My theory on perfect pitch

In the end it really doesn’t matter. No one in the Beatles or Led Zeppelin had perfect pitch. It’s an anomaly of modern musicians. It’s the perfect gift if you want to persue music. But you still have to be good.

There’s some interesting research on absolute pitch ability having a statistically significant correlation with tonal language comprehension (Mandarin and Vietnamese, for example), where pitch information conveys specific linguistic meaning.

This would seem to show that absolute/perfect pitch can be a learned ability, in the same way that humans do not intrinsically know Mandarin at birth - all languages are learned skills. However age, environment, and (potentially) genetic factors contribute to a person’s potential to acquire these skills.

Personally, I feel that pitch discrimination is analogous to color perception. If you were never told that the color “blue” is labeled that way, you would still recognize that it’s distinct from “orange”, and probably would develop some mental system for making such a distinction. Absolute pitch recognition is similar to this. Just as you see the color and and it immediately registers as “blue” or “red”, one can hear a tone and assign a consistent label to it - that sound is the “color” of ‘A’ or ‘La’.

Of course, it’s not uncommon for people to have certain types of color blindness, so just as there’s a spectrum of visual acuity in color perception, there’s a spectrum in tonal perception and memory.

Ultimately, I don’t really believe “perfect pitch” has much influence on musicianship or your potential to achieve great things as an artist. There are many great performers who do not have absolute pitch, and still have extremely refined hearing, creativity, expression, technique, compositional ability, etc. It’s probably not a great use of time to worry about things you have no control over, and focus on the things you can change and improve.

I would go further and say artistically speaking it has absolutely NOTHING to do with it. I would even go further and say that most musicians that you could objectively say are great musicians, don’t have perfect pitch.

It may give you an edge if you are a professional transcriber, but that’s it really. It won’t make you write good music, or add to creativity.

Let’s say that some people are born with perfect pitch. Presumably, that would mean that they were born with some very specific abilities and that those abilities are somehow programmed before birth, perhaps even in their DNA. Assuming they didn’t learn PP by listening from mommy’s womb, there aren’t many other places for it to be, other than in the DNA, right? I don’t know much about genetics, but I’m assuming that DNA doesn’t change a whole lot in a few generations, so PP code would have to have been generated over a few generations.

But when we talk about PP, there are two abilities that we seem to project on those with the gift. First, they can sing in tune, which includes two essential elements, “A” vibrating at 440 Hz and a tempered scale built around that “A.” However, A440 is modern, and, arguably, still not 100% agreed upon, especially in chamber music. Likewise, tempered scales came into wide use and may have been invented by Good Old JS Bach. In the genetic time scales, these were both awfully recent to be embedded in our DNA. And shall we mention all is the Asian and Middle Eastern music that’s not built on twelve time scales? I’m other words, even the tempered scale isn’t all that universal.

Yes, I’ve watched the YouTube stuff with Beato’s kid, and it’s impressive stuff, but I have a hard time believing that it’s skill that people are born with. A dear friend is in his eighties and has flawless pitch recognition and can sing notes out of thin air. He’s been playing piano since he was knee high to a grass hopper.

You’re probably not born just doing it with no exposure, but the genetic part comes in to play in that one may have a more likely genetic propensity for it. Again, we have very little personal control of when and what genes we have inherited turn on and off. Like mentioned before, it’s very common in countries that use tonal inflections in language. It may be more common in India as well where they have a history of hearing more variation in pitch (quarter) tones. It’s also cultural as well and doesn’t just follow equal temperament, or a 440hz and reference frequency, so you can have cultural variation with it.

So…learned. Propensity towards making it easier, but learned. Another friend grew up in the seventies and both of her parents were lounge singers. They would hear a song on the radio and all my friend to transcribe the song when it came on next. Been has a scary good ear. Lots of ear training. She couldn’t play at her friend’s house until she finished transcribing. Motivation.

