I don’t fit-in to the category of people whom you are adressing (notice how anal I shall be with my grammar here!). However, I too have been puzzled by these questions. In my experience, ‘perfect pitch’ (which is only good pitch memory, after all) can be more of a hinderance than a help as it allows for no flexibility in pitch (eg when ‘A’ is something other than 440Hz) and can cause the bearer of perfect pitch tremendous problems.
Perfect pitch by itself is no indicator of musicality; it is only a measure of how accurately you can memorise and identify pitches. Much more useful in my humble opionion is a flexible and well-developed ‘relative pitch’, whereby one can still recognise intervals, chords and relationships between pitches and chords, without being chained to one particular pitch structure.
While composing my reply, the first responder just sums it all up: they think that perfect pitch equates to brilliant musicianship. It doesn’t. Not at all. ‘Esteem’, eh? I’m glad I have more important things in my life to consider important than remembering notes!
Wanting perfect pitch is like wanting blue eyes. You don’t “get” it, you just have it. Memorizing the letters that go with notes on the scale is a fun exercise, but perfect pitch is pretty much something you are born with or not.
Well, if you’re played a melody and you’re asked to write it down, a diatonic melody is usually fairly simple for someone with good relative pitch. However, if somebody asks you to transcribe an atonal melody, or one of Schoenberg’s Tone Rows, it’s much harder. Someone with excellent relative pitch could do it, of course, if they had a starting note, but someone with perfect pitch could do it without thinking, very quickly and wouldn’t even need a starting note.
But perfect pitch has its disadvantages, too. Your relative pitch can be disrupted. Also, if somebody gives you some vocal music which is in, say, C, and says “It sounds better in Bb” and transposes it, people with perfect pitch find it very difficult to NOT sing what’s on the page. Someone with only relative pitch can sing in any key with ease.
And as for your painter analogy, perfect pitch is still a little bit different. Perfect pitch is not only knowing what note it is but whether it’s in tune or not, and how in tune it is. I have normal colour vision. I can distinguish light green from dark green, but I cannot say how much darker they are, and how much white you need to add to the paint to make dark green light green. Perfect pitch people can say how flat or sharp something is.
I have got perfect pitch. Other than naming notes it hasn’t made me a better musician. It helps with tuning and it does help gives a huge advantage in aural tests but overall it sometimes doesn’t benefit what musicians look for.
When you are playing a transposing instrument such as a clarinet it can be extremely very confusing. Although you have an idea what it is the notes and sounds do confuse you as they are not in concert pitch, (which i have absolutely have no idea why). My teacher who had perfect pitch detrained herself so she didn’t have perfect pitch anymore. she played clarinet and found it so confusing.
if you have perfect pitch, it’s ok. but i tell you having it is not always the best thing to have.
I dont understand why people want perfect pitch, I have it, and it’s horrible when going to concerts where for example someone is playing a few cents +/- the right pitch, and it’s so obvious, and in my own playing it drives me crazy when the piano starts to go out of tune, as although I can read and hear the music in my head, It doesn’t sound right played physically.
Overall, its more a curse than a blessing.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for posing this question, as it has been something I have also addressed for a long time. I think it is endemic in our society that people wish for a shortcut to skills, money, and fame – and do not want to put in the years of WORK that are necessary to even be an honest workman in a profession or trade. Perfect pitch is most often mis-named, mis-diagnosed, mis-assumed – whatever you will. I have very good *pitch* – even in college, when professors were doing various experiments, I would be summoned as a subject. As an instrumentalist ( with NO great singing voice!) I would be parked next to people in choir who had gorgeous voices, but were all over the map. So I grew to think that yes, other people recognized this in me – so I must be OK. And on the OTHER end – I have worked with people who have so-called Perfect pitch – and they are aggravated by it. One cellist I worked with, with otherwise wonderful skills and CV, has PP at about 438. She would REFUSE to tune *up* when we played fl/vn/vc chamber music – we called it the “It was tuned at the factory!” syndrome. When she played piano trios with my husband ( pianist) – he would bring a TUNER to prove to her that the piano was at 440 – and she would be in a SNIT all night. Do YOU want to work with someone like this? We got a new cellist . . .
If we had to make a LIST (good idea . . .) of all the qualities that would contribute to future success as a professional musician, I do not think I would even put this anomaly ON my list!
BTW – has anyone see these bells? There are ten in a set – they look like child’s toys, less than 2 inches high. They are all slightly different in pitch – the lowest to the highest is a half-step. We had a Gepetto-like visitor come to Hartt in the Sixties with a set, and when he asked for a volunteer to arrange them by listening, my ET class shoved me forward. Did it in one. I would LOVE to find a set of these – looks like a bar game, works better than most ET software. Anybody got a set/ know if a source? (I really should post this as my own question.)
I think perfect pitch is more of a hindrance actually.Say you are going to play in a Baroque orchestra like The English Concert.You aren’t going to get used to the pitch which at the Baroque time,A=415,and would obviously shift to the “modern” A=440 right?
It is odd that people get amazed when a person can tell a note’s name,whether is it sharp or flat.Sure not everyone is born with it but I don’t think it makes that big a difference.However,good relative pitch is amazingly useful and the choir I’m in can sing in any key even if the piece was written in another key.(It is fun to see the juniors get confused but pretty bad if they go off too.)
