Perfect Pitch (What It is, Can it Be Learned, How to Test For It)
Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch is the ability to recognize a note without listening to any other reference note. It is often thought of as a mysterious and unreachable ability.
Music teachers and students often overlook it, thinking only a few chosen geniuses can have it. While it is true that perfect pitch is an innate ability, sometimes correlated to inborn phenomena such as synesthesia, it doesn’t have to be circumscribed only to a few super talents.
In this article, we are going to define what absolute pitch is and how you can train to develop this skill, even if you weren’t born with it.
What is Perfect Pitch?
Perfect/Absolute pitch is the ability to recognize a note without any other reference note.
This unusual skill manifests in various ways. For example, you could be able to identify pitches by their name or to sing a named pitch without any help or reference. You could be able to determine what pitch your alarm clock or car horn emits. You could clearly and accurately recognize the tones forming a chord. Moreover, you could be able to instantly identify the key of a song, without any hint.
Is a Perfect Pitch Essential for Musicians?
Before getting to the juice, let’s clarify whether developing a perfect pitch is an essential part of musical training or not. The short answer is: no, you don’t need to have an absolute pitch to be a great musician.
If that’s your goal, there is another ability you should master: a relative pitch. This other important skill implies that you can identify the relationships between notes and tones. For example, you might not be able to name a pitch, but you could identify the interval between two notes. You might not be able to name the key of a song, but you could easily identify the chord progressions.
The good news is ear training, essential to develop your relative pitch, can also help you develop a pseudo-perfect pitch. Two birds with one stone!
How to Test for Perfect Pitch
Testing for perfect pitch is quite easy. You only need to listen to a specific pitch and see whether you’re able to name it correctly.
Try out the Perfect Pitch quiz on ToneDear.com. You can also download their apps for a few bucks.
Alternatively, you could pick a pitch (for example, E flat) and sing it. You can’t have references, and you can’t hum a scale to get to the note. You have to sing the pitch out of the blue, without thinking about it. If you manage to do that, congratulations: you have a perfect pitch.
If you are looking for a more structured quiz, you can simply google “absolute pitch test” and try one of the many interactive tests available online.
Can Perfect Pitch be Learned?
Yes, it is possible to develop a pseudo-perfect pitch through a lot of ear training. The results won’t be as satisfactory as for someone who was born with it. However, after some hard work, you could be able to identify and sing almost every pitch you want.
If you think that sounds impossible, think about sight-reading for singers. Singers who develop sight-reading abilities can sing any pitch they see on paper. Of course, they may have a few references to help, such as some sort of piano accompaniment communicating them the key or giving them one or more pitches to grasp to. However, with time, they might develop an excellent ear and transform their relative pitch in absolute pitch.
There is a downside, however. Unlike people who naturally have an absolute pitch, anyone who’s aiming at developing it should never stop practicing it.
Unless you are a natural, you will probably need to keep training, or you will lose your ability.
Ear training tips & tricks
Ear training is essential, as having a relative pitch is a sort of requirement to develop an absolute pitch.
There are a lot of excellent ear training apps you can download on your smartphone and use every day. They usually have attractive visuals and make the training feel like a game, with points and challenges. It is quite a fun way to engage in a difficult task.
Ear training is not a simple practice. It requires a lot of focus, and it can be utterly discouraging. These apps are undoubtedly an excellent option to make the work a bit lighter and more enjoyable.
Here are the topics they usually cover behind their fun approach.
- Intervals are the foundation of ear training. You usually start with comparison exercises and then move on to naming and singing them.
- Scales are another important topic covered in ear training exercises. Learn how to recognize and sing different scales, and your aural skills will hugely benefit from it.
- Chords are usually a more advanced topic, but still very important to improve your ear. While practicing them, you will recognize what kind of chord you are listening to or what tones it is made of.
- Sight-singing, as previously highlighted, is a great way to improve your relative pitch and also train towards your absolute pitch goal.
While practicing intervals and scales, however, you could also specifically work on your perfect pitch with a straightforward exercise.
Sit at a piano or look for a virtual keyboard online. Close your eyes, and start hitting random keys. Try to name each pitch you hear, opening your eyes only to check whether you are right or wrong.
Do it every day, and you will get closer and closer to developing an absolute pitch.