The Pros and Cons of Perfect Pitch

Before we get into the advantages and disadvantages of having perfect pitch, we first need to establish what perfect pitch is.
Reprinted from Wikipedia:

Absolute pitch (AP), widely referred to as perfect pitch, is a rare auditory phenomenon characterized by the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.

AP can be demonstrated via linguistic labeling (“naming” a note), auditory imagery, or sensorimotor responses. For example, an AP possessor can accurately reproduce a heard tone on their musical instrument without “hunting” for the correct pitch. Researchers estimate the occurrence of AP to be 1 in 10,000 people.

Generally, absolute pitch implies some or all of the following abilities, achieved without a reference tone:

• Identify by name individual pitches (e.g. A, B, C♯) played on various instruments.
• Name the key of a given piece of tonal music.
• Reproduce a piece of tonal music in the correct key days after hearing it.
• Identify and name all the tones of a given chord or other tonal mass.
• Accurately sing a named pitch.
• Name the pitches of common everyday sounds such as car horns and alarms.

Now that we understand what perfect pitch is, I will share with you a few advantages as well as disadvantages of having this ability.


1. You don’t have to ask what key the music is in.
2. You are able to hear the note before you play it.
3. Improvising is made much easier.
4. Playing in tune is easier.
5. Analyzing chords is made easier.
6. You can “see” the notes you hear in your mind.
7. Playing in different keys is much easier.
8. Melodic dictation is very easy to accomplish.
9. Composing is made easier.


1. You are “forced” to name the pitch of any sound within your hearing range.
2. You become more of a follower than a leader when playing in any ensemble.
3. You have little patients when dealing with non-perfect pitch musicians.
4. Performing or listening to out of tune musicians is extremely painful.
5. Trying to explain perfect pitch to non-perfect pitch musicians is frustrating.
6. Repeating sequences of melodic notes is only limited by your ability to remember the notes.
7. Shifting from perfect pitch in your instruments key to concert pitch can become confusing.
8. When hearing a mechanical sound, you try to name the different pitches in the sound.
9. Once people realize you have perfect pitch, you must then explain the problems that come with this ability.

Most people I have visited with about the ability for perfect pitch do not realize what goes along with this gift. Few can understand the pain one goes through when listening to a program such as “America’s Got Talent” or performing with an average church choir. Being forced to listen to out of tune pitches rate in the same category as water boarding and root canals.

I was invited recently to perform with a world renowned entertainer in town who is famous for playing out of tune. Before I accepted the job, I made an appointment with my family physician to explain my situation. This entertainer’s pitch bothered me so much that I was never able to listen to his show for more than five minutes. After five minutes my throat would tightened to the point that I would completely lose my voice! It was suggested that I take a mild sedative to take the edge off my problem. I also found a pair of ear plugs which would limit the sound coming from the stage monitor and at the first rehearsal I visited with the person in charge of sound for the show to make sure the entertainer’s sound was not coming through my monitor.

Now….. Do you still think it would be cool to have perfect pitch?
Every time I hear a boat cruising outside my studio on Table Rock Lake, I recognize the multiple pitches generated by its engine. Every bird sound has a pitch as well as the air conditioner in my house, my car engine, elevator, florescent light, wind, bark of a dog, sound of fireworks exploding and a computer hum.

Is the gift of perfect pitch a blessing or a curse?

Be careful what you wish for…………

Bruce was a member of the faculty at the University of Northern Iowa, School of Music in Cedar Falls from 1969 until his retirement in 1999. He has performed with many well-known entertainers such as Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Anita Bryant, Carman Cavalara, Victor Borgie, the Four Freshman, Blackstone the Magician, Bobby Vinton and John Davidson.

4 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Perfect Pitch

  1. Ulug Ozkan

    Dear Mr. Bruce Chidester,
    I understood very well your problem. I had a very strange experience with perfect pitch. I studied classical guitar at Biel Music Academy / Switzerland. When i finished my studies i began to study piano (on a cheap accoustic piano) during 4 years untill being able to play Chopin op. 66. Some months after achieving playing this piece one morning i wook up with an Eb in my head. I got a maximum level of perfect pitch but works only my main instrument electric guitar. I remember one of my advanced students took my guitar in his hand and began to test my hearing by playing very dissonnant chords and he noticed that i was even able to tell every note of those chords. I was happy very much but short later i began to have some strange problems. The small intonation problems between piano and el guitar began to make me feel sick. When i got this special form of PP i was 29 years old. I could put up with this problem during 2 years and then i sell my piano and never touch any piano again. 2 years later i lost my perfect pitch and i really do not want to get it again. Now when i think about my friends had innate absolute pitch i feel really sad for them. It is a gift turns the life of a musician very easy for transcribing the music of others but very difficult to live with. Now i am using only my fine level relative pitch for everything and i am very happy about it altough i became much slower than before when i have to transcibe music by listening to recordings. I feel better so. I wish much luck for all the musicians who are forced to live with perfect pitch.

  2. Tony Oliver

    Playing with a group of 7 wind instruments recently, one of them exclaimed that all the others were playing sharp. There was a short pause, and then ALL the others said, as though rehearsed, “No. You’re flat!” The response came “But I’ve got perfect pitch.” Whereupon the bluntest of the others said that the usual definition of a person with perfect pitch is “a pain in the neck”! More seriously, when playing an instrument which has to be “in tune” with those around, rather than “leading” on pitch, you have to adjust what you do according to the tuning requirements of the moment. It can happen that a person plays a section of music sharp, but playing along “under” it, do you insist on playing a harmony which will sound “flat”? What worked at the beginning may not suffice as the music progresses, and a dogmatic approach to intonation is not a useful attribute. How can a person priding himself (and in my experience those with it seem to be proud of it) bear to play music which is commonly, these days, played at say 415, when their sense of pitch identifies everything as being flat?

    • Bruce Chidester

      You have a very good point and thank you for sharing.

      My solution would be to check with a tuner and if the person actually as “perfect pitch” everyone wins. If they don’t have perfect pitch, everyone wins other than the person who thought they had perfect pitch.

  3. Paul Latouche

    I would add a few other disadvantages: Playing a transposing instruments is really harder when you have perfect pitch. That may be a pianist trying to play a saxophone. Or using transpose function on a keyboard instrument to accommodate a singer. Or a cappo on an acoustic guitar. All this is very much confusing if you have perfect pitch.
    Another disadvantage would be that it makes you lazy, regarding music theory. In a jazz setting, it becomes easy to disregard keys and modes, just rely on your good pitch, what sounds right, but then it may not be the best approach to become a better musician.

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