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1veedo

Is absolute pitch really that hard?

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I always thought perfect/absolute pitch was one of those rare abilities where people did extraordinary things. I wasn't sure what, exactly, the ability was, but then again I never really cared.

 

According to wikipedia, "Absolute pitch, or perfect pitch, is "the ability to attach labels to isolated auditory stimuli on the basis of pitch alone" without external reference."

 

That is not only easy, but I know of several people that can do it! In band you play scales all the time to warm up and rehuming the scale is as easy as humming a tune. Every director I've met would sing pitches. "No, up, this note (sings) tah..." And dont actors do warmups like this as well? (do re me fa so...)

 

Wikipedia does list one "extraordinary feat," "Identify and name all the tones of a given chord or other tonal mass." This is an ability for passive absolute pitch, but not one for active. And upon thinking about it, it isn't even all that hard to do. I can recognize several chords, Ab, Bb, C, D, Db, Eb, F...the major ones, and "naming all the tones" in any of these chords is just memory + listening for what's playing what. Of course chords get much more complicated then that, for instance switching the middle note in a third to flat. But here you can just hear what all the notes are in the cord and be able to tell what notes are being played. The next step is giving the chord a fancy name, which would just be definition matching.

 

I'm not posting this cause I have it. In fact, I probably don't (It's harder to recognize notes from base clef, and because I'm such a bad trumpet player, it's just as hard to recognize anything higher then the A just above top row F, except going in intervals or octaves. Plus the chord thing. I've never taken music theory or anything -- just played in the band). All you really need for perfect pitch is to be music literate. If I played a couple more instruments, one in base, and especially piano, I might be able to teach myself some... It seems like this is a basic ability that everyone should be able to do with some practice/education. What's so hard about it?

 

I bet even if you've never played an instrument in your life, you could match the pitch of something. Girls especially like to sing songs. Just pick out a song, find a note you like, and hum it (not the song, just a note in it). If you memorize what it sounds like and heard it again elsewhere you'd recognize it! If you can do that, you can imagine how easy it'd be after playing scales for a few years!

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No, it's defiantely very hard to do.

 

First of all, what conductors do in music classes, is that, they have been around a lot of music, so they know distances that notes are away from each other. If they hear a pitch they know is off and they have a score (so they know what the correct note should be) then they can sing the correct pitch. IT's not perfect pitch because they have a reference.

 

Most singers, when warming up, warm up in a specific range, yes, but not necesarily an exact pitch. If you had a tuning device, you'll notice that most off them will be off key, if they didn't get a starting pitch.

 

Also, almost- perfect pitch is something many people how are around music can learn how to do. Like how you can recognize various chord sounds. This is fairly common (though still admirable). Natural perfect pitch is genetic and can't be learned.

 

For example, I have a friend who has learned perfect pitch and can get pitches about 80% of the time, without a reference point.

 

I had a chorus teacher who told us a story about this singer he knew in college who had absolute perfect pitch, as in, she was able to tell you the exact frequency of any pitch she heard (from musical instruments to just various sounds). Another person he told us about, was a man whose hearing was so sensitive to pitches, that listening to any sound, even slightly out of key made him physically ill. This was to the point that he couldn't even go to proffesional symphonies, because not every instrument was perfectly tuned. This man stopped listening to most music because of it.

 

So, there are different degrees of perfect pitch from the mundane to rare.

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Our brains aren't too good with absolutes. We're really good at storing information in relation to other information.

 

I think perfect pitch is something of a savant ability, or something which is learned after prolonged periods of repetition. Listen to a pitch pipe enough and eventually you won't need it.

 

However, everyone I've ever known with perfect pitch has been something of a musical savant.

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Perfect pitch can be learned, for sure. That's part of good pitch training too. I've been a musician for close to 20 years now and I have perfect pitch to my tuning standard, which is a half step down. That has been learned from years of tuning in that key. I am no savant, believe me.

 

Some people might pick it up faster than others, just like some people are great in math.

 

But perfect pitch isn't just matching the note kinda sorta...it's matching it dead on. You'd need a tuner to be sure you're hitting the perfect pitch. That may be why you think it all seems so easy. Plus, how long do you go without hearing a sound? Get out of bed tomorrow morning without any music to bias you and try hitting perfect pitch. Be sure to brush your teeth first though, cuz that's gross. Morning breath is the worst...

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if you asked me to sing a tune you would end up with something resembeling a parrot squaking into a microphone underwater.

 

ask me to tell you what pitch something is and your gonna get eeny meeny miney moe.

 

it boils down to each persons particular talents, so yes, perfect pitch is very very hard.

 

(lack of any music ability all the way down to basic rythym isnt counted as one of my greater attributes)

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Yeah, knowing intervals is something anyone can learn with practice, not perfect pitch.

Turn on the radio. If you have perfect pitch, you should be able to tell which key a song is in without any kind of reference.

I once met a guy with an extremely good ear. He could identify pitches in almost any sound, for example, fundamental pitches in something like a car's engine.

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No, perfect pitch CAN be learned. I know this for a fact, because I did it, by means of repetition. It's not quite the same as natural perfect pitch, which is relatively rare (and also exists to greatly varying degrees, not a simple either/or), but is practically the same. I already had quite good relative pitch, so all I really needed was an accurately remembered reference point, which was done by playing the same note first thing in the morning for many months. These two things combined allow me easily tell not just what a note I'm hearing is without external reference, but also whether it's sharp or flat with enough precision that most non-musicians couldn't tell the difference hearing them side by side. It is different from natural pitch, since it required training, and still consists of mental calculation, albeit almost unconscious at this point.

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My understanding of perfect pitch is that you would be able to connect a microphone to a frequency meter and whistle/ hum "concert pitch A" (without looking at the meter) and the meter would read 440 Hz exactly. Can you do that?

Perfect relative pitch is another matter, given the 440 Hz start even I can get pretty close to 880 Hz or 220 Hz (the octave up and down). I'd struggle to do the notes in between the octaves (Hey! I'm a chemist, not a musician)

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Yeah, knowing intervals is something anyone can learn with practice, not perfect pitch.

Turn on the radio. If you have perfect pitch, you should be able to tell which key a song is in without any kind of reference.

I once met a guy with an extremely good ear. He could identify pitches in almost any sound, for example, fundamental pitches in something like a car's engine.

 

I think you'd be surprised how many musicians hear the same thing. I had to "tune" a piece of recorded audio of a motorcycle engine because it drove me nuts being out of tune with the guitars. My wife couldn't hear this, but a musician friend of mine from work laughed at me about it because he could hear it too.

 

Just about any sound with the least bit of a duration is going to contain a pitch we can hone in on. Sometimes though I wonder if I'm just convincing myself I hear a pitch...

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I'm reminded of MC Lars's song "Signing Emo":

 

They ought to tune Blake, but he can't tell... he says "I've got perfect pitch. Damn I sing well!"

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