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Want Perfect Pitch? Here’s What You Need to Know

Want Perfect Pitch? Here’s What You Need to Know

Perfect pitch is as much learned as is innate according to study

Absolute pitch, commonly referred to as “perfect pitch,” is the skill of accurately identifying a note simply by hearing it. It’s a rare ability—just one in every 10,000 people have it, yet all musicians and composers want it.

Until recently, most assumed that people were either born with perfect pitch, or not. Researchers at the University of Chicago have discovered, however, that auditory working memory (or the ability to remember and recognize sounds) may be the key in training adults to develop perfect pitch.

Here are three ways to boost auditory memory and learn how to recognize notes.

1) Practice for perfect pitch

Since memory is the key to auditory recognition, then the memorization of notes is the first step to perfect pitch. First, select a note (Middle C, for example), then and play it repeatedly. Eventually, the ear learns to recognize and catalog that particular pitch.

Practice the same pitch multiple times throughout the day. Next, attempt to internally replicate or “hear” the pitch and then sing it before it is played. Repeating this “tuning fork ear training” exercise, the tone emerges more readily.

Busking in Central Park - Perfect Pitch
A quartet performs in front of passersby in Central Park. [Photo by Sean Myrden/Artistic Fuel]

Match Voice pitch with musical pitch

Digital tuners are handy for tuning instruments, but for people who want to learn perfect pitch, they are a crucial tool in matching voice pitch to the exact tone of a note. As someone sings a note, the tuner (set on a target tone or note) tells the singer how sharp, flat, or spot-on they are with their pitch.

The singer should play the targeted note, imagine it in their head, and then attempt to sing the note out loud. This method, known as “auralizing,” helps connect sound to memory through the three-step sequence of “hear, imagine, sing.” With each repetition, the tuner alerts the singer if they are too high or low so they can adjust and perfect their pitch over time.

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3) Assign attributes to notes

Emotion is closely associated with memory, and musical memory is no exception. Instead of just hearing a note and assigning it by its letter name, it may help to associate a feeling or emotion with the note. Perhaps a major note brings a feeling of celebration or a memory of a favorite concert. A minor note may conjure up a sense of melancholy or an image of a gray sky.

Whether the note evokes a unique memory or produces a mental image or color, most sounds have more attributes than just their simple letter name.

By practicing “colorful listening,” or the idea of isolating the characteristics of each note, it’s much easier to commit the tone to memory and call it back at will with perfect pitch.

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