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Can you sing all the notes with perfect clarity? And without any previous guiding note? Only very few people have such abilities. For this reason, perfect pitch, also known as “absolute pitch,” is a rare phenomenon. An absolute pitch is associated with a tremendous understanding of music and its associated rhythms. But where does the term Perfect Pitch come from and which musicians have it?
Since as early as the 19th century, science has focused on researching the background of the understanding of musical pitches and their measurement. Since the references of pitches were only precisely defined at this time, the designation of perfect pitch could only be analysed from the 19th century onwards. Thus Perfect Pitch was explained simultaneously with a musical ear as well as with an absolute awareness of tone.
But the differences and distinctions lie in the details. Only about one in 10,000 people has absolute pitch and is therefore able to sing every note perfectly and without prior assistance. On a physical and functional basis, there is no difference in the Perfect Pitch hearing system. Rather, it is an expression of a rare ability to analyse pitch accurately. Thus, this form of tone finding is an act of cognition, whereby heard frequencies are reproduced in the form of pure tones.
From a scientific point of view, this is a musical learning approach that can also be applied to speech sounds or colours in other areas. However, since tones are defined by a much finer distinction than the common colour patterns, this ability is much rarer. It would be different if colours such as blue and red were also distinguished on the basis of their detailed colours. Such an ability is also rare and the absolute exception.
Influences around the Perfect Pitch can also be defined from a cultural perspective. Above all, the incorporation of the C major scale created new approaches that could significantly simplify the identification with concrete tones. Mostly, the reproduced tones correspond to musical experiences, which then sound coherent or skewed from the listener’s point of view. But also in terms of language and perception, the Perfect Pitch has led to some changes.
Many dialects are dependent on variations in pitch. This does not only apply to concrete stresses intended to entail an action. Stresses are also of elementary importance for the classical processes of speaking, even if music is not usually processed as a speech sequence.
Not only the reproduction of perfect tones, but above all their perception plays a decisive role in Perfect Pitch. The exact classifications here are not defined by a better sense of hearing, but exclusively by recognition and categorisation. This is again due to the mechanisms of the brain.
Relative pitch, unlike absolute pitch, lacks independence from a leading note. With perfect pitch, you are able to define a single note exactly and to estimate it without concrete examples. With relative pitch, you merely compare the note with another note and can classify it in this way. While this makes it much easier for musicians to find their way musically, it is a far cry from absolute pitch. An absolute ear is an absolute rarity, even among musicians.
Perfect pitch is a very rare phenomenon. But what specifically can someone who has it do? The following factors form the basis of this extremely rare ability and help to identify an absolute pitch:
The special feature of people with an exact understanding of tone is that they can call up their skills again and again. So if you get lucky and define a chord correctly, it usually has nothing to do with perfect pitch. This is a constantly recallable skill that allows you to demonstrate your understanding of tone and clearly identify any note you can think of or play it off the cuff.
An absolute ear is by no means a prerequisite for a musical career. Only very few people can enjoy having such an ability, which is why you should not let yourself be put off. Even though such perception can help you with your musical sensitivity, someone without absolute pitch can also become a great musician. This is also evident in the few examples that can be given of prominent musicians with a perfect sense of tone.
Among musicians, Perfect Pitch is a true rarity. In the near past, for example, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Puth, Bing Crosby and Michael Jackson can be named who have perfect pitch. However, from the many missing famous personalities, it can be seen that many well-known musicians do not have such skills and yet they are well-known.
The famous musician Charlie Puth was even bullied by classmates during his childhood because of the special ability, was able to assert himself in the music industry with his self-confidence and of course with the perfect pitch. Today he is one of the most famous young artists, who is also predicted to have a steep career in the future. Nevertheless, it turns out that the requirements are not in the concrete singing, but mainly in the composition. There, musical sensitivity and exact knowledge are absolutely necessary.
It is therefore not surprising that many famous composers from the past have perfect pitch. These personalities include, for example, Mozart, Handel, Chopin and Beethoven. This made it much easier to find the right additions to each instrument and create a harmonic effect. Within the musician’s search, Perfect Pitch therefore became a universal and important skill even then.
Once you have the perfect pitch, you will never have to give it away again. Nevertheless, the question of loss cannot be answered so simply. As with many talents and skills, active training is also required for the Perfect Pitch in order to continue to be able to hear the finest nuances.
In practice, absolute pitch, especially in children, is the result of an intensive and long learning process. Only through regular exposure to new sounds and their differences can the finest details be heard. Through scientific reviews and research, it has been determined in the past that without constant repetition and training, humans cannot automatically remember exact pitch. Depending on the intensity of the training, the Perfect Pitch changes.
Especially in old age, it can happen that tones often sound and are perceived somewhat higher than they actually are. Admittedly, in this case the better hearing ability is still preserved. However, gradations will inevitably occur with age. Even the impossibility of learning Perfect Pitch after infancy shows the complexity of absolute pitch. Even if the differences of small pitches can no longer be heard optimally with age, the abilities remain above average even through the deterioration. This is how Perfect Pitch leaves its mark.
From a scientific perspective, the Perfect Pitch is therefore a talent that can be learned especially by children due to their enormous receptivity. Similar to languages, which literally fly to the little ones, the concept of absolute pitch also works. As with language, general comprehension will not be lost, but there will be no trace of fluency without training.
Anyone who has absolute pitch should therefore use it regularly and continue to train it. Only in this way can the cognitive capacities continue to be used to distinguish small differences in tone, which is an enormous advantage for musicians. Training with other people who have perfect pitch can also help you with this. If you want to keep Perfect Pitch in its full quality, you should continue to stay in close contact with music and its acoustic challenges.
In most cases, musical understanding is innate. Even if much content on musical theory and perception can be learned additionally, this has nothing to do with perfect pitch. This is at least in line with the assumption of Brady and Levitin and Rogers, who criticize possible training for perfect pitch.
Nevertheless, there is now some evidence that Perfect Pitch can be developed without an innate and helpful skill. To this end, the University of Chicago conducted a study in which several students with different musical experiences were tested. Immediately after the initial training sessions, the students showed significant improvement in pitch recognition, which allowed them to broaden their experience.
Therefore, with a lot of practice, you too have the opportunity to sharpen your awareness of the right tones. When looking for an experienced and well-trained musician, in addition to musical ability, the recognition of tones is also an important tool. Therefore, it is also worthwhile for you to put more time into musical training and expand your skills. Even if not every effort leads to the Perfect Pitch, working with music is worthwhile.
When looking for a musician who has perfect tone awareness, the search will take a lot of time. Only very few have such skills. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile around the musician search directly on our portal to find a suitable contact person and to realize joint projects. If you are looking for a musician, you will always find what you are looking for and can, for example, find the right composition for a new band. On our portal music enthusiasts gather, which you can find with certainty.
Originally published on February 1, 2021, updated on November 4, 2022