Perfect/Absolute vs. Relative Pitch


Perfect pitch is the ability to recognize a musical note without an external reference. A study revealed that attempts to "teach" perfect pitch must [usually] occur before 5--Hannah started piano at 37 months. Hannah's perfect pitch was identified by "accident" (I think that this happens often with children who have perfect pitch). I downloaded an ear training software program and kept getting the notes wrong as I tried to show Hannah how to use it. When it was her turn, she kept getting the notes right so I looked it up on the internet and found out it was called perfect pitch.

Hannah eventually had a teacher who also had perfect pitch. She said that it is a very rare gift and that about 1 in 10,000, or fewer, have it. This teacher said that when she was three, one day she told her mother, "that piano is out of tune" and that is how her gift was identified. Hannah once told me that the dining room clock chimed in C. I've heard of a boy who said a person (or a pig?) "Sneezed in G."

It is said that perfect pitch is found more often in those who speak tonal languages; most who have perfect pitch get it early.


Many muscians learn and possess what is called, "relative pitch". Hannah had one teacher who had relative pitch. She only needed to hear one note from the piano and then she could identify all other notes. This is commonly learned. It may be related to solfege (do re mi fa so la ti do). [Theory: Just as any American can identify the sound of short "a" independent of all other sounds, is it possible that more people (maybe all people) can identify the sounds of the keyboard without a relative note? How could this be taught and why do some seem to automatically have it? Perhaps we can only set an atmosphere to foster it rather than teach it. Understand ideal conditions and set them. Would it be worthwhile to "test" for perfect pitch at a strategic time like three or four years old? And if not possessed by that point, could we easily teach relative pitch early in musical education?]