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perfect pitch in children-how common?

(38 Posts)
disorganisedmummy Tue 09-Feb-16 09:25:23

Hi. Ds1 is 9 and a half and has been leading violin for around 4 years. He is currently grade 4 standard. He plays in 2 local youth orchestras and attends our council run Saturday music school.He has Aspergers and music has transformed him and his life. We've always been told that he has a very good ear for music which is great but when he had his violin lesson his tutor who is a pro violinist did a load of tests where he had to face away from the piano and she played random notes and then intervals and he got hem all right. She did a few other things and the upshot of this is that the thinks he may have perfect pitch. There are a few other things that she noticed which made her then say that she feels he is a very gifted musician. This is great news and we probably won't do anything g much about it as ds is so happy at the mo with everything g that we don't want to rockthe boat.
My question is just how unusual is it for kids to have perfect pitch?

Seeline Tue 09-Feb-16 09:29:49

My DS is at a secondary indy school which has a very good music department. He is involved in singing, and several of the boys he sings with have perfect pitch. However, this is obviously a very polarised section of kids, so I don't know how common it would be in a more general population.
It's great that music means so much to your DS and he is getting so much out of it smile

Nuffwasafairy Tue 09-Feb-16 09:39:11

True perfect pitch is rare at any age .

Mistigri Tue 09-Feb-16 15:11:52

It's pretty rare. Relative pitch can be trained (my dd can accurately tune a guitar by ear with only the low E as a reference point) but I gather that perfect pitch is not really something that you can learn.

raspberryrippleicecream Tue 09-Feb-16 19:47:09

DS2 has perfect pitch, or at least all his music teachers tell us so.

He is a chorister. The Master of Music uses him to pitch the choir.

It really helps with aural tests.

We've been told it could be a drawback in some ways, eg his trombone playing. And an adult singer says he finds it really hard tolerating anything slightly off pitch.

It does help with aural tests though

YokoUhOh Tue 09-Feb-16 19:58:17

I've got it. It's mostly useless, but a good party trick! I think DS has it as well as, but won't know until he's older (he's 3).

ForgivenNotForgotten Tue 09-Feb-16 20:02:09

Yes, perfect pitch is fairly rare at any age. I think, if you have it, then you have it from birth.

I come from a musically talented family. None of us are classically trained. I can't even read music, and have totally wasted my gift, but can hammer out pretty much any pop song on the piano, in a disgracefully amateur way.

Ds2 (aged 3) has perfect pitch. He never fails to get exactly the right notes when he sings theme tunes from his favourite tv shows. He gets quite upset when I sing them in the wrong key, because it's easier for my alto/tenor voice.

He also shows more than a few traits of asd. I've no idea if this is linked in any way.

Ds1 has pretty good relative pitch, but is no musical genius.

To be fair, I know two musical geniuses personally, and only one of them (the least commercially successful) has 'proper' perfect pitch. It's useful, but it isn't the most important thing. Perfect pitch is just a weird brain thing. It's possible that even really non musical people have it but don't know how to show it (they could maybe identify the correct frequency but lack the musical understanding to fit sounds together into a 'meaningful' whole that others find beautiful?)

Sounds like your ds is doing really well and enjoying music smile and that's the main thing.

LilyBolero Wed 10-Feb-16 21:13:56

yes to everyone that perfect pitch is quite rare, and that it is just a freaky brain thing, it's not a mark of a musician as such.

Having said that, it's brilliant that your ds is enjoying his music so much, and that's the main thing, and having perfect pitch will really help him as he goes through.

ForgivenNotForgotten Wed 10-Feb-16 22:17:37

Oh Lily, I'm glad you agree that perfect pitch is a "freaky brain thing", but have been feeling guilty all day that the op might feel that I was belittling her ds' s talent (I'm not!!)

Op, I'd be so ridiculously proud if either of my boys were doing so well in music as your boy is! !!

