Perfect pitch means the ability to hear a sound and instantly recognize what the note is. In other words you can hear a sound and say, “that’s a G” or whatever the note is.
It is a fallacy that some people are born with it and that you can either do it or you can’t. This is a skill that can be acquired. I would say that it does seem to be less common that people learn late in life rather than earlier in life.
I realized that I had this skill when I was about six years old. My mother actually discovered it. She was playing the piano and I told her what note she was playing from the other room and she started testing me and she discovered that I had perfect pitch.
So what does that mean? Some people think that someone with perfect pitch can tell if something is out of tune better than someone who doesn’t have perfect pitch. That is not true, not necessarily. Something out of tune doesn’t bother me more than it bothers anyone else.
But basically it’s like this; perfect pitch is a kind of perception of the sound quality of a note. It is a fine perception of minute differences of quality. It’s not a question of the highness or lowness of the sound particularly. It’s more like the difference between orange and red, or the different shades of green, such as, bright green, pale green, pea green.
Someone working in art or say the subject of interior decorating or something like that would have a lot of experience with say being able to recognize colors. They may say something like, this color is sea green or this is lime green. Perfect pitch is similar to that, it’s a perception.
On a bigger scale it would be like being able to tell the difference between a piano verses a guitar. If you were playing the exact same note, same volume with your eyes closed it would be very obvious.
It’s the same thing with perfect pitch. There are 12 notes and you just have to memorize or learn to perceive that each one of them has something about it that gives it a certain quality that is different than the other notes.
“F” to me has a buzzing kind of quality. You could think of the shape of your mouth creating a zzz…, or ahh… whereas a “B flat” is a much more rounded sound, like an oohhh… It’s almost like the difference between the vowel sounds, a, e, i, o, u, or the different ways that you can make your voice sound. An E just has a certain sound – almost like the letter “E….” as opposed to “A”. C is a flat sound, not meaning low in pitch. Sort of “bland” is a better word to describe “C”, it is a more mundane sound.
Perfect pitch is what it is called, but a better name for it would be pitch recall or Absolute Pitch Recall. What that means is that you can remember what the A sounds like. Right now I could play an ”A” and have you sing the “A” and 10 seconds later I can ask you to sing an “A” and you could do it. That is because you remember what it sounds like.
But, what about 20 minutes from now, or an hour from now? What about tomorrow? You might not be able to do it. The point is if you have a very short- term memory with pitch, you probably don’t have perfect pitch.
So, if you could practice singing an “A” and then going back to the piano 5 minutes later and sing it again, and then 10 minutes later go back to the piano and sing it again, and then by gradually increasing the time you will begin to increase your certainty on what does an “A” actually sounds like. Then you’ll remember it. Then you could begin to start to develop perfect pitch.
The two main aspects are; 1) quality of the sound; trying to recognize the difference between pitches and 2) just increasing the time that you can actually remember one sound.
Perfect pitch is a very useful skill however it is not mandatory to becoming a successful musician. In fact, only about 10% of musicians I know have this skill.
Relative pitch, the ability to recognize notes after hearing a starting note, is more valuable and is easier to develop.