Ihave perfect pitch.
It’s the rare ability that allows me to put a note to every sound that I hear, and I mean every sound. For example, I will hear a bird chirp and think to myself, “Oh, that’s G sharp!”
My perfect pitch is also a great conversation starter, but this fact typically only impresses musicians. Those who aren’t familiar with the concept usually give me one of two responses: “You can sing really well, right?” or “Oh, I love that movie!”
Essentially, few people know what I’m talking about.
So I went to my former “Introduction to Musical Literature” (Music 10) professor, Carol A. Hess, to talk about perfect pitch. Though she’s well aware of the phenomenon, she doesn’t have it herself.
“The ear is fundamental in music,” Hess emphasized. “If you have a good one, you’re that much further ahead.”
The response I get the most when I let people know that I have perfect pitch is a question about whether I’m a good singer. The answer to that is subjective. If you judge me solely off of my atrocious range, then I’m a horrible singer. Despite this, I’ll always stay in tune and hit all of the right notes when I croak my way through a song.
People also ask how I “got” perfect pitch, to which I say that it’s something I’ve always had. Most researchers believe that perfect pitch is an inherent ability and that it cannot be learned.
Hess utilized many musical memorization techniques throughout her career, but never developed full-fledged perfect pitch. “When someone plays random notes at the piano, I’m usually a half or whole step too high or too low,” she said.
Fortunately, there are other ways to develop a better sense of pitch. With interval training and musical dictation exercises, “relative pitch” can be learned. Musicians without perfect pitch use relative pitch to distinguish the intervals between pitches and identify different chords.
“Start by listening to simple melodies and writing them down. That way you can figure out what the relationships between the notes are,” Hess suggested.
Now, you might be thinking, “Perfect pitch seems like such a gift. You’re so lucky to have it!” But you may be surprised to learn that there are, indeed, downsides to this unique ability.
My brain processes every sound I hear, from pop tunes to everyday sounds like car horns. I start to feel like I am constantly immersed in notes, which isn’t always a good thing. As a result, I come across as overly sensitive in this regard, but sometimes I wish people could hear from my point of view.
Still, I wouldn’t want to give up this ability. Perfect pitch has reinforced my appreciation and understanding of music, and I truly couldn’t imagine life without it.
“It’s a fantastic skill to have,” said Hess. “My college roommate with perfect pitch said she wouldn’t trade it for the world.”