin it can actually sound out of tune. You must relate what you are playing to what else is going on.

So I think that the term "perfect pitch" in order to deserve the word "perfect" would mean that you are aware exactly where you are on the whole spectrum of possible frequencies, not just related to a certain piano tuning.


Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Violin Finder
Yamaha Violin Finder

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

Metzler Violin Shop
Metzler Violin Shop

Dimitri Musafia
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Gliga Violins
Gliga Violins

Meadowmount School of Music

ARIA International Summer Academy

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Pluhar Violins

Potter Violins

Pro-Am Strings Ltd

Violin Lab

Violin Pros

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Subscribe