Recently I came across this question with a student in a lesson. Apparently she had been “screaming the name of a note” in her head while I was searching for a key on the piano. She said “this is an off-topic question, Miss Rosalind, but what exactly is perfect pitch?”
Let me start by saying, I DON’T have perfect pitch. It can’t be taught or practiced. Just knowing a note, without a reference pitch (without hearing a another note), is something that develops in the first six months of life. During this time, babies are known as “universal phoneticians” that is, they have the ability to differentiate between every sound in every language before their cute little brains decide to specialize in becoming specifically tuned to the language of their caregivers.
The same areas of the brain responsible for the differentiation of different language patterns are responsible for the differentiation of pitches. Some languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, are particularly sensitive to pitch in order to convey meaning or understand the meaning of the speaker. There is a greater percentage of people in such cultures with perfect pitch. A baby exposed to a wide variety of musical content before the age of six months has a higher chance of developing perfect pitch.
Unfortunately for me, it seems I didn’t hear enough Mozart when I was a tyke because I don’t have this super power. I worked from age 8 to develop and refine my sense of relative pitch which basically means I can, with respectable accuracy, name a note if I have another note to use as a reference. It’s kind of like going to home depot to compare paint samples to decide which one is green, versus grey. I have to put both pitches side by side in my mind in order to understand what the second mystery note really is.
However, after testing my student, it seemed she has been gifted this skill. I had her turn around and I played notes one at a time on the piano. Each time she accurately, and without hesitation, identified the note by letter name. After speaking with her further she confirmed her dad is a musician and played for hours at home when she was a baby. I’m 50 percent jealous of and 50 percent enthralled by this magical talent she seems to have.
Do you have perfect pitch? We’d love to hear what its like! Do you need help working on your relative pitch- book a trial lesson with us today!