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Can perfect pitch be learned?

Can perfect pitch be learned?

Perfect or absolute pitch is the ability to identify and recall musical notes from memory without the need to hear another reference note. Several famous composers such as Mozart have been known to have this remarkably rare ability. It is believed that only one in every 10,000 individuals has it. 

Do not confuse perfect pitch with relative pitch. This is another ability that consists of being able to identify notes once already given a reference note.

Why some people have it and others do not, has always been a matter of controversy. While some researchers strongly believe it can be taught others think it runs in families with parents that encourage their children to be musical since they are very young. However, other experts suggest it is fully genetically inherited.

Several studies have been done on the matter showing different results, making the topic even more confusing. However, today we are going to talk about some of them.

Dr. Joseph Profita has developed a test capable of detecting perfect pitch in any person no matter their musical training level. This test together with a careful analysis of family trees has found strong evidence that perfect pitch is an inherited skill that follows an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern.

What does this mean? This rare trait is carried by a single gene and not by the sex chromosome, thus, a 50% chance to be inherited from the parent who has it.

In 2013 a study from Harvard University reported that a drug used to treat epilepsy could effectively reopen a period of learning ability allowing to acquire the ability of perfect pitch. However, a more recent study conducted by UChicago psychologists suggests that people can be trained to learn absolute pitch without any medications to train the brain. This has been the first significant study that suggests perfect pitch is an ability that can be trained and acquired even during adult age. It seems to depend on a cognitive ability to hold sounds in one’s mind.

There have been three key findings from this paper. First, no drugs are necessary to train adults to acquire this skill. Second, perfect pitch depends on auditory working memory. And finally, trained people show this skill months after training. However, it has not been proved if this adult-acquired absolute pitch is comparable to the naturally inherited perfect pitch ability.

All in all, no matter whether you hold this ability or not. After studying famous musicians’ biographies only around 50% have been found to have had this skill. Meaning, perfect pitch is not a compulsory requirement to have a brilliant musical career.

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