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Show HN: Perfect Pitch Ear Training (sergeykish.com)
172 points by sergeykish 40 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 151 comments

Semi-pro musician for 20+ years here. You can't teach this. My mom has perfect pitch, and I do not. I can play a record and move the pitch knob to make it play a bit fast, and it will bother her enough to get up off the couch and change it back. No matter how much ear training I do, that will never be the case with me.

I have very good relative pitch, and a highly trained ear, and that you can teach. If you play me C, I can tell you what the other notes are based on that, and my internal reference for what C is persists for quite a while. If you play me a song, I can hear what the chords are -- the color (major, minor, dominant, diminished, etc.) and the degree of the scale. But that is all relative to itself. If I hear the same song played in C, and then in Db, the two of them will hit me emotionally the same. Whereas for someone with perfect pitch, I understand it can be different. And for someone with perfect pitch and synesthesia, I understand it can be different still -- notes and keys are perceived as colors. And while I can imagine what that might be like, there's no way for me to train myself to be that.

I agree, the scientific consensus appears to be that absolute pitch cannot be developed after a certain age, and that this age is related to the 'prime' language acquisition ages. Tonal language speakers (e.g. Mandarin) have absolute pitch with higher frequency, possibly because their ears have needed to train to distinguish tones in this critical period.

As someone with absolute pitch, I should say I have not found it musically useful, and I would hesitate recommending people train for it even if it was possible. When I was learning to play jazz, it was actually a major crutch for me. For jazz especially, the modes, chords, progressions, and relationships between tones are really important and are what determines the 'color' of what you're playing. Harmony in general is determined by the relationships between tones, not the absolute tones themselves (mostly - there are of course differences in sound playing three octaves up or down), and an ear for absolute pitch doesn't help much there at all.

I could use absolute pitch to identify chords and modes, but it didn't help me 'think' about and play within them the way relative pitch does. A good ear for relative pitch, and an understanding of harmony go much farther.

Yep. Classmate of mine in university had absolute pitch, and while it was useful for some things, it was a liability in several places. For one thing, she played flute: everyone tunes to the oboe, so if the oboist is a few cents sharp everyone's a few cents sharp and she spends the evening wincing while playing. Further, when we got to the 'ear dictation' section of music theory class (professor plays a melodic sequence and you have to write it down based on the relative pitches), she made the mistake of letting on she had absolute pitch. From then on, the professor would say, "OK, this melody starts on F" and then start it on Ab instead, forcing her to do the relative calculations in her head. Didn't bother the rest of us, but drove her absolutely up the wall.

An ex girlfriend of mine was a professional oboe player and conspicuously used an electronic tuner when tuning an orchestra (it was a bit smaller than a deck of playing cards). She did this to prevent complaints from other musicians. She claimed that the violinists liked the “brighter” sound of their instruments when tuned a bit sharp.

> Tonal language speakers (e.g. Mandarin) have absolute pitch with higher frequency

This is interesting, because a tonal language like Mandarin does not care about absolute pitch; it's all relative. For example, 1st tone is a (usually higher) flat tone. But it doesn't matter what pitch you use. 2nd tone is a rising tone, but it doesn't matter what pitch you start at or end at; it just matters that the two pitches differ enough that your listener can tell that there was a change, and that it was rising.

I wonder why that sort of thing also leads to a higher prevalence of absolute pitch.

There are several recorded cases of people acquiring perfect pitch late in life as a result of getting _tinnitus_. So what they do is learn the frequency of their 'ring' and map everything from there. I guess some people would call that cheating.

I have a very low pitched tinnitus around 345 Hz (a little below F4 = 349 Hz), and by deliberately contracting some jaw/ear muscles (I believe stapedius and tensor tympani) the sound gets much more pronounced.

While it helps with starting on the right note when singing a song and deriving single pitches, it by no means makes me instantly know a note's pitch like someone with perfect pitch would experience. I still have to derive pitches manually, and while singing the sound of my voice is loud enough that I don't hear the tinnintus anymore and I often don't notice my singing going slightly out of tune.

I do have the ability to recognize relative pitches in relation to e. g. accompaniment playing in a given key, and this recognition is automatic in a way that the derive-from-tinnitus definitely isn't.

Also sometimes the tinnitus goes out of tune down to almost E4, this sucks.

It's not "cheating", but it's also not absolute pitch, by definition.

Absolute pitch (or perfect pitch) is the ability to identify a note without having any memory aid or reference tone to compare it to.

So if you have a constantly-present reference tone, due to tinnitus, and you figure everything out based on the interval from that tone, that's simple relative pitch and the ability to figure out intervals. Not perfect pitch.

Sure, that seems reasonable, although likely a different mechanism than the one I’m talking about, which seems to come from early life language acquisition. I think when people discuss absolute pitch, this is the type they have in mind, because using tinnitus is still using a reference tone. I believe there were early theories for absolute pitch around this idea (that those with absolute pitch used tinnitus to help them identify tones), but they have been made obsolete by more recent knowledge.

I have tinnitus as well, and while it is very mild, I am surprised at the idea it can be ‘stable’ enough to form a basis for absolute pitch. Most of the time I don’t experience it as a pitch layered on top of all other sounds. Even if I focus on it, it doesn’t feel like a sound that can be given a clear singular tone, if that makes sense. I do know experience of tinnitus varies, so perhaps there are forms that are more capable.

