I would like to share an interesting story about developing perfect pitch in a small child, which was accomplished with early music training. My 10 year-old daughter, Sophia, began watching the music-teaching DVD, “Introducing Trebellina,” when she was two-and-a-half years old. She watched it regularly because she loved it beyond words. After only two viewings, she started to pick out individual instruments in songs on the radio. Trebellina showed her how to associate the colored notes with the sounds from an instrument.
Eventually, when she was four, we gave her piano lessons. Her teacher pointed out that she could identify the sound of a note without seeing which key had been pressed. As we investigated, we learned that she could only do that for the notes taught on the DVD. When we introduced her to all the keys, she quickly learned to extrapolate from the entire set of keys. When my four year-old son, Matthew, was two-and-a-half, we discovered he could do the same thing! It was due to early exposure to music.
Although my family loves music, this was a first, as prior to Sophia, there was no other family member with the gift of perfect pitch. It has helped with Sophia’s singing, as she has a beautiful voice and an excellent ear. Her voice has earned her performances in venues in the metropolitan NY area.
Here are some remarkable facts about young children and perfect pitch:
Mozart must have known how it felt to have perfect pitch, as he could name a single note from a tolling bell or the chiming of a pocket watch. Yet only one in 10,000 Americans has perfect pitch, and many professional musicians will rely on relative pitch. To approximate perfect pitch, also called “absolute pitch,” some musicians memorize just one note, usually middle C, and then use relative pitch to steer their minds to the others. others. By estimating pitch, their thought doesn’t come automatically. It can take a few seconds to think about the note they want to name—and even then, they can be slightly off. People with perfect pitch name notes instantly and they’re accurate consistently.
In a recent study published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (Vol. 116, No. 4), it was discovered that children who speak Chinese and other languages that use “pitches” to express words’ meanings and associate words with pitches, are nine times more likely to develop the uncommon musical ability known as “absolute pitch.” More popularly known as “perfect pitch,” it is a rare ability to recognize the letter of a musical note when heard. This study, which was conducted simultaneously with research on infant pitch perception, suggests that absolute pitch may be linked to early language development.
“We’re finding evidence of an absolute pitch module in everyone’s brain, and I suspect it developed for speech,” says Diana Deutsch, PhD, study author and psychology professor at the University of California, San Diego. “That we recognize pitch in music is a side effect.”
Deutsch adds that those individuals with perfect pitch may hold advantages in musical tasks, such as singing in tune or composing music. Other studies, including those by Deutsch, have shown that perfect pitch is a form of speech rather than a characteristic of music, and like speech, it can be learned.
“Everyone has an implicit form of perfect pitch, even though we aren’t all able to put a label to notes. What’s learned as a child is the ability to label,” explains Deutsch. “I often wonder if I acquired my perfect pitch because I had a color-coded xylophone as a kid,” she says, noting that people with perfect pitch have a higher frequency of synesthesia, which means that when they hear a sound, they see a color.
Genes may play a role in helping some people acquire perfect pitch more easily than others, but Deutsch’s findings suggest that almost anyone can learn to label notes, provided they start young, when they are beginning to learn language. Deutsch is a proponent of parents giving young children musical instruments, preferably with labeled notes, to help the process along.