Perfect pitch: can you learn it?

Or not?

I think that perfect pitch is a skill that can be learned, if you start with music lessons of some sort at a young age. That way it sort of gets programmed into a person because they had that musical training from the start.

For example, I started playing a musical instrument (the cello) when I was 11. As a result, I am able to only recognise about 4 different notes. The rest I have to derive from those 4. I am able to do this very quickly but I don’t just recognise it.

A good friend of mine doesn’t have perfect pitch, but then he didn’t start taking piano lessions until he was in middle school. He has to actually have the piano in front of him to know what key a musical score is being played in. I can listen to it and then derive the key. It used to drive him nuts that I could do this.

I have seen studies that indicated perfect pitch was much more common among people who spoke a tonal language (e.g. Mandarin) as their first language. You could make the case that the Chinese might be genetically predisposed to perfect pitch, but I believe the results of these studies indicated that it was a learned skill, learned at a very early age. Sorry, no cite handy.

I doubt you can learn it, but you can certainly hone what skills you have.

Some people are just totally tone deaf and couldn’t even begin to master it. A lucky few are just blessed with exceptional natural musical talent and are pitch perfect without even trying. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle. We can improve through practice and exposure, but will never be truly pitch perfect.

…wrote about perfect pitch here.

A few years back (in my younger and more vulnerable days) I ordered a 6-tape set that was supposed to teach you how to have perfect pitch. I never made it past the second tape; it was talking about colors and how they related to sound and how you should hear the colors… yikes.

I just didn’t get into it. But now, just having played the piano for all these years, I find I have developed a pretty good ear for that sort of thing. No, I don’t have perfect pitch, but I can come pretty close to naming a freely-played note, and I can just about always name an interval.

Hey! I think I ordered that set of tapes, too!

Anyhow, it helped me a little bit and on certain days I would get flashes of pitch memory and be able to name notes without reference to other notes, but it was never honed very well.

I do believe it’s learnable, but I think the older you get, the more difficult it is. The color analogy that tape uses is apt, I think. How do you explain the difference between red and blue and yellow to someone? (NOT someone who is colorblind.) IIRC, ancient cultures did not distinguish between all seven colors of the rainbow. Some only had words for three colors; some four; some five. Somebody help me on this…There’s also a very particular order in which most cultures adopted words for different colors. Does this mean these peoples were colorblind? No. They were just not brought up to make distinctions between certain colors, say purple and blue. Or orange and red.

I have absolutely no scientific basis for my claim, but my gut feeling is that anybody can develop perfect pitch given the right environment. And I think it helps tremendously if you are taught at an early age.

Damn! Maybe I should have stuck with it, huh? :wink:

Dragwr isn’t describing perfect pitch, but rather relative pitch. As my high school choir director always explained it, perfect pitch is something one is born with (whether it’s inherited, I’m not sure), but relative pitch can be further developed with training (which is called “ear training,” which always makes me visualize disembodied ears jumping through flaming hoops).

So for example, one of my choirmates (lucky dog!) had perfect pitch; you could ask her to, say, sing the E above high C, and she’d do it perfectly every time with no point of reference. (She had a sickeningly beautiful voice, too, and a 3-octave range…) Most of the rest of us, though, were only lucky enough to develop pretty decent relative pitch. For example, if you play a pitch for me and ask me to sing the third above, I can do that with no problem. Hope this helps.

Perfect pitch is when you toss an accordion into a Dumpster and it lands on a banjo. :smiley:

I understand that Billy Joel’s daughter Alexa was born with perfect pitch.

I’ve heard it said that, through musical training, you can learn something that seems like perfect pitch to others: you memorize a particular tone in your head and compare others to it, recognizing them by the interval.

So, if you memorized middle C and someone played a G, you wouldn’t recognize the G per se, but you could determine that it was a fifth higher than middle C and deduce that it was a G.

Steve Biodrowski

I believe that perfect pitch isn’t easily learned, and that’s a good thing. All the people I’ve known with perfect pitch had a horrible, horrible time listening to music, because even if the group is in tune with each other, chances are they are slightly sharp or flat in relation to the person suffering from perfect pitch. Imagine going through life and whenever you look at a painting or a picture, it always looks like it’s slightly tilted to one side or the other. A very nice picutre, but off.