Thoughts on Perfect Pitch

I have perfect pitch, meaning that if someone plays a particular note, I can recognize it. I can also name the key of any piece just by listening to it.

Many people believe that perfect pitch is an innate gift; that it can’t be learned. However, I would argue that it’s completely possible to learn. Why? I personally learned it.

True, I was born with a knack for understanding the time structure of music and I definitely have a gift for anything musical. But even after several years of studying piano and violin, I couldn’t recognize pitches.

I remember one night when I was 14 years old. My mom was driving me home from an orchestra rehearsal, and I realized that the orchestra’s tuning note (A) was still ringing in my head. I decided to try to develop perfect pitch, and within a couple weeks of repeatedly teaching my brain what A sounded like, I had memorized my first pitch. From there, I found it easy to sing some of the other pitches once I had my reference point of A. I didn’t yet have perfect pitch, but I was very close.

With my reference point of A, I was able to find other notes and I soon discovered something fascinating: each note has a unique texture and warmth to it. It’s like looking at a color wheel. Blue and green are cool colors while red an orange are warm. Each color almost has its own personality: I mean, wouldn’t you say yellow is more fun that black, and tan is a bit plain and boring? White is clean. We could probably come up with some characteristics of each color. I realized that the more I listened to these notes, the more pronounced their unique characteristics became. For example, D-flat has a very dark, mellow tone to it. A is pure, and A-sharp feels – at least to me – like the highest point of brightness before the tone gradually becomes more dark.

Based on that, I fully believe that anyone (with the exception of those who are tone-deaf) can learn what these notes sound like individually and can develop perfect pitch. It takes practice, but it is a skill that can be learned.

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