As far as I’m aware, epigenetics is a real thing. It used to be debated but is now proven? I’m not hardcore into it enough to speak with confidence, but it makes sense as thats how a species can adapt and change to it’s environment.
And the most adaptive stage of your life is childhood, thats why child abuse is so devastating as it literally changes how you experience and react to life.

If recognizing pitch is something you experienced in childhood then your genes and brain will adapt to accommodate that ability.

Also if it was solely based on genes, then what explains the random experiences of hearing actual music in your head? I still believe that this is a learnt ability and not a gene. Your genes will change due to your childhood experiences, so they are probably measuring that gene expression after the fact.

Does anyone know who they are recording these genes from? Baby’s or kids/adults?
Like in Rick beatos video, he even states he HAS the gene for pitch recognition, yet he doesn’t have perfect pitch. So how can it be the gene?

And the fact people with tonal language have greater percent of “perfect pitch genes” reinforces the idea that it’s a learnt thing as a child and not a gene. The gene might express itself if you’re exposed to pitch when Young, but it doesn’t dictate if you acually have it. As Rick said, 50% of the Asian population have it, yet 50% of Asians most certainly don’t have perfect pitch.

Obviously idk for sure either way, but from everything I’ve seen and experienced perfect pitch is not a gene, it’s exposure to pitch recognition as a child when your brain will adapt to almost anything, even if it’s at the expense of your survival like childhood trauma.

One thing you can try is try to recreate a melody or song in your head without using your inner voice, it’s very hard to say the least. Even as I type this my inner voice is “talking” as I type, I believe for us without perfect pitch the circuitry to reproduce actual tones in our head has been overpowered by our ability to talk to ourselves in our head. I often can listen to someone and then talk to myself in their voice with their accent and inflections etc but reproducing an actual tone in my head is very hard. It’s like reading text from a distance, it’s hard to get a grasp of, it’s there but it’s such a small signal it might as well not be there, and my inner voice is a 1000 times louder.

@WhammyStarScream
It’s not just a gene, it’s over 500 that have been identified with pitch recognition. I have a higher propensity for pitch recognition based on my genome, and I don’t have perfect pitch either, but there is a genetic component that has been identified with the propensity to recognize pitch in general. There’s nothing that’s been researched as far as I know specifically for perfect pitch.

It would not be ethical to measure gene expression on these genes because it would require taking human subjects that have them, and do have perfect pitch and then cleaving out the genes to put them in a knockout group. Not only can we not do this without the risk of accidental knockout of non associated genes (crispr protocol isn’t quite there yet), 500 is quite a lot to target and knockout. We don’t know what the ramifications are of this, and not sure if transcription will repair these genes as they were or in a damaged or dysfunctional state.

I understand, but at what point were these gene recognized? If it’s much more than a baby then epigenetics come into play, what you’re exposed to when Young changes what genes become active. It’s quite possible that the current research is not valid due to how old the test subjects are. As I said, I don’t know how old the gene research participants were conducted on. If you can enlighten me on that I’d appreciate it, I’m very interested

I’m more curious as to why you are that interested in it in the first place.

I like learning about how the brain works and ways to learn, nootropics and all that. Meditation too. It’s just an interest I have like guitar.

Nootropics…. Oh geez. I have my doubts there’s much your going to take legally or illegally that’s permently going to alter your brain to suddenly have that specific ability, besides maybe the odd case of a severe brain trauma or coma, and that you have no control over.

It’s about having little boosts that over time build up. No different from taking creatine for a couple more reps at the gym.
I know there are more serious nootropics around that are to be careful of, but there are loads that are very safe and have positive effects.

And I didn’t say I was taking them or learning about them to get perfect pitch mind. Though it is an interesting area to learn about.

Since there is no life saving or therapeutic benefit to perfect pitch and as such constitutes a risky monetary return, I doubt you are going to see a lot of money dumped into the genetic manipulation of perfect pitch any time soon. unless it becomes a desirable trait in some dystopian future where designer children are allowed.