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Why you probably don't have perfect pitch

Having perfect pitch is a coveted status among singers and musicians alike. Colloquial knowledge often suggests that people with perfect pitch or absolute pitch are 1/10,000, equal to 0.01% of the population. Many people also believe that anyone who has perfect pitch must have been born with it. However, recent studies suggest that may not be the whole truth.

Perfect pitch is actually more common than you think. Research suggests the number hovers closer to 5/10,000 and, contrary to popular belief, it can be taught. However, few individuals can be taught to achieve the same accuracy as someone with a more innate sense of pitch.

As a musician reading this, you might be wondering if you could have perfect pitch as well. Unfortunately, unless you regularly study ear training and have a strong auditory memory, you probably don’t have perfect pitch. You may be predisposed to a better auditory memory, but if you want to get closer to perfect pitch, you’re going to need a lot more practice.

What note is this?

woman holding violin

Most people understand perfect pitch, also known as absolute pitch, as when someone can sing or play a particular note on cue with no reference. More generally, it’s the ability to identify a musical note correctly upon hearing it. This skill is idealized as a musical gift shared by great artists like Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald, and Freddy Mercury, making it highly desirable among musicians and singers. Though it’s not a requirement for learning songs or creating new songs, those with the ability may find it easier to stay on key.

Perfect pitch is built upon relative pitch, which is the ability to identify a note based on a reference note. As a result, perfect pitch can be taught by using relative pitch as the foundation, but research indicates that some level of innate cognitive aptitude for music is required to achieve true accuracy. Through repeated exposure to notes and their names, some people are able to learn perfect pitch and retain accuracy even without practicing.

Does practice make perfect pitch?

So, the percentage of people with perfect pitch is higher than we initially thought, and not necessarily a genetic gift. Instead, it’s a mark of music aptitude and education. Perfect pitch is by no means necessary for becoming a great musician. However, if you think it would be helpful to your craft, music lessons may help. Consider ear training for string players to help hone your craft and develop a more complete understanding of pitch.

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