What is 'Perfect Pitch' and do you have it?

Aloha guys,
Just wondering how many of us here have this rare gift?

Do you?

I don’t.
But after soooo many years of doing music,
I feel I have pretty good ‘Relative’ pitch.
But not perfect.

In your opinion,
Are the two examples below valid examples of perfect pitch at all?
Or am I just barking up the wrong tree here?

1-My non- musical but wise wife is the WORST singer of all time
but she has this knack that when she starts singing (to herself)
with no background music to have influenced her,
to ALWAYS hit the key right on.
No matter what song she sings (mainly country) if I go check the original recording,
her key is always right on the money.

2-I have not checked myself but I have read that when the President sang
the opening notes to ‘Let’s Stay Together’ at the Apollo Theatre,
his pitch was also in the original key. BG music played before hand? Perhaps.
Or perfect pitch?

Any thoughts on what is perfect pitch; and do you have it?

Mahalo for reading this guys.

Speaking of “pitch”… :laughing:

I don’t think I do… :confused:.

According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_pitch):

Absolute pitch (AP), or perfect pitch, is the ability to name or reproduce a tone without reference to an external standard.

I don’t think your examples would be perfect pitch. I think they’re more of being able to recall the pitches from memory (the memory of the pitches being the “external standard”).
There have been times that I’ve been able to “hear” a song from memory (as if I was listening to it).

Perfect pitch, I think, is more akin to:

  • saying a note name to someone and them being able to reproduce it (without “hunting” for the pitch) exactly.
  • being able to tune an instrument exactly without a mechanical, mechanical, or acoustical aid.

We, as musicians, more use relative pitch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relative_pitch) to read music.


I think I have something close to Perfect Pitch. Like your wife, I can pretty much hear any well known piece of music in the original key. I think over time, when you listen to, and perform, enough music, you develop an innate ability to identify pitch. Now, whether it’s perfect, I don’t know about that

I have heard perfect pitch defined as hitting a banjo lying in a dumpster, from three floors up, with an accordion. :wink:

I don’t have perfect pitch. I have some facility with relative pitch.

I have only ever met one singer with perfect pitch. Her party trick was to pick out any chord the guitarist played unseen by her and sequences on the fly. All correct. Don’t know what happened to her but that’s a great talent for a brass, vocal harmony or string arranger. I think Michael McDonald has the same ability. I once heard him bring a band in (was the sort of band where we’d all know the players by name) with one sung note followed by a synth arpeggio. Pretty hard in those days before onstage tuners.
But I don’t think we all need perfect pitch, just good pitch. Just takes a bit longer to work out the line sometimes.

I don’t think I’ve got perfect pitch but I just tried out a friends new drum tuner and was disappointed to find it was hardly useful as they were actually in the ball park.
Anyone puzzled by that, one; drums are not easy to tune and two; mostly they’re deliberately off as if they were tuned to pitch they’d keep finding “out of tune moments” with the guitars (like Ringo’s cowbell; Ticket to Ride?).

I read a book called “This Is Your Brain On Music”, and Dan Levitan does explain this somewhat. In particular, now that our hearing of a popular song is generally always on the right pitch (as opposed to years ago, when record players were often considerably off), most people actually do have the correct pitch in their memory, according to the tests conducted at his music cognition lab at McGill University. So when asked to sing a popular song for which there is basically one version that everybody knows, such as the President did, most people will sing it in the key of that version. A sort of perfect pitch.

You ask me for note, I can give it to you – I just think what my guitar sounds like and I can get it. Probably most of us can do it.

Interestingly, the same is true for tempo. Most people will hit the tempo of the known recording fairly closely.

In the end, everyone has a perfect enough pitch. If I remember the book correctly, they haven’t been able to find any advantage for those who can identify a pitch without thinking.

Also, I love this joke! Another one I like is this one:
Q: If you toss a banjo, a viola, and bagpipes out the window, which will hit the ground first?
A: Who cares?

