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…………