I agree about perfect pitch being a bit of a handicap in certain situations. I don't play the trombone, but tried playing the clarinet for about five minutes before I realised I couldn't cope with the fingering being so different to flute/recorder. I am used to three fingers on the instrument meaning G.

I can't use the transpose function on my electronic piano. I slip into the wrong key every few seconds, and embarrass myselfso horribly. It probably doesn't help that I can't read music, and am constantly making it up as I go along - my brain simply will not compute that the notes I am hitting don't match up with the ones I'm hearing.

I'm still so glad, op, that music is important to your ds, and has transformed his life. Music is so good, I think, for children who are struggling with aspergers, as it is so emotive and helps with getting in touch with feelings.. I speak from personal knowledge, as I could easily get a diagnosis for myself, and gained so much from the musical and social experiences of being in bands when I was younger.

LilyBolero Thu 11-Feb-16 00:24:27

yy FNF - I have PP too, and it is often a handicap, and am pro musician!!

disorganisedmummy Thu 11-Feb-16 07:12:12

Hi everyone,sorry for radio silence- I've not been well. Thanks for all your lovely messages,it's lovely to hear your experiences.
We're very proud indeed and are certainly not planning on pushing ds with this as he's so happy and settled at the moment. I was simply curious to find out whether it is a gift as has been suggested to me.
At one the Christmas concerts he played in they did the Nutcracker suite (he plays 2nd violin so has the harmony) but from listening to the pieces on his iPod he can now play a few of the movements with no written music,he just plays from ear. No idea what that means other than he has a good ear! He seems to be able to listen to a lot of classical music and then be able to play it with no music.

mummytime Thu 11-Feb-16 07:34:03

There seems to be a link between ASD and perfect pitch (eg. more children with ASD have perfect pitch than would be expected).

It is a mixed blessing (DH has it, and not ASD) - it can make "out of tune" music very painful.

BertrandRussell Thu 11-Feb-16 07:37:55

What's the difference between perfect pitch, relative pitch and having a very good ear for music? I've never known properly.

Sorry for the hijack, OP!

disorganisedmummy Thu 11-Feb-16 07:38:37

Don't worry about hijacking,I don't know the difference either!!

R0nJ0n Thu 11-Feb-16 07:49:18

I think my DD aged 8 has perfect pitch. From very very young, well before she could talk, she'd imitate sounds she heard and replicate them excatly. She's now a very good singer, but a distinctly mediocre musician as she finds learning to read music and the effort involved in making an instrument sound good dull in comparison to her real love of singing. I'm a terrible singer and she can't bear me singing, she covers her ears and yells at me to stop because I'm getting it wrong.

FinallyHere Thu 11-Feb-16 07:52:05

My understanding of the difference:

Perfect pitch means someone can successfully produce a note without having heard it very recently. In the guitar tuning example above, this would be like producing the 'tunng' base note oneself, rather than using a tuning fork. Relative pitch means someone who can produce a note relative to the note produced by the tuning fork (or by someone who happens to have perfect pitch).

A good ear for music would refer to how well someone can recognise, or having heard a note, reproduce it perhaps on the same, or even a different, instrument.

Can't reliably do any of these myself and always felt that this was a disadvantage. DH can do all three and , as PPs have pointed out above, suffers horribly when things are out of tune. He is astonished that I hardly even notice and am certainly not bothered by out of tune things. I'm not completely tone deaf, just not very sensitive at all.

Understanding music and enjoying it adds so much to people's lives, am always glad to hear about people who do love, or can enjoy, it. Especially when DCs are being encouraged to enjoy music.

Helenluvsrob Thu 11-Feb-16 08:02:52


perfect pitch you " just know" what note it is. I assume you have to have a name for the sound but "sing an A" presumably would result in a A at concert pitch - ie same as an A on a standard piano.

Relative pitch- what most good musicians have - give them a note and they can sing another note correctly eg " this is an A, now sing me a C below it" .

