The Unconservatory  

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch"..... and How to Get "It"
by Kirk Whipple

This series of articles is being offered with two goals in mind: first, to prove that what is commonly and mistakenly referred to as "perfect pitch" is actually a widely learnable skill, and second, to show that it is only one of many useful musical skills to be learned and applied. The claims in these articles are based entirely upon my personal experience and first hand accounts by friends, family and colleagues. I will not confirm or deny the veracity of any specific study. I will present a concise methodology of how to develop this "elusive talent" and suggest that studies which presume "perfect pitch" to be a "rare gift" are innately flawed. I urge the interested reader to prove my claims through practice. For further exploration of this subject please visit the web links which follow.

I. Discoveries… Tripping Over "It"
I remember the precise moment that I became aware of my "perfect pitch." I was in the seventh grade at Herbert Slater Junior High School in Santa Rosa, California. I was accompanying a parade of classmates who were rehearsing their solo voice selections for Steve Hinkle’s Advanced Choir Class. I forget the name of the girl who was searching for her starting pitch, but I remember that it was an E flat. In the midst of busily shuffling to find the sheet music for her song, my hands were away from the piano keyboard. When, try as she might, she could not find the correct pitch, I sang the note that I remembered to be an E flat from a song I was playing for someone else during the recess before class. I even remember the song: "Heaven on Their Minds" from the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar," by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. No one in the busy room noticed what I had done, but my whole world stopped for one big beat. I realized that I had discovered a very powerful tool. Over the next few weeks, and with increasing accuracy, I tried my new found magic trick with other notes. I also made sure that my peers were aware of my discovery.

My wife, Marilyn Morales, recounted to me her "perfect pitch" tale. She originally assumed that her ability to sing pieces in the correct key, which she could do as long as she could remember, was not all that special. She never really thought much about it until high school. One fine day her high school choral teacher started a piece with the choir on the wrong pitch and her secret was discovered. When she pointed out the problem during the first phrase, her choir director, Phillip Valenti stopped the rehearsal. He then proceeded to play a series of pitches which Marilyn correctly identified. After this incident the music department began to know her as the girl with the "special talent."

I recently noticed that Marilyn’s mother, Justa (pronounced "HOO-stuh") exhibits "perfect pitch." On more than one occasion I have heard her singing a cappella a phrase from a television show that she watches. She happened to start the phrase on the same pitch every time. The next time I found her watching this show, I realized that her starting pitch was the same as that of the television recording. While an avid listener, she has not had any formal musical training to speak of. She was happy, however, when I informed her about her special ability. So what is this "special ability?"

Next installment:
Problems with testing for "perfect pitch"

Other installments:
The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 1

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 2

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 3

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 4

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 5

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 6

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 7

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 8

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 9

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 10

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 11

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 12

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 13

The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 14

Table of Contents

Links for further exploration of this topic


Please join our Harmonic Experience Forum for discussions related to Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from Its Natural Origins to Its Modern Expression, by W.A. Mathieu (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1997)

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Updated: July 25, 2004 (KB)

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