Wow I might have tinnitus, I read the yesterday night and was thinking I do often have ringing in my ears at night, it usually fades away during the day (or maybe get's filtered out by my brain). Tried mapping the tone I heard, at first I thought it was F#7 but after trying a pitch higher, F#8 it was obvious that it's the tone I'm hearing.

A friend of mine has a teenager who developed perfect pitch in middle school. Their first language is English, but they are learning Mandarin very rapidly (along with 2-3 other Chinese dialects).

he didnt develop it he already had it

> Tonal language speakers (e.g. Mandarin) have absolute pitch with higher frequency, possibly because their ears have needed to train to distinguish tones in this critical period.


> As someone with absolute pitch, I should say I have not found it musically useful

True. Perfect pitch can indeed prevent you from appreciating some kinds of music that become too predictable, too fast.

Any music that was "predictable" in the way you mean would be just as predictable for any trained musician with decent pitch memory and musical memory. Perfect pitch has absolutely nothing to do with this.

Or purposefully recorded at 432hz instead of 440hz... :(

Not true. Many professional musicians (like myself) routinely have to sing or play at various pitch levels: A=390Hz, A=415, A=420, A=430, A=435 or so, A=440, a bit sharp of 440 (European orchestras), etc. Many of those musicians have perfect pitch to varying degrees.

Having perfect pitch does not make it impossible, or even difficult, to "enjoy" music at varying pitches, etc.

I think it depends on the musician. A couple of friends of mine struggle against their absolute pitch in historical pitch contexts (especially a notorious 19th century organ tuned to A450) and have to think in microtones, others just dial in and deal with it.

Considering 432hz is not really wrong, just different, does it bother you when listening? Is it the same with microtonal music? Or performances in baroque pitch?

It’s not “wrong” necessarily, but if you’re doing it intentionally, it’s probably because you believe that 432 is somehow better. Obviously, it’s possible to do it for satire reasons, but that’s not as common I would assume.

Great Highland Bagpipes tune to 475-480Hz as our low A. They're also a just-intonation instrument rather than equal tempered, but in a key that seems really weird if you play all 9 notes: it's really 3 pentatonic keys interwoven so the full scale sounds dissonant, but any of the pentatonic scales sounds fine. And there's some weirdness in what scales were chosen so that the melody notes don't cause dissonance with the drones.


> if you’re doing it intentionally, it’s probably because you believe that 432 is somehow better

Or cool in this specific case, or just different and fun. You can intentionally do 13ET as well because you want to, but without claiming it's somehow better. Or use many other choices...

Im not denying that one would do it on purpose knowing there’s not really any benefits. I’m just coming from the view that there isn’t a practical difference between 432 and 440. 13TET, OTOH, gives you both another note in the octave and different pitch ratios.

Same situation -- trained musician, excellent ear (I can make those Karaoke backing tracks) - but zero absolute/perfect reference without a tuning fork or tuned instrument.

Funny story: Watching "A Hard Day's Night" with my son, when he was around 8 years old: "Daddy, why are the Beatles out of tune?" (The tracks in the movie were slightly off-pitch compared to the album.)

Turns out he has perfect pitch. As in, he can start singing a song in the exact pitch he learned it -- close enough to sound in tune with the recording. This is accuracy to the discrimination level of trained musicians -- I estimate about 0.5% or 1/10 of a semi-tone.

Oddly, or not, it took him several years to learn to hear music on a relative basis -- to hear C-G as similar to D-A. Transposed songs (Sinatra sings "Something" in F) sounded to him like completely different songs.

Now he has developed an excellent musical ear, and taught himself to play bass.

relevant: https://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=34782.0

Show him Adam Neely's YouTube channel if he is not watching it already. A massive wealth of music theory knowledge and he touches on more advanced tonality topics pretty often. He also plays bass, so lots of the "vlog" and practical stuff is using bass.

Your son sounds like he might be bored by a schools traditional learning pretty quickly, channels like Adams and Andrew Huang would be great ways to keep his curiosity piqued!

Thanks! He definitely knows the channel and I like Neely too. I especially liked his post on just intonation. Also, his deconstruction of Girl from Ipanema...

I agree, you can't learn this after childhood. As somebody who went to music school for 10 years I've been around literally thousands of musicians and have never once met somebody who developed perfect pitch as an adult.

On the other hand, if you do have perfect pitch, you can lose it over time! I've had perfect pitch all my life, and now that I'm going on 40 I surprise myself by sometimes hearing a song a half-step off (i.e. I'll assume a song is in F but it's really in E). This has never happened to me until the past few years. Not sure how much is due to my ears aging, and how much due to I'm not a practicing musician anymore.

Tts very possible that the song IS a half-step off as much modern rock (not so sure about pop) music is deliberately tuned a half-step down in order to either...

1. help the singer hit "higher notes".

2. sound "heavier" and just that "bit off" that half-step down tuning gives.

In conjunction with "drop-D" tuning (pulling the low E-string down a full step in order to give a "deeper", more heavy tonality), this gives much of modern "heavy rock" heavier feel.