Having a " good ear" don't think that has a definition!

Relative pitch can be learned ( assuming the aforementioned " good ear" and memory for sound!) . My kids have good relative pitch as they are life long singers, in environments that need them to be accurately in tune.

To complicate things you can sort of learn perfect pitch if you do enough relative pitch work. DH has sung from childhood and now teaches must. He's usually right about notes even without having a pitching note. I think he has auditory and physical memories ingrained in him (he knows what singing an A feels like in his body).

I assume perfect pitch is an utter curse. I sing a bit ( not like the kids or DH) and can spot transposed music by the " feel" of it. eg if a hymn is written too high for the congregation the organist may transpose it and it " feels wrong" to me.

THen there are other pitches when you get into stuff eg early music set at A415 ... Again i can usually tell the difference hearing a piece. That must really mess with your head if you have perfect pitch.

BertrandRussell Thu 11-Feb-16 09:40:54

Ah, right. So my children have learned relative pitch- play them a note, and they can sing a 3rd up or down- or the C below if they are told it's an A- that sort of thing. But they don't do it instinctively- so really a good ear and music lessons.

My friend has perfect pitch- tell her to sing an A and she can. (She's a professional musician)

Is that right?

Me? I have a cloth eargrin

Thank you Hel- but I can't help wondering whether that's actually what it is, or only what Rob told you it is..........

Helenluvsrob Thu 11-Feb-16 10:10:38

BR smile

Of course if Rob told me black is white he'd be absolutely correct and I shouldn't even try to think for myself as it might put bubba at risk ..... I think he might have locked me in now I'm not allowed to drive or go to work....

mummytime Thu 11-Feb-16 10:14:37

I'll ask my DH sometime about the "different pitches" eg. for authentic ancient music.
I don't really get why a pop singer singing slightly off pitch is really painful for him, but it is. Not sure he has anything similar in other tonal systems eg. Chinese music.
He thinks its to do with something about how his ear has formed.

Finally I have read some academic work on 'perfect pitch" and the academics seem to often not really know what they are talking about (and I know several people with perfect pitch not just DH) and confuse relative with perfect pitch.

LilyBolero Thu 11-Feb-16 16:55:54

I hate hearing songs in different keys from the original, drives me nuts!

Musicmom1 Fri 12-Feb-16 10:00:38

Interesting. Wondering how it works for young string players who often tune without a tuning note? DD does this reliably on her cello along with many of her suzuki cohort. Can't imagine they all have perfect pitch but they have learnt by ear from early age. I am completely unmusical do haven't a clue as to the answer😀

BertrandRussell Fri 12-Feb-16 11:49:02

I think most string players can sing an A to tune to just because of hqving loads of practise. DS can tune his guitar by ear, and only uses a tuning thingy when he's playing with other people. He's usually not far off..........

disorganisedmummy Fri 12-Feb-16 12:38:52

Ds's music teacher at school gives him all the violins for the little ones learning to tune and the ukuleles as he's so good at it.She also tested him auraly yesterday and it appeared he can sing in perfect pitch too!
He adores using Musescore to compose but his theory isn't quite good enough as in the structure of the composition isn't quite there but its a bloody go try. Bless him!smile

NewLife4Me Fri 12-Feb-16 12:54:28

OP, it is quite rare, oh so I hear from dd school.
They are all gifted musicians, not necessarily classical although they do seem to be the majority.
Obviously, they all have the potential regarding tuning and pitch but there are those who are naturally good in this way and others who need to put in more effort to produce the same results.
I'm really pleased for your ds, music is a wonderful talent to possess and covers so many disciplines such as language, Maths, Art, Science, History, and maybe more grin
He sounds like he is doing really well, and well done for not pushing him too much.
However, given some of the traits associated with Aspergers please move him to a specialised education if it appears this is what he wants to do when he is older.
Having been through similar I'm happy for a pm if I can ever help, not that I'm an authority or anything.

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