Imagine what a beautiful, musical world it would be if you were able to hear the microwave ding in E Flat, or the door slam in A, or even your cat purring in D. Whilst this may seem like an amazing superpower to some, the ability to identify notes within noises, as well as sing any given note without a guide note to assist is known as perfect pitch, and it is a talent many musicians can only dream of having.
Developing Perfect Pitch | How Children Listen
It’s commonly believed that perfect pitch is a skill that a child is either born with or is developed very early on in life, through early exposure to a wide variety of musical genres such as Jazz, where the notes used are very intricate and precise. This helps to train the ear to recognise the small differences between close pitches, such as C and D, or A and Bb.
But why is perfect pitch so difficult to learn for an adult?
According to firstthingsfirst.org, a human’s brain grows to almost 90% of its full size by the age of 5, with everyday experiences contributing heavily to early development. This allows for the perfect pitch to be easily absorbed by the brain, which is like a sponge at that age, and developed alongside other important abilities such as walking, talking and drawing.
In addition, it’s believed that having bilingual parents can also help the development of perfect pitch, as the tempo, cadence and range of notes are very prominent in many languages, especially tonal tongues like Chinese, and require a good ear to be able to replicate.
Learning Perfect Pitch | A Recipe for Disaster
If you’re like me, and you have found yourself researching about people who claim to have perfect pitch, you may have come across Rick Beato, whose son Dylan Beato has demonstrated his perfect pitch on numerous occasions, effortlessly naming and singing the notes and chords his father plays within seconds of his fingers touching the keyboard. In Rick’s opinion, it is simply not possible for an adult to learn perfect pitch, and he explains why in this video:
There are many famous people thought to have perfect pitch, which they have used to help further their career. Examples include Mariah Carey, Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald, and Jimi Hendrix, who used his ability to tune his guitar by ear, as he couldn’t afford a tuner!
A Blessing… Or a Curse?
Although perfect pitch may sound like a blessing, having such an invasive skill can give some people a sensory overload, with the brain working constantly to match every tone to a note. What’s more, transposed music can cause trouble for perfect pitchers, who reportedly find it difficult to relate to a song out of its original key, because to them, it just sounds wrong.
As well as this, being naturally gifted at anything will inevitably cause jealousy among musical peers, who may attribute all of your musical talents, despite how hard you may have worked, as being effortless “luck” that you were born with, rather than true dedication and discipline to use your talent as best as you can.
Relevant Pitch | Developing a Good Ear
Whilst perfect pitch may not be attainable for us later on in life, you can still improve on your relative pitch abilities. This is similar to perfect pitch, however, the notes are compared to one note, which acts as an anchor for helping to identify the other different pitches. There are many different ways you can develop your relative pitch, beginning with picking your anchor note. For classical musicians, this tends to be A, as it is the most common tuning note, however guitarists and bassists tend to use E, which is the top string of the guitar/bass. After this, play, and listen to the different intervals of that note. How does A-C compare to A-E? Singing along with the notes also helps (even if you can’t sing!), as it will help your brain to remember the pitching of each note in comparison to each other.
If you’re interested in developing your relative pitch, there’s a whole range of exercises you can find online to help you to practise. Some great resources can be found on https://tonedear.com, which is a pitch training website with exercises to train the ear’s understanding of notes, chords, intervals, and scales. It also includes resources for teachers to use in the class room.
Although being able to instantly recognise any note, and replicate it would make our lives as musicians a lot easier, perfect pitch is not something that can be taught through a few tutorials on YouTube or even in a class taught by a professional musician with many years of experience. It’s a skill that some people have, and some people don’t. That’s it.
Make Music | Play for Fun
In my opinion, having perfect pitch isn’t a crucial skill, and doesn’t greatly affect your ability to play your instrument. Therefore, I believe that it would be more beneficial for you to focus on improving your relative pitch, as well as focusing on other more achievable goals, whether they may be becoming a more confident performer, learning some epic solos or simply understanding your instrument more.
All in all, focus on what makes you happy, and what CAN be done, rather then the impossible!