My first encounter with half-step down tuning was, I believe, Motley Crue's Too Fast For Love album, where I beleive Mick Mars used both tunings in order to use a beer bottle for full chord slides (dropping the low-E allows barre chords, the staple of rock music, to be played using just one finger or, in Mick's case, one beer bottle) and that exceptionally low "drop-C#" (remember, we dropped the low-E down a step and a half to C#) drone growl that gave that album an exceptionally hard feel.


So, is the idea that you don't actually hear that the song is in E (or some other guitar friendly key), but recognize that it's based on open strings on guitar and because of that you just assume it's that key instead of guitar being tuned down?


I can easily say that in the 100's of rock songs that are tuned a half-step down (the entire Guns N Roses catalog for one quick example) and thus lend themselves to keys like G# and D# instead of A and E, that I have almost never encountered a song in G# or D# that were not using half-step down tuning.

I'm going sharp as well (this started in my 40s). My understanding is that this is pretty common for people with perfect pitch. And it is frustrating!

Apologies, I have no idea how "perfect" perfect pitch is (is it sub-semitone accurate?) but could it be you were first exposed to these songs on PAL-region TV where they suffered from PAL speedup (or the inverse)?

No - I mean I’m listening to a song and I go to the piano to play along with it. The first note I play is sometimes a half step off.

This is not likely to happen with a recording of the instruments I’ve always played (piano and trumpet) but might happen if I’m listening to guitars or organ.

> You can't teach this

Well, we don't actually know this do we? We know that it's very hard, and that it's never been done before, but so was running a sub-4 mile for most of human history.

If we knew the mechanism through which people learn perfect pitch and could prove that it vanishes with age, then you'd have an argument. But we're not there yet.

We don't know the mechanism, but we have hints. Surprisingly enough, relative pitch is the one most unique to humans. Birds have perfect pitch, and can fail to recognize a song if it's pitch-shifted by even a small amount. And we know what the signals are that come off of the cochlea (and we can even emulate them with a cochlear implant). So what's different is something in the way the brain processes the sounds, and to my knowledge, out of the millions of highly trained musicians there are in this world, none of them has developed perfect pitch outside of childhood.

> Birds have perfect pitch, and can fail to recognize a song if it's pitch-shifted by even a small amount

I have a pet parrot who seems to always sing in the same key. Now I feel bad for whistling off-key to him all these years!

Assuming that perfect pitch is an immutable skill after a certain point, I wonder whether the age of acquisition still matters. Do people who learn the skill earlier have more fine-grained perception?

Right, it rings too much like "You can't teach Chinese." It's more likely a combination of it being really difficult past childhood to begin with, and also that we haven't figured out how to teach it yet.

From personal experience, long ago I spent some time trying to acquire perfect pitch using a synesthetic method from somewhere, and eventually convinced myself that I was making some progress, but that the effort required to take it to the point of being at all useful wasn't going to be worth my practice time.

I mostly agree with all the above, but as a guitarist/singer* there is distinctly something about transposing songs - it is clearly obvious that most songs work best in their original keys and quite a number of times transposition completely changes how a song sounds, to the point where some songs when transposed simply do not work at all.

If music was all about relative intervals, surely this wouldn't be an issue?

* Not the world's best singer, hence my observations around transposition, as I try to bend songs I like into a range I can just about manage.

That's because you are using a guitar, which is not perfectly in tune no matter how you tune it.

For an equal temperament instrument (like a midi keyboard), transcription would be seamless.

For a fretless instrument, transcription can be made seamless, if the player is good at intonation.

However, the timbre of the instrument can still be a little different for each key (e.g. open strings vs fingered notes), but that's a nuance on instrument rather than transcription per se.

At least on violin the different strings have slightly different timbres, as do different fingerings. Playing a G4 as 3rd finger on the D string will not sound the same as playing it in third position on the G string even with very precise intonation.

Sound recording, reproduction, and even instrument resonance are usually not a perfectly flat EQ also, so transposing up or down can hit different frequency-dependent distortions.

Transposing with a capo should preserve it exactly.

That’s not quite correct. To perfectly preserve, you’d also need to change the string thickness, tension and weight, which may involve a change of materials, and may not even be possible to retain proportionality between strings. You’d have to change the body of the guitar as well.

Would guitar with a capo on fifth fret (and tuned) have bigger errors than ukulele?

I have no idea which is further from a purely pitch adjusted version of the original! The key (no pun intended) takeaway is that virtually all instruments sound different in each key, and just playing higher will sound different to eg recording and adjusting the pitch digitally (or analog-ly).

Oh, you are about timbre. Sure capo can't change that.

> That's because you are using a guitar, which is not perfectly in tune no matter how you tune it.

I've though powersnail point is about different shapes and your comment is about True Temperament guitar [1], [2].

Do you think timbre is the reason we notice pitch changes? And we would not notice transposition if it was pure sine? I am sure going to test it [3] and will add pure sine instrument.

[1] https://truetemperament.com/

[2] https://strandbergguitars.com/true-temperament/

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24875740

I've heard a story of adult acquiring perfect pitch [1]. He made a tool for Win32 platform years ago [2].

I play (hobby) harmonica and I feel them differently. I like dark tone of G (blues in D), bright and someone neutral tone of C, I have A and don't play it much. How can one explain this?

Do you experience Doppler effect on ski elevator? It was devastating. Can it be that harmonica trains ears to find a hole and bend notes? But any fretles instrument should have same requirement (violin).

