My theory on perfect pitch

One thing I’ve noticed over and over is during random times in my life while I’m either semi asleep or woken up at night, is that I can replicate the actual sound of instruments, and hear songs in my head as the actually sound more or less. This can also happen on various drugs.

But most of the time if I imagine a song in my head, I’m using my inner voice to replicate it, and that is very unlike the song, more like humming vocally.
And because my voice can say the same thing in many different pitches without it mattering, this is very inaccurate. One thing I find intresting is native chinese speakers have a higher percentage of perfect pitch people, and they use tonal intricacies in their speech, saying something monotone will have a literal different meaning from saying it with a rising pitch for example.

I think the reason you have to learn perfect pitch early is because you have to imagine the actual sounds rather than replicating them with your inner voice. If you don’t do that early your inner voice becomes the most prominent and you won’t gain perfect pitch. You don’t develop those brain circuits that actually replicate sounds, and you just develop your inner voice which for most of us is not dependent on pitch and can be very monotone.

Have any thoughts?

I haven’t really looked into this subject in a long long time, so forgive my ignorance if more development in it has occurred since then, but doesn’t the fact that you learn anything go against the whole idea of perfect pitch? From my earlier understanding, what you proposed would be considered developing very good Relative Pitch, and developing it early. Relating and comparing, no matter how fast it can be done and processed is still relative pitch.

I had a roommate in school that had perfect pitch. To hear him explain, he did not develop it or train it in any way, he just one day realized he could do it when he was aware of the concept of music.

Not really, as when young your brain plasticity is much higher. As you grow old it gets less and less, still changeable but mostly set.
How you talk to yourself is set when Young, many people do it in pictures rather than just a voice, we all have the same rough inner experience, but how our brain set in childhood is vastly different.

Yeah that’s the thing, last I checked perfect pitch by definition cannot be learned. Any learned variation would be great relative pitch, not perfect pitch. So it doesn’t matter how malleable your brain is at childhood. Perfect pitch cannot by definition be a learned trait, in contrast excellent relative pitch can! Anytime it’s a learned variation no matter how good, it’s still considered relative pitch.

It is a learned thing as far as I’m aware. As a child.

I don’t think this is correct. Perfect pitch by definition is the ability to identify a musical note without using a reference pitch. Nothing about this definition requires that it be inherent rather than learned. Likewise, relative pitch is the ability to identify musical intervals by ear. Again, nothing about this definition implies that a learned ability to identify absolute pitches without reference notes is relative pitch.

In practice, adults generally have a very difficult time learning perfect pitch, but some do actually succeed. Those that succeed generally do not retain the ability without continued practice. But these are empirical observations, not a definition.

It is likely that this ability is developed in early childhood, through a process similar to learning colors. If this is true, then cultural differences are likely to make this more common in cultures where children are exposed to pitches with meaningful labels in early childhood. An anti-seizure medication called valproate has been shown to have a statistically significant impact on the ability of people to gain perfect pitch as adults, and it is hypothesized that this drug somehow allows the brain to re-enter the state associated with ‘critical period’ of sensory learning in childhood. Whether this explanation is accurate or not is up for debate.

If anyone here has perfect pitch I’d love to know if you hear the pitch in you head, or use your inner talking voice. What comes first?

Maybe by definition was incorrect, and by sentiment maybe more so. Like I said, I never really had an interest in it myself, as I think the idea of it may just drive someone nuts. when exposed to it, the sentiment in the academic world I first was introduced to the concept in, was of the mindset that even if you could train your self to hear F and relay it when someone keyed an F (A 440) without a reference note, that still wasn’t good enough to be considered perfect pitch, because it was trained mnemonically someway, that the learned aspect, and information conversion invalidated it in someway. It does seem rather snobbish in retrospect, and I was so disinterested at the time to let it all ride and not question the sentiment. To me it seemed like a miserable concept anyway.

One thing I will point out is that I would consider it possibly something that may equate to how the brain functions as it relates to language as well. Native speakers of a language vs ones that are fluent in that same language even when learned at a young age (we’re talking natural and unaccented you would never know fluent) show different regions in the brain activating more when conversing in it. The non native speakers show more activity in the regions associated with memory recall and conversion (probably hippocampus mostly) than do the native speakers. Your right in that it suddenly doesn’t discredit that they are speaking the language perfectly without a reference word, but it does show differences in how the brain is functioning to relay that information and what it’s relating it to and that there is a conversion involved.

