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Perfect Pitch Verses The Struggling Musician

Oct 28, 2007
Do you have perfect pitch? Do you feel inferior by not having it? By the way, what in blazes is perfect pitch? Let's investigate!

Perfect pitch, also called absolute pitch (AP) is an accurate recall of any concert pitch note that one hears played by an instrument. This skill also allows a perfect pitch individual to sing a particular note that is requested of him or her, provided the AP person is also blessed with a good set of vocal chords.

Should you feel inferior if you do not have this ability? Absolutely not! Of course it's not fair that some people have AP while others don't. However, mature individuals know that life is not fair. This unfairness is compounded by the fact that perfect pitch cannot be acquired through practice, although some would argue that this is debatable.

Some websites claim that one can acquire the skill of AP through practice. Although it is noble to be open-minded to new techniques for improving oneself, I have not yet seen one conversion of a non-perfect pitch musician into an absolute pitch musician, although the length that some people go through in order to acquire perfect pitch is often mind-boggling.

One common way some individuals try to get AP is by repeating a note continuously for hours in the hope of memorizing the note's particular pitch. This accomplishes three things:

1. It makes the person trying to achieve perfect pitch look like they're having a severe nervous breakdown;

2. The act of repeating a note continuously takes time away from quality family and fun activities;

3. Repeating a note continuously requires the purchase of some sort of pain medication from the resulting headache that it most certainly ensues.

So why is there so much hoopla over this accurate recall of specific notes on an instrument? The truth is that many musicians get along just fine without perfect pitch. How, you ask? Well, they develop their relative pitch; the ability to judge the distance between notes by recognizing interval distances. An interval distance is a specific distance between two concert pitch notes on an instrument.

The skillful use of interval distances can give a musician accurate dictation skills. As a composer, an extremely developed relative pitch is a must if absolute pitch is not attainable.

Go forth with no fear, dear non-absolute pitch colleagues! Compose, arrange and perform with the best of them because developed relative pitch is a powerful tool and a viable substitute for AP.

By the way, some websites claim the theory that babies are all possibly born with perfect pitch. This is fascinating, but like so many theories surrounding AP, it is very difficult to prove. Perhaps it's time we throw out some theories of our own:

1. Owls might have absolute pitch;

2. Chimpanzees would love perfect pitch, but they can't get it because they have too much potassium in their blood;

3. Avalanches can scare you into having AP, especially if you're buried alive by one;

4. Falling off a large cliff gives you perfect pitch, but only while you're falling. When you hit the ground, the perfect pitch suddenly disappears.

As a final thought, AP and good relative pitch are only effective tools when combined with one final and important component: hard work.
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