I would like to talk about the most famous misconception about perfect pitch. Most music students believe that having perfect pitch makes you instantly a music prodigy. Is that really so? No. Perfect pitch is not perfect. Let’s clear things out.
If you went to music school, chances are that you had a classmate with perfect pitch. But what is perfect pitch exactly? According to the web “Perfect Pitch: The ability to identify the pitch of a musical tone, without an external reference.” This is open to many interpretations, and surely enough there can be many people claiming to have perfect pitch, all of which have completely different abilities. How is this possible, you may ask? It’s logical actually if we take a couple of things into account.
Perfect pitch doesn't make you hear better.
First of all, we need to clear out that if someone instantly gets perfect pitch, he would hear exactly the same way as before having perfect pitch. The only difference would be that with perfect pitch, he would be able to listen to the “color” (see previous post about color hearing and what it means). For example if someone can listen to two voices in a 4-voice choir, with perfect pitch he could still listen to two only voices. Having perfect pitch doesn’t necessarily make you a musical prodigy.
Not all people with perfect pitch have have the same perception of sound.
There are many “stages” of perfect pitch. First of all there are people who are born with it. If lucky, they end up studying music, and their potential is limitless. However, a person with perfect pitch might never study music. In this case, the ability doesn’t get polished, best case scenario he can identify a dialling tone on the phone.
But what happens to the rest of us, who aren’t born with perfect pitch? Well, the journey is long and there are many milestones. Depending on how much one polishes the ability, he/she can conquer the following levels of perfect pitch:
- Ability to identify a single voice on ONE only musical instrument.
- Ability to identify multiple voices on different instruments. (The exact amount of voices has to do with the individual’s relative pitch ability, nothing to do with perfect pitch)
- Ability to identify a single voice on some (even all) instruments.
- Ability to identify multiple voices on all instruments.
Having perfect pitch doesn't make you a musical genius.
Some people can identify a tone only on their own piano, and they get confused when someone plays something on another piano. Some can identify all tones when played one after the other but get confused when they listen to two tones simultaneously. And some musical geniuses throughout history are believed to have been able to listen to whole symphonies and write them down from memory.
So, no, if you work hard enough and get perfect pitch, you won’t instantly become a musical genius. It takes a lot of practice, and the journey never ends. You will need to polish the skill constantly. But in the end it doesn’t matter if you get perfect pitch. As long as one is able to hear the different “colors” in the sounds, a whole new world is open for exploration. A whole new colorful world. And only is someone is used to a black and white world, can really appreciate the joy of music in this new colorful world. The journey is all that matters. 🙂