To put it simply, someone who has perfect pitch (also called absolute pitch) is able to identify and recognise the pitch of a note, or produce any given note.
This ability can be demonstrated in numerous ways. For example, the individual could demonstrate by naming the note they hear, they could sing the note back, or they could play the note on an instrument immediately – without having to hunt for the given note.
It is believed that around 1 in 10,000 people have this ability – so it’s obviously quite rare.
In general, someone who has perfect pitch has some or all of the following abilities –
- Be able to identify and name individual notes (e.g. A, E, F#) played on various instruments.
- Be able to name the key of a given piece of music.
- Be able to reproduce a piece of music in the same key after hearing it.
- Be able to identify and name all the tones in a given chord.
- Be able to accurately sing a named pitch.
- Name the pitch of an everyday common sound, for example a car horn or alarm.
Is it possible to learn the ability to have perfect pitch?
It isn’t possible I’m afraid, and it’s something you are either born with or without. You can however practice and train yourself to understand chords, and recognise major and minor, as well as certain chords like sevenths.
It is also possible to develop a very close understanding and recognition of pitch. I myself for example do not have perfect pitch, but I am able to recognise some notes and chords when I hear them. However, I usually need a reference point before I can recognise the pitch. Most musicians are able to very quickly locate a pitch or key, and I can sometimes get it right immediately, or sometimes need a couple of attempts. Musicians who don’t have perfect pitch in essence have to hunt for the right notes, but can usually find them extremely quickly.