Some people claim adults can't learn languages, while in reality we lack not neuron plasticity but time, patience, culture. Maybe skill learned by adult and child is different but serves same function. It is fine by me to learn "perfect ear equivalent". At least I can train myself and play with a kid, maybe he would acquire this skill in full potential.

[1] http://www.aruffo.com/eartraining/

[2] http://www.aruffo.com/eartraining/software/

Does Aruffo ever claim to have acquired perfect pitch? I followed his enormous blog as it was happening 10-15 years ago (I'm even quoted in it :)), and it was utterly fascinating to see his journey, but I never thought he actually successfully got perfect pitch.

I didn't check, maybe it is foolish, I remember him internalizing F#, played with software, have not reproduced. Lately I've noticed I can reproduce G3 (from playing harmonica), that looks like a good start.

In the linked above dissertation [1] AP have 80% accuracy (C4 to B5).

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24874425

This is such a good explanation, and similar to my experience. You've hit all the points that I've tried to explain to musician friends. Some people have a very different experience.

I have perfect pitch. For me it’s much easier to identify tones on piano (which I play) than other instruments or sine waves. So I feel like there is some part of it that’s “tuneable”.

That's fairly common and the simplest explanation I know about is that you can "memorize" a sound if you train for it and then when you hear it you recall the memory without going through the whole "pipeline" for understanding what it is. Your memory or "cache" for what C is indexes with the specific harmonics that make the timbre of a piano. On another instrument it's a different sound, the main harmonic is the same one but the timbre is so different that you need to go through the "let's use perfect pitch for this" part of your brain.

It's the same thing mechanics use to identify engine sounds quickly or why some people can tell who's walking on a hallway because of how the steps sound. Repeated exposition to a stimulus that then gets associated with something etches a memory.

This not only happens with perfect pitch. To for example know how to tell a major third from a minor third on all keys you can "memorize" all the sounds and know which one they are. I think my brain kinda did that and now I sometimes get confused with M3 and P5 because of how "similar" they sound even though you can like totally fit another tone comfortable between the root and the fifth and the root and the third don't have enough air for that.

My partner did her dissertation on exactly this.

If you are interested, see Chapter 3:


Thank you! Primary instrument AP — 80% accuracy (C4 to B5), reaction time 1.81 seconds. Yet reduced by non primary instrument.

> Participants got significantly more trials correct when the timbre of the trials was congruent with the participant’s primary instrument (M = 39.13 (out of 48) trials, SD = 11.26) as opposed to incongruent with it (M = 36.5 (out of 48) trials, SD = 13.7), [t(23) = 2.935, p < .01].

Perfect pitch here too...

Curious if this happens to others - you’ll hear a noise (e.g a glass hitting something, an object falling to the ground etc) that makes a single tone, and a song immediately starts playing in your head because it starts with that same tone?

My stand up desk at an old job was the starting pitch to Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love

Not perfect pitch, but I play a fretless instrument. I learned to map specific intervals to songs.

    minor 2nd : Jaws
    major 2nd : Frere Jacques
Now every time I hear an interval these things enter my brain.

"My Bonnie lies under the ocean"

Yep... intervals helped during music exams :)

For me, its more that hearing any song for a few chord changes conjures up other songs in either the same key or with the same chord progression, independent of key.

I remember noticing in highschool that hitting a few different corrugated plastic gutter pipes in my backyard would allow playing the bass line to Crazy Train...in principle, i immediately recognize the notes to different beeps and alarms in daily life and think about it unconsciously.

Not perfect pitch, but yeah, this does happen to me. I'll hear a sound and start singing the rest of the song the sound reminds me of, and everyone will look at me oddly.

but the pitches on the piano are not perfect, aren't they ? It uses equal temperament iso just temperament. So shouldn't a piano sound out of key to you ?

That's not what perfect pitch means, per se. It should work with any tonal system.

Suppose you're calibrated to an G1 on 49Hz. You get exposed to a wave at 61.25Hz. Do you consider it to be a B ? For me, the major third on a piano sounds different ('off') from where I imagine it to be.

I don't know if it works by calibrating a note to a frequency, so much as being able to hear the intervals perfectly.... but I don't know for sure, my own pitch is only of modest quality

I don't have perfect pitch, but I have pitch memory. I can recall the sound of the A string of a guitar being plucked, then hum the note which matches what I "hear" in my head, whip out tuner app and see that I'm indeed at 110 Hz.

Do you get it on your first try?

Sometimes when I'm bored and microwaving something I'll try to match my hum to the microwave's tone and I sometimes do this when planes fly by too.

I never get it immediately but it usually syncs up after a few seconds.

> If I hear the same song played in C, and then in Db, the two of them will hit me emotionally the same.

Do you mean you can’t tell the difference between the two? My first thought is that the difference would be obvious, but I could be wrong. Is there a pair of recordings like this anywhere, so I can try it out?

I could tell the difference between them if you play them back to back. But if I woke up in the morning and listened to one of them, I wouldn't be able to tell you whether it was the one in C or the one in Db.

Not sure if there are recordings like this, but you could use GarageBand, Audacity, or the like to pitch-shift a recording without changing the tempo.

This would be interesting test, playing Happy Birthday in a different key.

