According to the Wikipedia article on perfect pitch (aka absolute pitch):

no adult has ever been documented to have acquired absolute listening ability, as all adults who have undergone AP training have failed, when formally tested, to show “an unqualified level of accuracy… comparable to that of AP possessors”.

I’m not exactly sure how these training attempts were made, but I theorize acquiring perfect pitch is greatly aided by the ability to sing or whistle; to produce specific tones with one’s own body. Perhaps this somehow allows the tones to become part of sense memory. For example, when you learn to walk, you not only memorize how to move a bunch of muscles in a complex synchronization, you also learn what to expect the act to feel like. You are constantly expecting to hit the floor on the next step before you actually do, and you are probably expecting the floor to feel a certain way under your feet, and you know what to expect in terms of what the new the pressure under the foot will do to the rest of the body. So sense memory not only takes into consideration how your muscles move relative to other muscles, but also what senses you should expect to feel, what forces you should expect to act upon your body.

Why should sound be any different? It is a sense. So the singer or whistler memorizes what tone should be associated with a certain mouth or throat position. This allows tone memorization, the ability to remember that specific tone or a series of tones, despite not having heard any tones in a while. The specific tone can be remembered at will because of its original association with a particular muscle position when the memory was being etched into the brain.

And once the tone is engraved in the brain, the muscle memory perhaps doesn’t even necessarily need to be maintained. The tone engraving is all you need!

I theorize this because I’ve noticed that if I whistle a tone in a relaxed position, not trying to raise or lower the note, my natural whistle tone is always E. (E4 to be exact.) This has allowed me to remember the E tone without actually having to whistle. Taking perfect pitch tests, I can then use relative pitch to deduce some other tones with greater accuracy than I could a year ago. Certainly not flawless accuracy, and I stink with the accidentals, but I still find the increase in ability interesting, as slight as it may be. (I didn’t keep scientific records of my progress.) I am not going to continue training, because I really don’t care that much right now… maybe later.

So I think if anyone out there is doing research in the field, focusing the perfect pitch training on pitch production (through singing or whistling) should be something to strongly consider. (The subject should also have a good sense of relative pitch identification first; that is, he should be able to recognize major thirds, perfect fifths, etc.)

Such studies may have already been done, but I am too busy with other matters to do much research…

Categories: Music


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