Demystifying Perfect Pitch
In an attempt to demystify the term perfect pitch, or absolute pitch, a scientific basis must be established. One of the criteria for absolute pitch is accurately singing a named note without a reference. Since this is the criterion that people typically find most difficult to achieve on the road to perfect pitch, it deserves a closer look.
First, singing is required. Since perfect pitch requires this ability, any scientific approach should include the production of pitch by voice. The question is how accurate?
Second, the term “without a reference” implies the time. To be able to identify a pitch by its name, you must have heard a reference sound before. The question is how long before?
If we want to make a scientific statement, it must be measurable and reproducible. Combining the above two points, we have to fix one point, so we can gradually measure the other.
Measuring abilities is always subject to uncertainty, since the person being tested is always subject to his or her current productivity. Therefore, repeatedly testing and basing the results on statistical analysis is a common approach.
Introducing the Pitch Ability Test
To allow the test to return a single indicator for the ability, the test uses for the first criterion a fixed accuracy and uses the second criterion to evaluate the ability in seconds. The test measures the time in a similar way as the height in high-jump sports gets measured. This method seems unconventional, but it allows you to measure the retention time of pitch with enough precision. If you select a low enough time, you will always pass; if you come to your limits, the results will start to vary.
The most important point of the test is that it measures your transition from aural to mental pitch control. Since the test requires a silent period, you must have stored the pitch mentally. Taking over a pitch while you hear it is usually done aurally. That is, you control the pitch aurally. However, after a period of silence, you are forced to produce the sound mentally from memory.
The term “without a reference” is usually interpreted as eternal. However, in a test we don’t have unlimited time. Therefore, the test proposes Felix’s Pitch Point as an upper limit for the test. Felix’s Pitch Point is set at 4 minutes. Four minutes is enough to prove that the transition to mental pitch control has taken place.
Taking into account the above discussion, I have developed The Pitch Ability Test. The test is free and can be downloaded for Windows and Macintosh.
Interpreting the test results
The test tells you, scientifically, where you stand on the road to absolute pitch based on the criteria “Accurately sing a named note without a reference”. With this test, you can estimate the necessary effort needed to improve your absolute pitch ability. Since relative pitch is much more important than absolute pitch, the test also should facilitate the decision whether trying to attain perfect pitch is worth the effort. In other words, should you spend some time doing absolute pitch training but keep the bulk of the time for other musical activities?
For more information visit: http://www.pitch-ability-test.com or watch the introductory video on https://youtu.be/6v6GmnTHGds .