I'm curious how perfect pitch works in terms of temperaments and tunings standards. For example, do they get bothered by regular guitar over microtonal ones? (those weird guitars w/ extra mini-frets)[1]

I'm really fascinated by our ability to perceive relative pitch even without training. See, for example, how "detuning" by a few cents in lo-fi hip hop provides a very distinct feel to the genre, compared to playing the same tune in standard equal temperament tuning.

[1] https://www.thatericalper.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/max...

Jacob Collier can be accurate to a few cents, microtonal or not (I assume he thinks in terms of offset to the nearest ET pitch)

> My mom has perfect pitch, and I do not. I can play a record and move the pitch knob to make it play a bit fast, and it will bother her enough to get up off the couch and change it back.

This makes me wonder why someone would want to have perfect pitch.

I have a friend who's a trumpet player who has it. He can lay in bed and write out an arrangement, whereas most of us mere mortals would need to reference a piano or a guitar.

Other than that, it's mostly a cool parlor trick. The best story I've heard of someone who had it is that of Woody Shaw, the great jazz trumpet player. A piano player tried to test him on it once, and played a bunch of different chord voicings -- Woody correctly identified all the notes in each of them. Then, to up the challenge, the piano player played a random cluster of notes. Woody listed them all out, and the piano player replied, "Wrong," thinking he had finally stumped him. Then Woody replied, "Now take every note I just said down by a half step." Of course, Woody got them all right, and everybody's mind was blown.

> He can lay in bed and write out an arrangement, whereas most of us mere mortals would need to reference a piano or a guitar.

Why wouldn't that be the case with someone who can "only" hear relative pitch? I mean, you start writing a note and from then on all other notes are relative to that note, where the actual pitch (in Hz) doesn't really matter.

Right. It's perhaps useful if you're a musician (though I'd argue having relative pitch is much more useful), but otherwise it just feels like an annoyance that will reduce your enjoyment of many everyday musical things.

I am an amateur pianist without absolute pitch but good relative pitch as you described. I have to disagree with this:

"If I hear the same song played in C, and then in Db, the two of them will hit me emotionally the same."

For example the Schubert Impromptus Op.90/3 was written in Gb but published in G (for sales reasons). But Gb is dramatically more emotionally for me.

> If I hear the same song played in C, and then in Db, the two of them will hit me emotionally the same.

Something interesting is that before 12-tone equal temperament, you'd tune your instrument in just ratios (basically using harmonics/whole ratios), so there would actually be interval differences between keys.

This just makes me want to learn it even more.

Been making music on and off for the past 20 years. Over the years, I've tried many ear training apps but there was little progress after hours of frustration.

A couple of months ago I found a very different method. The idea is is to internalize pitch by singing. For example, you play a triad on the piano and then sing the 3 notes individually. Or you train yourself to sing an interval. Say you're working on fifths. You play a C in the piano and then sing G, then play D and sing A, etc. I saw results within the first hour.

If anyone is interested I can try to find the video where I got this from.

Another method I can recommend is transcribing music by ear. You'll be amazed how quickly you will be able to find notes and then chords once you get more experience.

Singing - perhaps you know this - is standard in ear training courses. We are required to sing intervals, sing Bach chorales, and sing chords in all inversions and qualities, and sing their resolutions. At advanced levels we are required to sing atonal passages.

Then there is the inverse - melodic dictation. Not just identifying intervals, but chords, their qualities, and inversions.

The goal of these is to develop relative pitch, as it is assumed that adults would generally not be able to acquire perfect pitch.

This is RELATIVE pitch, which anyone can develop. Perfect pitch is kind of a mystery. (However, there are some known dogs and frogs with perfect pitch)


I was just sharing my experience with ear training.

To be fair, that wasn't clear just from your comment. You posted on a thread titled "Perfect Pitch Ear Training" and started with "I have been trying many traing apps..."

I am interested. I put around 30 focused minutes to distinguish E5 and have been able to endure that memory both to recognize it in the piano and to sing it since.

Yes, please. Are not interval training and perfect pitch different things?

I'm mostly concentrating on confidence and quantity — one test / 5s, running hundreds of tests, trying to discard intervals and feel chroma.

That's exactly how I was trained.

The first step is always sight-singing. The teacher gave me a drone note (for example an A4), and I sang according to a sheet music. Not necessarily a triad, though.

Then, it's the other way around, where the teacher played on a piano, and I tried to figure out the note.

> The first step is always sight-singing. The teacher gave me a drone note (for example an A4), and I sang according to a sheet music.

That's a demonstration of relative pitch, not absolute/perfect pitch.

> the teacher played on a piano, and I tried to figure out the note.

It makes sense that you'd be able to retain it for a little bit, but could you, say, walk into your lesson, cold from the prior week, and immediately the teacher hits a note, and you identify it, without practicing first?

Oh of course it’s just relative pitch. But a good relative pitch is really what playing music needs.

I can; but that’s not because I have perfect pitch. I remember A4 (440 Hz) because I tune a violin daily. But compared with the real perfect pitch, my recall quickly fades in a few days if not practiced.

Sorry guys, I cannot seem to find the video.

It was one of Rick Beato's videos, but he has so many about ear training that I cannot find the one where he goes through the basics of solfege.

Yes please share this video

There are several abilities that can be called "perfect pitch" -- identification vs recall, automatic vs labored. I've never seen this categorized before, but here's my attempt:

1. The ability to immediately identify a pitch name from listening. This is the common definition. It is analogous to a native language speaker recognizing a spoken word -- it's automatic and requires no effort.

