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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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    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 7 years ago

      Thanks, James. There are quite a few blind men with perfect pitch, isn't it ? Stevie Wonder is another one.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this lovely story. I have excellent pitch, but the only man I have known with perfect pitch was born blind. He was my guitar player for 16 years.

    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 7 years ago

      Thanks, Minnetonka Twin, so nice to see you again, hope you are doing well.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 7 years ago from Minnesota

      What a cute story Ingenira. Sounds like your son has a very good ear for music. What a gift to be able to play any kind of instrument. Thanks for sharing:)

    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 7 years ago

      Thank you so much, angInwu. There are quite a handful of kids with his ability around us, so I think he is just one of the musical kids. :)

    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 7 years ago

      Nice story about the out of tune piano. Your son is a music genius and I wish all the best for his coming exam.

    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 7 years ago

      Laiyin, that was very interesting story about your son. Thank you so much for sharing. He certainly has very keen ears. If you wanted to know whether your son has perfect pitch, there are a few tests online where your son can take. Here is an easy one :

    • profile image

      laiyin 7 years ago

      Hi Ingeira, thanks for a ver enlightening article. My son is 8yrs old n has been taking group music lessons since 3+ in Kindermuzik & Yamaha. He stopped group n started individual lessons at 5+ w the same Yamaha teacher who said that he has perfect pitch but motor skills needed to catch up. But after a year + of solo learning, there wasn't much progress he didn't look forward to lessons as much as before. Recently, we were recommended to another teacher who has perfect pitch herself n she tested my son and says he only hears the white keys well but not the black, so he doesn't hv PP. He's been learning about a year now with this new teacher with whom he can relate very well. My concern is that he keeps looking at his fingers but not at the book and he has also stopped singing solfege when he plays which he used to do is JMC. We only had a keybard at home before (recently bought Clavi) and one day he said 'Mom the keys sound funny and he tried his scales a few times and appear puzzled and tickled. I thought the keyboard was spoiled but later found out that someone accidentally pressed the Transpose button. We had a bit of fun after that playing C scale with different keys using the Transpose button.

    • Ingenira profile image

      Ingenira 7 years ago

      Thanks so much, Tony. :) I'd love to know more about your brother, and how he grew up with his perfect pitch ability. (In your Hub, probably?)

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      I love this story, really! My late brother had perfect pitch and he too struggled with out of tune instruments. I really understand how Ivan struggled with that piano.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Love and peace