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Perfect (Absolute) Pitch & The Envy of Musicians

Updated on August 31, 2012

What Is It??

This is the “super human” ability to be able to name any note that is played on an instrument, sung by a person, or even hummed by the vibration of an inanimate object. These people can even tell you if a pitch is even slightly out of tune. This gift is truly envied by musicians everywhere.

Having perfect pitch, also known as “absolute pitch,” is amazing, but it can also drive you completely insane! If a note is even a little out of tune, you will have the urge to go and fix it to it’s exact place. I have a little story for you about something I experienced one time and I was completely blown away.

The Awe-Inspiring Gift of Perfect Pitch

As some of you may know, I play the saxophone in a jazz band. We were about to leave for a competition and I was messing around on the piano. A couple days before this, I had heard through the grapevine that our piano player, Thomas Payne, had perfect (absolute) pitch. Me being my typical self, I decided to test him. For the musicians out there who know what I am talking about, I played a couple of major chords, in different keys, and different inversions to see if he could name each note (without looking at the piano, of course) starting from the lowest to the highest pitch. For the non-musicians, I basically played anywhere from 3-5 notes on a piano that are stacked to form what we call “chords.” Lo and behold, he was able to name every single one of those notes! Now this alone is an incredible feat considering he had no external resource of figuring out these notes. He only used his ears. This is when I began to really try and mess with him. I wasn’t even playing chords on the piano anymore. I was literally just throwing my hands on random keys and he would name each one of the notes. I was astounded at this 14-year olds ability.

The Life of These Gifted People

That little story really shows the amazing capability of these people. As I have also stated, having perfect pitch can sometimes be a mental strain. When these people hear a sound, they can depict whether or not it is out of tune. Even by the slightest amount. With that being said, imagine if they were walking down the street and they hear a car horn that is either extremely sharp or flat. It would make them lose their mind because they know exactly where the “center” of that pitch is located. Another example is if an original piece is written in the key of “G Major” and the orchestra changed it to where it is now played in “C Major.” Somebody with perfect pitch would recognize that immediately and know that it was transposed to a new key.

Some notable musicians to have had this gift are Mozart and John Phillip Sousa. These two alone are some of the most recognizable names of the many composers out there and they were both, nothing short of genius. Of course hubs about these two composers will be written at another time, but it just goes to show that those who have perfect pitch are among some of the greatest in musical history.

Have you learned something new about perfect pitch?

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