2. The ability to /recall/ a pitch from memory accurately. When you sing a tune, are you singing in the same key as the original recording? Some people can't do this.

3. The ability to identify a pitch name from listening, not immediately/reflexively but by mentally matching it against a well-remembered reference pitch. This requires (2) and also requires some work on your part, to remember a "catalog" of reference pitches.

4. Ability to recognize a chord type and root, either automatically (like #1) or by mental reference to some well-remembered chords (like #3). Of course, the root can be ambiguous and tricky to find.

I can't do #1 (immediate automatic pitch recognition) but once in a rare while it happens. I can do #2 easily -- mentally recall or sing any remembered tune within probably 25 cents. That means I can tune a newly-strung guitar, e.g., pretty well (though not perfectly) by just remembering a reference low E (first note in Airbag) or drop-D (first note in Everlong). I can do #3 with some mental effort -- requires me remembering my catalog of opening note for a handful of songs/pieces, and then doing a slow mental match.

No. Example #4 above has absolutely nothing to do with perfect pitch, and is instead simple ear training combined with some music theory training. (Professional classical musician, here.)

All classically-trained music students learn to identify various chords and hear which note the root is, and only a small percentage of them have perfect pitch.

#1 and #2 in your list are definitely examples of perfect pitch, however. #3 is a bit more like extremely good relative pitch combined with above-average pitch memory that lasts longer than most people's.

My "taxonomy" wasn't meant to be a perfect delineation, but just to show that there's lots of variations of tonal and harmonic recognition and recall. I agree that the way I phrased #4, sounded more like what you do in simple ear training exercises ("Is this chord a major or minor?").

But... when I watch, say, a video of Herbie Hancock copying another player's complex chord progression perfectly, there is clearly a harmonic+melodic version of "perfect pitch" for those few people who can hear music and reproduce it accurately.

#1 is the usual definition of perfect pitch, and is the most useful. I have heard #2 and #3 referred to as "pitch memory". There is also a rare #0, which is the ability to identify pitches that are out of tune by a small number of cents. This is the least useful type of perfect pitch, and can render people unable to truly enjoy music. I know a musician who is like that. To him, everyone in the band is out of tune all the time.

Unless you have a really good reason, I advise against learning absolute perfect pitch. If you do, it will drive you absolutely nuts to hear almost any music (since it will almost never be perfectly tuned).

Imagine for a moment that you could see all decimal numbers to 100 places, and it turned out that almost never was any number used by anyone else exactly x.0. Suddenly your world becomes full of "insignificant" but very distracting/annoying .9999887424151515 garbage. That, at least for me, is what absolute perfect pitch is like. (And thankfully, it can fade away as an ability just as it can arrive as one.)

Relative perfect pitch, which simply means you can accurately perceive relative distances between pitches, is very useful. I would expect that most experienced musicians (and some inexperienced but ?gifted? people) have this. It is also attainable, as nearly every other skill is.

Once again, this is incorrect: absolute pitch (also known as perfect pitch, but there is no such thing as "absolute perfect pitch) does not necessarily imply or bestow the ability to perceive differences in pitch that are very small (say, 5 cents). Many people can identify a C# or an A-flat or what have you, but without the ability to tell whether that pitch is very very slightly flat or sharp. They nevertheless are said to have "perfect" pitch.

I have that doubt. But is it not same as not hearing pitch? I would be surprised if I could train to cent accuracy. And what about Just Intonation vs Equal Temperament?

If relative pitch is correct every tone would be shifted. I can imagine picture made entirely out of unusual colors — no red, yellow, orange, but red-orange, yellow-orange.

I was under the notion that perfect pitch cannot be obtained after a certain age.

I was intrigued by this paper. Haven't tried it though.

Valproate reopens critical-period learning of absolute pitch https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3848041/

Absolute pitch, the ability to identify or produce the pitch of a sound without a reference point, has a critical period, i.e., it can only be acquired early in life. However, research has shown that histone-deacetylase inhibitors (HDAC inhibitors) enable adult mice to establish perceptual preferences that are otherwise impossible to acquire after youth. In humans, we found that adult men who took valproate (VPA) (a HDAC inhibitor) learned to identify pitch significantly better than those taking placebo—evidence that VPA facilitated critical-period learning in the adult human brain. Importantly, this result was not due to a general change in cognitive function, but rather a specific effect on a sensory task associated with a critical-period.

I think it's not so cut-and-dry. As a violinist, I can recognize absolute violin pitches, but can't do so with other instruments. This is definitely a learned skill; presumably there's something about the timbre of the different pitches that my brain has memorized after so many years of playing.

However someone with "true" perfect pitch is able to detect pitches across instruments (or even a sine wave) and can distinguish minute differences in pitch; for example, someone with perfect pitch can tell that an instrument has been tuned to A415 (a typical tuning for Baroque music) instead of the standard A440.

Extremely wrong.

The difference between A=415 and A=440 is not "minute" at all; it's a full half-step difference!

Also, no: absolute pitch does not necessarily confer the ability to distinguish very small differences in pitch. Many people with perfect pitch can name a given note if played, but can't reliably identify if the pitch in question is 5 or 10 cents off. This is a common misconception.

