The ability to recognize a musical note without a reference point is rare even amongst trained musicians, commonly known as ‘‘perfect pitch’’ or, in the scientific literature, as ‘‘absolute pitch’’. To those with perfect pitch each sound has a name and nuance that is recognizable in isolation, without reference to other notes, just like colors, you don’t need to see red to recognize yellow.
Are people born with perfect pitch, or do they learn it? This is a classic question with no definitive answer.
Within the scientific community the genetic basis for perfect pitch or absolute pitch has been vociferously debated for over a century: on one side of the argument are those who believe that it is learned early in life by ear training, and on the other, those who believe it is innate.
Babies might be born with ‘perfect pitch’, according to latest researches. Some studies on babies suggest that we are all born with the ability but lose it as we get older. Scientists play babies a sequence of tones followed by segments from the sequence. Some of the segments, however, differ in absolute pitch from the original tones. The rationale is that if the segments are perceived as novel, the babies will attend to them, whereas if they are recognized as familiar the babies will be bored with them. Babies responded by attending to changes in absolute pitch, whereas adult subjects did not.
The ear can be sure trained with practice, exercises and ear training courses. It seems clear that a training in early childhood and musical education contribute to the development of pitch responsiveness. Even among well trained musicians and members of the same environment there are differences in the sense of pitch. It is not wrong to say that some of us has better ears than others.
Based on the data gathered from the surveys and the auditory tests, it is found that most individuals with perfect pitch began formal musical training before age 6. This data supports the hypothesis that early musical training may be needed for the development of perfect pitch. However, early musical training alone is not adequate for one to develop perfect pitch, as most individuals with musical training begun before age 6 did not report that they possessed perfect pitch. It is also observed that perfect pitch aggregates in families, indicating a role of genetic basis in the development of perfect pitch. Indeed it is found that a sibling with early musical training of a perfect pitch owner is as much as 15 times more likely to possess perfect pitch than is another individual with early musical training but with no family past of perfect pitch.
The people who has perfect pitch roughly seems to fall into two categories. One group consists of people who have just always had the ability. Most of them started playing musical instruments while very young. They hear a pitch and just know what the note is. The other group consists of people who have consciously obtained the ability after the childhood having a musical education on ear training.
They usually identify a pitch by using reference pitches in their head (maybe an open string on a guitar).
When they hear a pitch, they compare it to the reference pitch, can see what the interval between these two pitches is, and figure out the pitch that they heard from that. Some people with perfect pitch can even say a pitch which does not exist on a standard guitar fretboard. A guitar fretboard is divided into certain distances (pitches) with frets. To get this pitches you need a fretless guitar.
You can imagine how fantastic to have perfect pitch for a musician and you can understand why there are lots of ear training sofwares, books and videos all around.
The fact is that perfect pitch can be gained with deliberate learning, even by older individuals, but not without considerable time and effort. The reason why perfect pitch usually appears early life rather than later may simply be that children are more likely to acquire the skill at an age when their attention is directed to single sounds, instead of being captured by the combinations of sounds that form songs and musical phrases. Although characteristics of perfect pitch differ from one person to other, genetic basis of perfect pitch can not be ignored.
Less than one person in every 10000 has perfect pitch.