Do You Have Perfect Pitch?

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Synopsis

Absolute pitch, commonly referred to as perfect pitch, is the ability to recognize the pitch of a sound without an external reference. Research shows that there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of developing what you may have been born with.

The human ear is a truly amazing organ, serving as a tranducer that converts external sound energy into a nerve impulse transmitted to the brain.  It’s through this process that the sounds of the world come to life – conversations, car horns, dog barks, rustling leaves. These sounds are vibrations, or sound waves, that travel through the air, into the ear. The frequency of the vibrations is measured in hertz – one vibration (or sound wave) per second is equal to one hertz, 80 vibrations, 80 hertz. Humans are capable of detecting a wide range of frequencies, ranging from around 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz. 

The sensation of a frequency is commonly referred to as the pitch of a sound.  The lower the frequency, the lower the pitch. The higher the frequency, the higher the pitch.  Trained musicians are capable of detecting a difference in frequency between two separate sounds that is as little as 2 Hz.

Being able to recognize a pitch without an external reference is called absolute pitch, commonly referred to as perfect pitch. This is a rare trait. Studies show around one in ten thousand people have perfect pitch however many never discover they have it. Research at the University of California in San Diego found that while many may be born with it, discovering the gift is likely more the result of nurture than nature. In a December 2001 article in Discover, Psychologist Diana Deutsch noted that “Everyone has an implicit form of perfect pitch, even though we aren't all able to put a label to notes. It's as if people suffer from a kind of anomia: They can recognize the note but can't label it. What's learned as a child is the ability to label."  Many people who have perfect pitch have had music lessons before the age of six. After six, the odds of discovering perfect pitch decrease significantly.

For nine-year-old piano prodigy Gavin George, having perfect pitch is “like seeing in color.” It’s natural and he instantly just knows the pitch (Interestingly, people with perfect pitch have a higher incidence of synesthesia). When visiting the George's in Ohio, Gavin put THNKR to the test.  Sadly, it turned out that no one on the THNKR team has perfect pitch. Do you think you might have perfect pitch? Watch the video below and play along as Gavin George puts your ears to the test.

Further reading:

http://discovermagazine.com/2001/dec/featbiology

http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb05/pitch.aspx

http://cogprints.org/6268/1/Cortex_sound-colour_Synaesthesia.pdf

Tags: discover magazine, ear, education, frequency, hearing, hertz, music, musical, perfect pitch, piano, piano prodigy, pitch, prodigies, sound, sound wave, thnkr, wave length

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