Many musicians wish they had it. Some musicians who do have it wish they didn’t. What are we talking about? Perfect pitch, of course!
What is perfect pitch? It’s good to keep in mind that it can depend from person to person. But generally speaking, it’s the ability to distinguish between the notes that are played. People with this ability can hear that the elevator sound is a C or that a song is in the key of D minor.
Some say it’s the same as seeing a color and knowing what color it is. This is a good way to put it, since it’s something most people can relate to. When we see a tomato, we immediately know that it’s red. It’s not something we need to think about or something we need to figure out.
It is unclear if perfect pitch is something people are born with or something that can be trained. It’s most likely a combination of both.
Scientific studies have shown that children who come from musical families are more likely to have perfect pitch.
Some argue that “Hey, that has to mean that it’s genetic, it’s in their blood!” But others believe that the explanation might be that these children are more exposed to music during their early days.
It seems that just like our brains learn things more easily when we are very young, perfect pitch can be acquired by exposing children to music at an early age. This might explain why perfect pitch is more common in, for example, Japan, where children often start their music education very early.
Another interesting thing is that perfect pitch is related to the Western music scale. It’s not the frequency that those with perfect pitch associate different notes with, but their alphabetical names found in Western music. Knowing that “a tomato is red” requires you to connect what you are seeing to a language in which you know the colors, not the wavelength your eyes are perceiving. Similarly to this, notes are tied to letters. This means that even though somebody might be born with an amazing ear for music, there is still some learning required to connect what they are hearing to different note names.
To sum up, certain training is necessary in order for somebody to attain perfect pitch, or absolute pitch.
Is perfect pitch a blessing or a curse? Of course, it can be very useful, especially when someone with this ability plays and composes music themselves. But some people find it annoying, because they can rarely listen to music and enjoy it completely. Why? Well, every time a note is slightly flat or sharp, they will hear it clearly.
It’s safe to say that even though it’s perfectly possible to train your ears, it’s quite rare to have perfect pitch. It’s said that only one in 10.000 people have it. It is more common in people with autism. Something that is much more common is tone deafness. Stay tuned for next week’s blog post when we will tell you more about that!