Similar thing here. I'm a pianist, and while I don't have perfect pitch, there are certain piano chords that I can pick out and definitively say, "That's an F major, root position, with the root just over middle C". But other chords or even individual notes – I'm not able to distinguish them in that way.

I doubt it. I have G and C harmonicas, they are very different. When playing harmonica ears help to find holes.

I've been practicing for two weeks, currently on G3, C4, G4, C5, mostly confident (100 correct answers) though sometimes it tricks me.

You're talking about relative pitch, not perfect (absolute) pitch. Any competent musician will have excellent relative pitch, which is the ability to recognize intervals between pitches. This is necessary for transcription, learning music by ear, jamming, etc.

Perfect pitch means that, if someone plays a sine wave with no context, you can tell what pitch it is.

We had a guy in our college band with perfect relative and absolute pitch. One time we walked out of the dorms and the AC was squealing on top the building across the street.

"Hey Dave, what note is that?" "Do you really want to know?" heads nod "It's a G"

One of the other tales was someone with true perfect pitch could tell the difference between A at 440 vs 441 hz.

I've seen this. When I was in grad school I was playing with assembly language to click a speaker in a timed loop, such that it would generate A440.

I played it to my coworker who was working in my lab, and he said: "I'm a singer and I have perfect pitch. THat isn't A440, it's slightly low. Probably one hertz."

I checked my code and indeed, I had miscomputed the timer, it was slightly longer than it should have been. Fixed the code and he confirmed it sounded better, but not absolutely perfect.

AC squealing (and a lot of other noises that are somehow synchronous to the grid frequency) would be a slightly off G outside of North America (slightly to high, G is ~49 Hz and the grid frequency almost everywhere is 50 Hz), no need for perfect pitch to guess that.

In North America (60 Hz grid frequency), I'm not quite sure whether one would recognise it as a A# (58.3 Hz) or a B (61.8 Hz).

> Perfect pitch means that, if someone plays a sine wave with no context, you can tell what pitch it is.

What bothers me about that definition is that it doesn't specify accuracy. If I play a sine wave at 498.753 Hz, how many of those decimal places will someone with perfect pitch get correct? Since classical music is based on discrete notes with intervals of at least a semitone, maybe an error of less than half a semitone is acceptable, because that's enough to sort a note into the correct bucket? But then what's the average error for people who don't have perfect pitch?

I think it's like: at which point it's a sharp A or a flat A#? Because when we talk about perfect pitch, is in a musical context, in the sense that a person can tell the note that would classify that wave, even without knowing how many Hz it is

At which point red becomes orange, brown, pink? What about cherry, coral? We describe color names by association — sky blue, grass green, ochre, rose, pink, violet. Rick Beato pointed that children catch names by association with a song.

> average error for people who don't have perfect pitch

I've tried once with a kid 10 years old, she expected and answered C, D, E, while I was playing same note (unison) with long pause on harmonica. Our perception skewed by our believes. I've heard same applies to drawing — one has to learn to see.

I know the difference and that's what I am striving for. So far several weeks, an hour a day, it is quite hard, 700 answers on answer / 5s rate.

Rick Beato has some great videos on this subject


He has a strong opinion that you can only develop perfect pitch while young, and I have to agree. His videos are great.

You inspired me to make an actual Perfect Pitch Test. Not sure how scientific it is but I randomized some notes prior to the test note being played.


Nice! I am not musician and randomized notes while cool have not tricked me.

I do not understand how to use this... how is this supposed to train something when I'm selecting and can see the note played?

Thank you, I've updated instructions.

Click on "Test" to selects new sound and play it. Click buttons for answer, it plays sound if answer is wrong. I use it with eyes closed to concentrate on sound. Guess visual indication would be a good start. I've changed it so it marks wrong button with color until next "Test".

The idea is not to guess but to start with one sound, make it familiar, add another, etc.

When I was a kid, I had a music program on my Apple IIe that taught you the scales, and would test you on the notes. Using the speaker in the computer case. It was amusing. "Brrrrrrrr beeeeeee brrrrrr boooooooo." Ummm... A# B A# C? Correct!

How does this train perfect pitch? I have gone through years of formal ear training, the closest techniques I've seen to true perfect pitch were exercises for audio engineers to recognize frequency ranges (iirc, pioneered at University of Michigan a few decades ago). But even that doesn't give you perfect pitch, it gives you a strong intuition.

In conservatories and other classical schools, they teach relative pitch recognition using the same techniques that have been used for centuries because pitch is so subjective. When I did it, they even used different keys to force the kids with perfect pitch and synesthesia (they gravitate towards music schools) to learn their intervals.

As I know no one achieved perfect pitch with this tool. I have no your background, I've took tool name from the web [1]. Maybe it is wrong like serverless is deployed on servers though it should be p2p or flat files.

I've thought perfect pitch is a knowledge like "this note is G". You describe intuition as something different (or different from perfect pitch), maybe we need a special word for it?

[1] https://www.google.com/search?&q=perfect+pitch+training

HN did tone deafness the other day: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24852401. From one extreme to the other.

That's why I've posted my tool. It is private but looking at the interest on Tone-Deafness Test why not to share it?

Sounds great to me!

For anyone who might not know what perfect pitch is: Absolute pitch (AP), often called perfect pitch, is a rare ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone. - Wikipedia

Most people, even musicians, don't know that this talent exists. When I was in high school, there was someone who has this skill. He had started music when he was a very little. Most perfect pitch persons starts their music in their early ages. This person in my school "senses" pitches (I think it's similar to how we see colors.)

