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Life Arts

"PERFECT PITCH" (What Does it Have to do with Being Swindled?*

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Is the above question a non sequitur ? Read on.

First, let's get one thing straight.   The correct term is "absolute" pitch, not "perfect" pitch. If you are a music lover, what follows here could conceivably save you from being bilked - ironically, by another kind of perfect pitch .

First of all, what we will be talking about here is "absolute pitch," which is the correct term for a certain kind of musical talent. Let's begin by talking about what absolute pitch means, and if it is a blessing "or a curse. How can it be a curse? Ask any professional musician, particularly a player of what is called a transposing instrument.   Simply stated, a transposing instrument does not sound the note that is written. (We should quit this part while we're ahead!)

Absolute pitch refers to the innate ability of someone to recognize the letter name of a pitch , without any frame of reference.   Is that impressive? Ask any professional musician.   The answer may surprise you!

An individual hears a pitch - "daaaaaah" and says "That's an F sharp!   And he or she is right!   It IS F# !   "VOILA!"   If someone uses that French exclamation as a retort to that particular show of talent, it's very likely sarcasm.   It's another way of saying "So what!!"

All musicians will tell you that a far more important and necessary talent is having a strong sense of "relative" pitch, which means that someone can hear a pitch -   "daaaaaah" and immediately say "That's an F sharp!" and be right, IF he or she has a frame of reference; specifically another pitch.     

This is a necessary ability a competent musician must possess, but you are not apt to hear one sing "daaaaaah" and proclaim "That's an A flat!"   Indeed, a real musician will cast an openly snide smile at such a performer.   (This, of course, does not include students at a music school. 

Here is an interesting fact:   In an orchestra, the players "tune up" to the note "A" which is played by the principal oboist as a reference.   After hearing that tuning note countless times, most players have it memorized, in the sense that its pitch is burned into their psyches. Thus, they have a referential pitch in their noggins and could possibly fake having "perfect pitch at parties, if they wished.   (Some just might do that, if they had a couple of drinks and were not dealing with cognoscenti.)

What this all adds up to is this.   A strong sense of   relative pitch is an important prerequisite for all musicians.   BUT THERE IS A SCENARIO WHERE ABSOLUTE PITCH IS HELPFUL, IF NOT NECESSARY.

Singers are musicians (a good share of the time) and if a singer is performing something called "atonal" music, absolute pitch is almost a must.

Ah me, how can I explain this"Let's just say that music is predominantly "tonal" which means any one of the black and white piano keys may serve as a "home base" that the others play games with.

In atonal music, there is no "home base."   So vocalists are helped immensely by a strong sense of  absolute pitch! Okay, I can hear you saying "strong sense?"   Look, if athletes can produce varying degrees of skill, why not musicians?   Absolute pitch occurs in varying degrees of acuteness.   (But please"let me escape from this hole that I've dug.    Thanks.)

Now, here's the part that many nervous investors are waiting for.    Did you spend a lot of dough because someone advertised that you can develop "perfect pitch" with the help of an expensive set of CD's to train your musical ear "to acquire it?"    And were you told that your newly acquired musical skills would enable you to do an assortment of wonderful musical things, such as recognizing harmonies (chord changes?)    Did you invest? Do you feel that all the money you spent on those training CD's so that you might have "perfect pitch" paid off? Did you swallow all   those ecstatic testimonials by new "perfect pitchers?"

I'll end my tirade with two words: Caveat Emptor! *

Look, even if you could acquire absolute pitch it does not do all of those wonderful things you were told. Just enjoy and love the music with the ears that you were given.  

It's great to improve your listening skills, but don't count on "perfect pitch."   (and save your $$$)

*   Buyer Beware!

 

I have spent a long and interesting life involved in music, as a performer (piano,) educator (at every level from elementary to graduate school,) solo pianist, bandleader, composer/songwriter; entertainer, storyteller and humorist. In my final (more...)
 
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You might be curious about this term, but the real... by Phil Klein on Tuesday, Feb 8, 2011 at 7:33:08 AM