Learning Perfect Pitch

November 1, 2011 at 6:27 am | Posted in music education | 1 Comment
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Perfect pitch can seem to be an intimidating and alien thing, especially for those who don’t have it naturally. For amateurs researching online and music PhDs alike, the question is: can it be learned? For some purists, the answer is no. They believe perfect pitch is something people are born with, or at least that they develop it around the same time they learn to talk. Others content it can be learned through patience and practice.

There doesn’t have to be a one-size-fits-all when learning perfect pitch. Although probably everyone could learn perfect pitch, the ability to develop it depends on several factors including the starting point of the person hoping to learn the ability. Students who begin from scratch or who might consider themselves tone deaf will probably have to work harder than the practiced musicians.

The traditional approach to teaching perfect pitch starts with music. If students working on a particular piece sing a note from that piece, then go to the piano to try to match it, that’s practicing to find perfect pitch. Students in high school bands do something similar. When a band instructor has each section play its tuning note, the musicians are trying to have perfect pitch when they play that note. Those truly interested in learning correct pitch learn by listening to those around them and then trying to match their own sound.

Another traditional method is to listen to songs in different keys. Whether using the high school band method, or listening to pop songs played in a certain key, both methods require hearing a note or a song and remembering it. Just like studying for a history test, simply listening isn’t enough: students have to listen, pay attention, practice, and learn.

Probably the best way to learn perfect pitch outside the traditional methods comes from David Lucas Burge, who in 1981 released a program now available on CD and as interactive software. Burge’s program explains what to listen for to develop and refine a sense of pitch. He then breaks it down so students, through repetition and a little common sense, can understand how to find perfect pitch for themselves.

Ohio State University and Calgary University did two independent studies of Burge’s Perfect Pitch program and each found this method of study to be legitimate and effective. Richard Bosworth, DM, who travels the world as a recitalist, soloist, chamber musician, and competitor, has reviewed different methods for learning perfect pitch, and also gives high marks to Burge’s method.

No matter the method of learning perfect pitch, all have certain things in common. No matter their level of musicianship, students must be willing to accept the repetition of hearing music and notes to understand and develop perfect pitch. Students must also simply be patient. Not everyone can learn perfect pitch quickly, but with dedication and perseverance, it is something anybody should be able to learn.

Written by: Elaine Hirsch

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