I’m not sure perfect pitch has had that type of attention and study though, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it yielded similar results.

I still believe it’s down to the connections you make as a child or in certain states or drugs.
Rick beatos videos on it suggests a genetic trait, but I don’t think thats true. I’m sure many of you have had the same experiences as me, in being able to actually hear notes and songs as they actually sound in various points in your life. But if you try to replicate sounds in your head normally it is all you inner voice, and not the true sounds.

Maybe, but I’m not sure I want to do the field work with a bunch of drugs to find that one out.

There may very well be genetic component to it. The current thought is that there is a genetic component to being able to match musical pitch in general, researchers believe they have identified over 500 genetic markers for this. I think even some dna ancestry companies even include this in their work up when you use them. To really test this though likely would be pretty unethical to say the least. (gene targeting and knockout) Much easier to just find commonalities.

Of course but inverse. It’s trying to replicate them from a dream state to real life that proves tricky for me.

I don’t know the intricacies of it all and I’m currently too tipsy to read through, but I’ve always had that thing that a song would constantly play in my head. I used to hate it, but now I realise that it sort of plays to the pitch of the actual recording. Say I want to play something from memory, I can tell if I’m halfstep up or down immediately without listening to the record, just by memory.

Is that perfect pitch?

perfect pitch is an instant recognition of a note, like how you can understand what word someone just said, or can read this text. It’s automatic. If you can’t just recognize a note as fast as you’re reading these words it’s not perfect pitch.

There is a certain mental grasp they have with notes.
What I don’t know is if people with perfect pitch can hear actual tones in their head.

Well, then no. I can’t name notes on the spot. But more often than not if I hear the note clearly I can find it on a fretboard in a second or two.
In fact I don’t even need to hear it at the moment, all I need is to remember the sound.
If my guitar is out of tune by more than a few cents, I know immediately.

In all fairness I can’t really give in to the theory that perfect pitch allows you to name notes, not from birth anyways, since the notes we use are really arbitrary concepts.
Even notes today are not the same as few centuries ago, pitch changed, the relative distances between notes changed.
The irregular distances between notes actually were the reason why scales sounded different based on the key they were in.
This has to be learned ability, at least to an extent.

That roommate I told you about that had it, certainly seemed to think he could. Him having it, got pretty annoying at times too. He would name the pitch of your voice or could tell you if it was in between a pitch, or even the combination notes of a siren. That’s one of the things that always seemed so miserable about it - he couldn’t turn it off.

1 Like

And what about you guys? When you try to play a song in your head is it using your inner voice?
For me it is, apart from rare occasions

I study at a music school now and there are many people around me, that have perfect pitch. But there are also people, that don’t have it, but still are able to instantly recognize very fast passages, or extremely complicated chords. So i’m pretty sure, that speed of recognition isn’t the criteria for it.

A thing about inner voice is that when you practice solfege, you gradually learn to imagine in your head your own voice, singing notes. Ear training teachers talk about this thing called inner hearing. It’s actually the same thing with playing your instrument. Over time you get so familiar with the sound of it, that you can imagine notes in your head without actually plaing them. So no, inner musical voice isn’t only for perfect pitchers, everyone can do it :slight_smile:

1 Like

It’s not speed although people with perfect pitch are pretty fast at it, it’s likely more the areas of the brain that are activated. This likely sets the differentiation between having it and not. Same with the language example above. The non native speakers were perfectly fast at processing the words and relaying/conversing in perfect accents. It was the areas of the brain that were activated that were different between the subjects.

There are different variations of it. Perfect pitch is the ability to sing a note without reference. Which I believe and many scientists also believe is an inherent ability.
Perfect relative pitch is also an inherent ability but can be learned through rigorous study to an extent. You still need an amazing ear.
From the people I’ve known with PP it isn’t that much of an advantage. Because music isn’t about recreating notes. It’s about having a voice.

@Pconsoli74 That was indeed the thought surrounding it that I brought up earlier. The sentiment when I was first introduced to the concept was that it can’t be learned, it’s inherent to the individual, but that good or perfect relative pitch can.

No it doesn’t make them a good musician, but it sure as hell helps with transcribing.

1 Like