If you have to ask, you don’t have it! :mrgreen:

ahhem, and neither do I. :frowning:

Your wife doesn’t necessarily have perfect pitch. She’s got good pitch memory.

Perfect pitch is the ability to hear a pitch and reliably identify what note it is, very similar to seeing a color and being able to identify it as red.

For instance, being able to remember and visualize that your car is red from memory, or being able to sing the first pitch/note in your favorite song, is not the same as hearing that pitch and being able to identify it as a C#.

Also, having to focus on a pitch you’re trying to identify, then running through memorized pitches from songs in your head and make a match or get “close enough” is not having perfect pitch. Again, it’s like seeing a color and just knowing that it’s red without comparing it (relatively) to anything else.

I know I don’t have it. Would be pretty cool.

Hearing is a lot more limited than sight so if you’re hearing “red” you’re actually trying to identify what shade of red because you can’t hear the “blue” that dogs can hear or the “green” that cats can hear.
That’s not so easy.


I don’t see your distinction between remembering the name of a pitch from memory versus having perfect pitch. One of the points in the book I mentioned is that we have to learn what we hear. Nobody’s first word is “Bb”. It’s apparent from the testing they did that the correct pitch is part of our stored memory of music. So perfect pitch is a learned skill.

Your (and my) hearing is “more limited than sight”. Perhaps not so for the person with perfect pitch.

I’m trying to draw an analogy that is not exact. I’ve done some research and reading. Don’t have it myself, but have tried. Just saying what I’ve read.

People with perfect pitch don’t correlate their recognition of a certain pitch with a remembered pitch from a song they know. They just know it. It can be learned where it perhaps did not exist before, but on the whole it’s from a very early age.

This board is read in many places on this planet and so far the implication is
we are all talking about the classic European 12 tone scale.

Would like to hear from some Cubase users familiar with other cultures
that use different musical scales to see if this same phenomenon persists.

If I ask my wife (heaven forbid) to sing me an Ab note. No way.
But if I ask her to sing to me ‘The Beautiful Tennessee Waltz’, it will alway be in Ab.
Just like the old recording of it she has had since being a child.

Even tho’ I am a guitarist, If you ask me (out of the blue) to quickly sing an ‘E’ note,
No way.

But if i take a lil time, concentrate and think about Steve Howe’s
(from Yes) opening harmonics from ‘Roundabout’, I will nail it.
(if you are familiar with the piece, give it a try) :slight_smile:

If you then ask me a few minutes later to do it again, I cannot do it.

sup wit dat?


Probably cause you’re now thinking about it?

Don’t think you can say that hearing is more limited than sight. They’re just different. You can say that the frequency band detected is more limited, but I’m not sure that’s relevant. There’s no evidence that people with perfect pitch hear any differently than anyone else. People assume that Ab, for example, is a distinct “color” for people with perfect pitch, but I don’t think so. Further, the definition of Ab has changed considerably over the last couple hundred years, while red has stayed red.

What’s important to the human brain (just according to the book I just read – I’m no expert!) is the intervals, differences, timbres, and timing of pitches, which help us figure out things like, is that Bob shouting my name versus is that a tiger growling, and exactly where should I look to see Bob or that tiger?

If perfect pitch is some sort of magical power, it’s not very useful.

I’ve been playing and setting up/repairing guitars for years and I don’t need a tuner when I replace strings. I think it’s a combination of experience and string tension. I replaced a set of strings in my local guitar store while the owner was busy. He thought it was unusual that the guitar was perfectly in tune without the aid of a tuner but I’m sure other experienced guitarists, or more likely guitar repairers, can do this too? :wink:

I’m not saying hearing is more limited than sight. Agree they’re different. That the names for pitches have changed over the years is irrelevant. In my analogy A=445 may be fuscia where it was pink at 440, though pink may be fuscia in 100 years, it doesn’t change the actual color, just the name. It’s a loose analogy, but people with perfect pitch use it quite often…the color/sound comparison.

I didn’t make it up on my own.