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Subject: Re: Serious Question
From: Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 24 Apr 2017 23:35:13 -0400

text/plain (117 lines)

I tend to think your experience is fairly common, and is actually a part of ear training, but I 
wouldn't call it perfect pitch. 

To explain - I have a feeling that a good many orchestral musicians (among others) can 
recognize (or sing) an A instantly, due to the constant use of that note as a tuning note. 
The ear and brain "learn" that pitch out of habit. (The same may apply to longtime 
members of bands who recognize Bb instantly). But - there's no guarantee that such 
people would be able to pull any other note out of thin air, at least without a very quick use 
of relative pitch (for instance, thinking through where an Eb would be by the fact that it's a 
tritone away from A). People with perfect pitch can recognize *any* pitch instantly, 
without comparison to to other pitches. 

But - given this conversation in general, what we call "perfect pitch" really has no 
relationship to singing or playing in tune. For one thing, we're not taking adjustments such 
as "well-tempered tuning" into account - or, what frequency is being used (if one's "perfect 
pitch" is "tuned" to A 440, what happens if you're singing with an orchestra playing at 442 
or 445?) 

So - I tend to think that "singing in tune" is more about having an ear for the environment 
around you - the ability to match pitch with the orchestra/piano/etc. Having perfect pitch 
may often help, but having excellent relative pitch helps even more. 

I have perfect pitch, though I confess that if you played me an "A" that was at 445hz, I 
might not be able to tell it wasn't A440. But if you played something closer to a Bb, I'd 
know it wasn't quite an A. One hindrance for me as a pianist is that having perfect pitch 
makes sight transposing tough for me - it takes incredible careful concentration for me to 
play and hear pitches that don't correspond to what I see on the page. I also remember an 
experience in college singing a re-creation of a 14th century a cappella mass, which we 
sang at so-called "Renaissance pitch" (i.e. essentially a half-step lower). The piece was all 
in "white notes" (i.e. naturals) with some occasional Bb's. Adjusting to the naturals was 
easy - I mentally just put flats in front of everything. But when it came to the Bb's, I 
remember having to mark "A" by every one of them, because my brain wasn't 
comprehending B double flat, lol. 

So in some ways, perfect pitch can actually be a handicap. And also a nuisance, when 
people discover you have it and it becomes a party trick, or when choirs want you to 
become a human pitch pipe of sorts. (And of course, don't even ask what happens when an 
a cappella piece starts drifting flat, as can often happen. Again, that's when a good sense 
of relative pitch - recognising intervals - becomes crucial, because I have to turn off my 
brain to the "actual" pitches that should be sung, lol. In two words, it sucks.)

On Mon, 24 Apr 2017 19:45:56 -0400, Dennis Ryan <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>Hi, Y'all!
>    At LAST, a possible explanation for what happened  to me.
>    I have sufficient evidence that perfect pitch can  be learned to make
>me almost convinced of it, but insufficient evidence to  make me totally
>convinced of it.  And it is all from my own  experience.
>I was first chair clarinetist for four years in my  high school band.
>Perforce, it became my responsibility to tune each  member of the band privately
>before each class began, going around to each  member individually as we
>were warming up.  Our teacher made it clear  that she would do NOTHING to
>further tune any player after I had  ostensibly done the job, and if someone in
>the band was out of tune, IT WAS  MY FAULT.  "The concertmaster is the
>concertmaster," she insisted, "and  that is NOT my job."  (Actually, she was a
>superb teacher, who had  great faith that I could learn to do this if she just
>"put it to me" and  gritted her teeth for a few weeks.)   Well, after about
>six weeks, I  had learned to tune the band almost perfectly.  OK, so maybe
>I  had "relative pitch" that had fallen into decay through lack of use, and
>I "recovered" it through practice.  But by the end of my first year, I  had
>actually learned to do it without anyone ever giving me any pitch cue AT
>ALL.  Now people who have absolute pitch because "they are born with it"  SAY
>they never need to "learn" how to activate it.  And I always  thought that
>I WASN'T born with it, and never acquired it for about four of  the scale's
>twelve tones.  I never had "absolute pitch" for these  few notes of the
>scale just "out of the blue," but I always did for a  concert B flat, and then I
>could always find any other notes accurately  from there.
>    I have never claimed to actually HAVE "perfect  pitch," because
>anything I ever achieved fell clearly short of what the  people who actually DO
>have it describe.
>    No one has ever told me before about the  "activation in early years"
>part.   Perhaps that explains what  happened to me:  because it wasn't
>activated in early years, I never fully  recovered what I was born with.
>"Amoravcs," my question now is:   how early is "early"?
>    Best,
>    Dennis Ryan
>In a message dated 4/24/2017 2:26:12 P.M. Central Daylight Time,
>[log in to unmask] writes:
>Actually the truth is more complex.
>On perfect pitch, the  research is pretty clear. Perfect pitch is inherited
>by nature, but it also must  be nurtured. If you do not "activate" it in
>early years, it never developed. So  it's a bit misleading to say "You are
>either born with it or not."
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