THERE'S NO KNOWN CASES OF ANY ADULT DEVELOPING PERFECT PITCH. There's a number of studies saying it cannot be developed as an adult.

However, I'm doing research for a few months and trying to develop perfect pitch myself (I have a fine relative pitch). None has worked for now. I strongly believe there must be a way for adults to develop this.

My thoughts on this app: It may help to improve something called "tone identification", but that instinct of having perfect pitch is completely different.

By the way, anyone here have perfect pitch (possibility is 1/10000)?

(For any one interested, search Youtube for perfect pitch. There's a lot of fascinating stories)

Count me in as someone who didn’t know this existed/that I had it until someone else pointed it out for me. I started music in middle school and got frustrated with a friend who couldn’t play back a melody from a video game we both liked even though I could (he was much better at violin so I wanted to hear him play it, haha).

Thankfully, he knew what perfect pitch was and after figuring out the disconnect, explained it to me. I honestly thought he was lying until I asked other folks in the class and found out they couldn’t identify the notes by ear either. I just assumed it was something I learned to do as a part of the class instruction.

I wouldn’t say I have any attached feelings/synesthesia to particular notes besides their western names.

That's awesome. Did you have any musical training when you were little? (below 7 years)

I think I played recorder for like two months around 8 years old, but no education beyond that. Didn't have a musical family either. My younger siblings all picked up instruments during their schooling as well and I don't believe any of them have perfect pitch.

For what I've seen, all apps/methods for 'developing perfect pitch' would either not work on adults, or are not actually perfect/absolute pitch.

Doesn't work on Safari. tried it on chrome and clicking on the correct answer has a tendency to not do anything.

Click on correct answer increases the counter. My routine

1. Ctrl-t to hear the sound

2. Ctrl-* to give answer

3. Wrong if hear sound, try again (2)

4. Correct if no sound, take next sound (1)

Unfortunately can't check on Safari yet, any errors in console?

[Error] Unhandled Promise Rejection: ReferenceError: Can't find variable: AudioContext

(anonymous function) (perfect-pitch-ear-training:20)


play (perfect-pitch-ear-training:19)

(anonymous function) (perfect-pitch-ear-training:29)

per MDN, AudioContext() is implemented as webkitAudioContext() in Safari.


Thank you, updated with

    let AudioContext = window.AudioContext || window.webkitAudioContext

"I do not perceive notes in different octaves as same. This makes Toned Ear pitch training guesswork."

??? How so? Is not this problem all of (ok, "all" of us not musically inclined) has? Perfect pitch isn't important in music anyway... relative pitch is way more useful and is actually learnable.

Guesswork is a bad start. Imagine learning alphabet with five different lettering. Latin "Q", "q", Greek "Γ", "γ", Arabic "ـب", "ـبـ", "بـ" (a form of "ب") but five of them plus timbre.

I want immediate recall, I can add forms one by one. And that is the only difference with linked tool.

Rick Beato's take on adults not being able to develop perfect pitch - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=816VLQNdPMM

I must say though, watching videos of his kid demonstrate perfect pitch is quite astounding!

He has some loose comparisons. Adults acquire foreign languages including foreign sounds. English is a separate entity in my mind, neutral position of the jaw, tongue system is entirely different from my native language.

Different cultures has different color naming schemes. I have hardware problems on color perception (protanomaly) yet I can learn new color names. Looking at children it takes years to learn color names.

His example of learning — pressing keys on the piano and saying name — is incorrect. It should be game, music is game. We live in the age of unprecedented gamification. Maybe it is possible to make baby steps. Some people claim they've internalized F#, ok internalize every note.

He is right that recognition should be instantaneous. His real argument — teaching has not been achieved as course, probably it is impossible, I'll try.

Rick Beato explains on his YouTube that a child can learn pitch perfection but it must be trained before 10 years of age


I realize it defeats the purpose, but if you guess the correct answer once you can keep clicking the same answer to make the counter go up

Yeah, it is kind of on purpose, not sure should I fix it.

My understanding is that it’s easy to teach toddlers perfect pitch, but it’s not possible to learn as an adult.

@sergeykish this is fantastic! Please can you make it possible to hear the same note again?

Thank you! Sure, but I'd like to understand how to fit it in instructions. It plays same note if you choose wrong answer, do you still want it? Can you please describe use case?

I don't want to commit to an answer but want to hear the tone again. I guess there's an argument to the game deliberately pushing to only hearing it once, on the other hand.

Done. For me failing is fun, when in doubt I try and if fail click right note several times to memorize it. Though I don't want to enforce this worldview.

What a turnaround! Thank you :)

I probably could do better to embrace failure like you but when I'm on a streak I don't want to lose it

B-natural is missing.

Yeah lol. A# is not the same thing as B. It's the same as Bb though.

Also, how do you answer sharps or flats? It just has the natural notes as answers.

I will add buttons, which accesscodes would you recommend?

ctrl shift for # and ctrl alt for b?

I've thought of separate names "A z B C u D v E F w G" (from the end of the alphabet). Your approach looks more practical, have to ditch accesskey though.

Done, with Shift, with Alt.

Thank you! Fixed.

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