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What Exactly is Perfect Pitch? And How to Achieve it

woman singing on stage
A woman singing on stage. Photo from Unsplash.

If you’re a singer or musician, you may have heard the term “perfect pitch” thrown around. Well, what exactly is perfect pitch? What singers have perfect pitch, and how can you achieve it?

What is Perfect Pitch?

Perfect pitch is an ability to recognize, identify, and reproduce any note or interval of any sound. The individual also has the ability to “hear” selected notes in their head without any music being played and compose music in their mind in complete silence. 

Perfect pitch is much rarer than relative pitch, which is the ability to match the note of a sound they hear through singing or playing an instrument. For example, hearing a guitar chord on the radio and being able to match the chord with your own guitar. 

Is Having a Perfect Pitch Rare?

Only a handful of people have described having perfect pitch. Some of these reports suggest that they had it at birth, while others state that they developed it over time. 

In the case of people who acquired absolute pitch at birth, they all happened to have a missing piece of bone in their ear. The exact mechanism behind how this item may have played a role in acquiring perfect pitch is still a matter of speculation.

Some individuals have reported that they could recognize and reproduce any given sound or note within a specific time frame their whole life, but then these abilities gradually began to fade away as they grew older. 

sheet music on a stand
Having perfect pitch means you can compose music silently in your mind. Photo from Unsplash.

How do you know if you have Perfect Pitch?

There are several ways to tell if you have a perfect pitch. The most common sign that you’re developing perfect pitch is when you recognize the notes in music well enough to play them on a keyboard or a guitar. Welcome to the world of relative pitch.

Playing different notes on an instrument with your eyes closed and seeing if you can recognize them by name is another great practice. You can identify if a note is sharp or flat, you’re well on your way.

painting of Beethoven
Beethoven was one of the few known historical musicians to have perfect pitch. Painting by Joseph Mahler in 1815.

Can Perfect Pitch be Learned?

Rare individuals may be born with the perfect pitch phenomenon, but perfect pitch can be learned with years of study, dedication, and patience.

Regular practice sessions will ensure that the desired result can be achieved quicker. The most important thing is the sound environment. The person must get used to listening to music in the same place and at the same volume level. For example, if a person listens to their favorite music on headphones, they should use that same pair for some time as part of their practice sessions.

Use an instrument like a guitar or a piano and try to memorize the notes best you can based on their sound and their name. Have a friend quiz you by pressing a random piano key and letting you guess the name of the note. The more you practice, the quicker you’ll develop perfect pitch. 

Michael Jackson 1988
Michael Jackson 2nd June 1988. “Wiener Stadion” venue in Vienna, Austria. Photo by Zoran Veselinovic. Michael Jackson was suspected to have perfect pitch.

What Artists have Perfect Pitch?

There are a few notable musicians who are known to have perfect pitch. 

Pop singer-songwriter Charlie Puth has been the most vocal about his perfect pitch abilities. He posts many Tiktok videos where he names the exact pitch of any note he hears, even from random everyday noises, such as a dog’s bark or a car horn.

Having perfect pitch does not necessarily mean that one can sing well, though it is common.

Michael Jackson was able to recognize, name, and sing notes without mistakes. He was also great at spotting intervals from within these notes.

Not only did singer Whitney Houston have perfect pitch, but she could also sing the highest notes on a chosen musical instrument in perfect intonations.

mariah carey in a aqua gown
Mariah Carey performs in 2019. Photo by Ralph_PH. Mariah Carey is known to have perfect pitch.

Mariah Carey is another famous singer who has perfect pitch. However, she is better at identifying sharp notes compared to flat notes.

Classical composer Beethoven was one of the oldest in recorded history to report that he had perfect pitch. He could write any music he heard and identify any intervals or notes he heard in his mind.

With practice, perhaps you could develop perfect pitch as well. Find a friend and get started.

Written by Erik Ritland

Erik Ritland is a songwriter, musician, journalist, and podcaster based in Nashville, Tennessee. He’s released over a dozen albums since 2002, most recently Old Dog Almost Gone (2021), the first-ever multimedia album, and his latest collection of all original material, A Scientific Search (2020). During his 15+ years as a music journalist, Erik has written hundreds of articles for Music in Minnesota, Something Else Reviews, his own blog Rambling On, and more. In addition to continuing his music career, Erik currently runs The Cosmic American, a music journalism website, and is the editor of Music in Minnesota.

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