I do wonder about some things though…Like a string player with perfect pitch,how does he go about playing music?I mean of course it is possible but it would be very torturing for him/her to keep playing “out of tune”.
There are different degrees to absolute pitch, with different limitations, and types.
There are different stories people with absolute pitch will tell you about how it gives them advantages, or makes them feel uncomfortable, or assists them in musical perception/imagination, or hampers their transposing ability etc. – but, all I know is, it’s been proven that some non-musical people have absolute pitch as well… NUFF SAID.
There ARE shotcuts to becoming a great artists… like being a savant… but they hardly include having absolute pitch
Perfect pitch is useful if one is the anchor singer in a chorus, or a choir. The anchor singer is the one that everyone else in the row conforms their pitch to. If the anchor singer gets it right, the whole choir sounds good. But to make this happen, the anchor singer has to produce the note into a vacuum, then everyone else shapes their sound around that. In a lot of choral and choir music, the music itself is written so that one singer can come in just a bit before everyone else, one beat lead by the anchor singer sets to tone.
Other than that, I can’t think of any particular use for perfect pitch, unless one is trying to tune an unfretted instrument quickly when it starts off way out of tune. A perfect pitch person can tune a cello in 5 minutes. A relative pitch trained musician might take ten minutes or fifteen to get the job done.
My dad had perfect pitch, but it was not passed on to me. I have excellent relative pitch. I know when I was playing guitar I could always hear the E string in my head for tuning, but years ago I quit guitar to pursue the piano and no longer hear that E in my head.
My hearing seems to be more acute early in the morning. I can hear in my head the big C minor chord of the Beethoven Pathetique or the A major chord in the Chopin Military Polonaise, but later in the day if I try to recall the chords I tend to go flat.
Maybe that’s why I do my serious practicing between 4:30 and 6:30 every morning. Everything just seems to be crystal clear at that time. In the evenings after a days work, I practice but I do not have the energy that I have in the mornings. I guess my ears run down also. Maybe I need some vitamins for the ears.
I have perfect (absolute) pitch and it is something many are born with but it can be developed.. Frankly it can be good but it also can be bothersome.. Why? Because if a piece of Music is in a certain Key and it is not playing at the proper speed do to a problem with whatever is playing it, it may be either slow or fast and that would definitely effect the number of vibrations to any and all notes / chords et al..
As a Tympanist perfect pitch helps a great deal when making fast tuning changes to a remote Key while still in a section that the new notes are not easily heard.. But on the other hand, since the best way to tune any instrument is by using the ” Circle of 5ths ” and the fact that many Orchestras tune higher than A 440, such as the Met. Opera Orchestra which tunes higher to A 444 usually.. The Oboe player takes the pitch from an electronic device and than plays a sustained A for the Orchestra to tune too..
Remember to trust your knowledge as you know more than you think you do !! My words to you.. Later
I think ppl want perfect pitch because it is quite rare. I guess it helps because when you start learning, you’ll be one step ahead of everyone. Ear training will be easier. And you can learn pieces by ear.
Perfect pitch also has a drawback; if the piano is not in tune, it will be difficult to play.
I think people want perfect pitch because they think it sounds impressive. That’s why. It’s hardly a good reason, but it’s true.
All these people who are talking about perfect pitch people not being able to be flexible in terms of period tuning, quarter-tones, etc. and generally making themselves miserable when the choir/orchestra/instrument is not tuned to A=440, for example, let me clarify some things.
I have perfect pitch. I’m not miserable playing on an out-of-tune piano as long as the whole instrument is flat or sharp. If only certain notes are noticeably out-of-tune, I don’t think I’m the only one who would be driven nuts. People with good relative pitch would be driven crazy as well.
Yes, it’s true that when you first put a perfect pitch person into an acapella choir (for example), he/she will find it very difficult to follow the tuning fluctuations because the inner ear will say that it doesn’t sound right. BUT, that is something that can be trained. It’s just like musicians without perfect pitch training for relative pitch – they learn to sharpen their aural skills, we on the other hand learn to accommodate different tunings. It’s not much different – the process is just the opposite. You can have perfect pitch and relative pitch at the same time. You can learn to ‘hear’ individual notes and intervals at the same time. It’s not a case of “you can only do either this or that”.
When I sing in a choir, especially for early music, I read more of intervals rather than individual notes. It hasn’t caused me much misery at all. On the other hand, if we’re singing a highly polyphonic composition (early music or not), I can easily sound the first note of each entry in my part, and keep the others in tune. It’s for that reason that I’m placed at the edge of my section – because I won’t be easily pulled away by the other parts.
And then, having perfect pitch means that all my aural tests for music examinations are a breeze. I have no problems naming cadences, keys, modulations, etc. because I know what notes the examiner is playing.
I’m a string player as well. It’s precisely because I hate playing out of tune, that I ended up being one of those with above average intonation when I played in school orchestras and my music exams. I reckon that’s a good thing.
I definitely think having perfect pitch AND good relative pitch at the same time is a good thing. But if someone only has perfect pitch and refuses to learn relative pitch, well then it’s the person that’s the problem, not the ability.
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