“Perfect pitch” is a common buzzword in the music world. It’s something that many singers and musicians strive for throughout their development and careers. Though it’s not a necessary skill to be a great musical artist, it’s one that is coveted. But what exactly is perfect pitch? And is it something you can learn, or is it something you’re either born with or you’re not?
Having perfect pitch (also referred to as “absolute pitch”) means that a person can, without the help of any reference tones or instruments, recognise or produce an exact note of the musical scale. Sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it?
You might be thinking that learning absolute pitch is impossible, but you’d be wrong. Having or not having absolute pitch won’t make or break you as a musician, but let’s look at the benefits of what it can do for you and how it relates to relative pitch.
Perfect Pitch vs. Relative Pitch
We’ve already discussed what perfect pitch is, but you might be asking what we mean by “relative pitch.” Good question.
“Relative pitch” is when a musician listens to what notes are being played and, without necessarily being able to specifically identify them (as with absolute pitch), they’re able to find commonalities and build melodies and harmonies within the same key.
Is one better than the other? That’s mostly a matter of opinion. Instead, let’s consider how they compliment each other.
While having absolute (or perfect) pitch might be cool and helpful in a lot of ways, it’s not a required ability for most any musical activity. It is, however, especially helpful for singers, whose voices serve as their instruments and must sometimes sing notes directly from sheet music alone. Relative pitch, on the other hand, is most useful when improvising or jamming with other musicians.
Both perfect pitch and relative pitch can, as it turns out, be learned.
Perfect Pitch and Singing
There’s one other important topic which we should discuss before moving on to how to learn perfect pitch: does having perfect pitch relate to singing in tune? If so, how?
Perfect pitch is not required to sing in tune. If you have perfect pitch then you will almost certainly sing in tune, because your ear is so highly sensitive to out-of-tune notes. This means that you would only tolerate your own singing if it was pitched correctly!
However, the vast majority of pitch-perfect singers do not possess perfect pitch. Did you notice the confusing wording there? That’s actually the source of this common misconception.
To sing precisely and reliably in tune requires you to have good pitching – perhaps even perfect. However, this is completely separate from the skill of “perfect pitch”.
You can learn to sing in tune without learning perfect pitch, and a singer who has excellent tuning does not necessarily have any perfect pitch ability. They are two different skills.
How to Learn Perfect Pitch
At Musical U, we don’t believe that possessing perfect pitch will make you into a musical magician. We do, however, understand the desire to learn how to identify notes without having an immediate tone reference.
To start learning perfect pitch, we suggest you choose a note to use as your personal reference pitch. This could be anything you choose, but it’s wise to pick a note you’ll use often. For example, if you’re a pianist, you might choose Middle C or perhaps you might choose a low or high E if you’re a guitar player. Play this note several times throughout your day (if you can) and hum along. Do it several times so the note is stuck in your head. The next time you come back to try it, attempt humming before you play the note to see if you’re correct.
Then continue with perfect pitch exercises. As your note memory improves, try moving a few intervals up the musical scale. If you hum your reference pitch, can you hum the correct note a third above it? A fifth? This scale practice is the key to combining the speed-of-learning of relative pitch with the pure versatility of perfect pitch.
To learn more about training your ears with perfect pitch exercises, check out this article on how to learn perfect pitch.
Perfect pitch is a great ability to have, but it’s something you would need to spend endless hours of training to master, and actually not as useful as you might think – especially compared with the easier-to-learn relative pitch. Before starting to learn perfect pitch, think about how it will benefit your music and what ways you will use it. Still want to go ahead? Pick a reference pitch and with dedicated practice and repetition, you’ll be on your way to mastering the art of absolute pitch!
Have you been working to perfect your pitch skills? How are you training your ear?
Do you have perfect pitch? How do you use it?
Share in the comments below!