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Story of A Perfect Pitch Child Playing on an Out-of-Tune Piano

Updated on January 29, 2012


If you have a child with perfect pitch who can play by ear, but you don’t have perfect pitch yourself, you will have many challenging, frustrating, humorous, and gratifying experience bringing him up in his music education.  There are not many people who can help you. So you basically have to pray a lot and follow your intuition (listen to God’s voice) as you walk through this unknown path in bringing him up.  The first thing you need is a very good piano with good pitch and properly tuned.   So what happened if you have a really old piano for a perfect pitch child to play?  Here is my story.

It was Chinese New Year and as usual we went back to my hometown. There, lying in my house, is a thirty years old Shanghai brand piano.  Yes, if you know how a cheap China piano is like, you can guess that it is in very bad condition.  Since I left home, nobody played the piano much, and there was no maintenance done on it and it probably was attacked by termite before.  I don’t have perfect pitch but I have good relative pitch. With that, I could still play a few songs on the old piano. Other than the bad touch and some squeaky sound, it is fine for me.  The piano relative pitch is still acceptable in my opinion.

When my perfect pitch child, Ivan, played on the piano, his first reaction was a laugh.  Then, he tried to play his ABRSM exam pieces which he has practised for weeks.  I know how familiar he is with the songs. He doesn’t need the book to play them.  His piano teacher thinks that he is almost ready for the exam. However, he kept playing with errors and stops in this old Shanghai piano.  So, I asked him, “What’s wrong?  How’s the piano?” He said the piano is so badly out of tune.

My sister told me that the piano was tuned about 6 months ago, after Ivan complained that it was one tone out of tune. That means, almost every note on the piano is one tone (one white and one black key) lower than the original pitch. In another word, every key is almost consistently one tone out of tune. With a one-tone out of tune piano, my son had to readjust his playing. For example, if he wants to play the pitches “C D E”, he has to play, “B flat, C, D” instead. With this adjustment in his head, he can play some simple songs with additional hands and brain coordination. It was hard for him. He didn’t touch the piano much after that.

So, my sister got the piano tuned. I thought, after the tuning, the piano should be in better condition this year. I wanted to know how badly out of tune the piano is now. I know Ivan can give me the answer. I played a key, “D” on the piano while my son was lying down on the sofa quite a distance away, and asked him, what key was that. He said, it was “C sharp”. Then, I played, “F sharp”, and he said, “F”. I laughed, after the tuning, the piano is now a semi-tone out of tune! He told me, out of the three exam pieces, he could play only one of them on the piano as the song is more scale-like. The other two songs require him to jump from one key to another with many keys apart, hence too many adjustments are required, and therefore, he kept playing mistakes.

We were home for a week. We have plenty of free time. I thought I would teach him a new song on the piano. We had this piece of nice music he liked, with key signature of A flat major. He didn’t know this major before, so I decided to start off by showing him the A flat major scale. So, I played the scale starting with A flat, and asked him to follow me. He couldn’t follow me. He started the scale from G !! I showed him another time, he did exactly the same mistakes ! I just cannot help but laughing out loud. When I played the scale, he did not use his visual memory to remember which key on the piano I pressed. Instead, using auditory memory, he remembered the tunes he heard and played from his memory! So, with a semitone out of tune piano, he would always play the wrong key ! We decided to stop there and then. There was no point to continue trying.

It is absolutely impossible to get a perfect pitch boy playing on an out of tune piano. If he manages to adjust to this out of tune piano, he will have the same problem playing on a piano with correct tune. So, I learnt an important lesson. A perfect pitch boy needs a well-tuned piano with perfect pitch sound.  

To Know Whether You Have Perfect Pitch, Try This Test Online :


Classical Music Appreciation


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