by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:
You see the ads in music magazines all the time, and they’re designed to make you feel like you’re missing out on something BIG if you don’t have perfect pitch. But what’s the real scoop?
Perfect pitch, also called absolute pitch, is the ability to recognize the exact pitch name you’re hearing without referring to a known pitch. In case you’re wondering, this is not a common ability. In my own teaching, I have found that 2% – 4% of my university-aged music students have this skill.
Perfect pitch is often compared to relative pitch. Relative pitch is the ability to recognize the relationship between pitches. Relative pitch allows you to recognize the quality of chords (major, minor, etc.), the distance between notes (perfect 5th, minor 7th, etc.), and to name notes if a reference pitch is given. (“If the first note in that melody is a G, the other notes are…”)
In most music courses, whether conservatory, university, college, or otherwise, relative pitch is the ability that is trained and honed. Perfect pitch is generally not worked on, and in my opinion, this is for a good reason. Simply put, good perfect pitch skills don’t matter as much as good relative pitch skills.
While some of the world’s greatest musicians have perfect pitch, most do not. Research shows that humans that speak tonal languages (languages where the pitch of the voice is an important consideration) have a greater chance of developing perfect pitch abilities.
So if perfect pitch is not necessary for being a great musician, why do we constantly see advertisments telling us that we can have perfect pitch for the low, low price of $250, give or take?
It probably stems from ignorance. There are many students of music who are confused, believing that unless they can recognize the exact pitch name of the note they’re hearing, they’re missing out on something. Let me give you an analogy that might help to put your mind at ease.
Imagine if I took a picture of your Aunt Bertha’s face, and cut it apart so that the components – the eyes, ears, mouth, etc., were rearranged, or presented to you individually. You could be forgiven for not recognizing her. In order to know it was your Aunt Bertha, you’d need to recognize each component as an entity on its own. But how important is that skill? Since you’ll never have to see Bertha with her face rearranged, it’s pretty much irrelevant.
Since it’s the relationship between notes that’s important in music, and not the absolute pitches, stop worrying, and definitely don’t waste money on a course that purports to teach you perfect pitch. Even if it were successful (and the jury is still out on that), you’ve managed to pay a lot of money for a skill that rates about as high as a neat party trick, and in my opinion will not make you a better musician.