Perfect Pitch and Memory

I have a question. Somebody with perfect pitch can name the exact pitches without a reference point but does this mean that they can name the pitch played by any instrument? And how? When I hear a piano and a guitar play the same note, I don’t hear the same sound.

Yes, perfect pitch works with any instrument or sound, including bird songs, tapping a glass with a fork, or any other sound. The thing that makes the same note on a guitar and piano sound different is timbre.


I haven’t watched this video yet, but there is an example of detecting the pitch of a glass in the beginning.

There’s another interesting channel of a guitarist who takes conversations and other sounds and writes harmonies over them.

Here’s a plain conversation:

Here’s the guitarist writing harmonies over the pitches of his speech:

I suspect that someone with perfect pitch could listen to someone speak like that and have some idea of the pitches in the speech.

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The possibility of obtaining perfect pitch at any age has been investigated to some degree in several studies. There were some indications that children younger than the age of 4 had a slight accelerated learning advantage due to their neuroplasticity being somewhat different at that age. However, several adults were observed to obtain perfect pitch with intensive training.

While the music teacher in the videos feverishly tries to lay a good ground for his point of view, he nevertheless swims in a sea of subjectivity. Indeed, he throws about with some quite specific postulates on how children’s brain works during learning - without any references to where this knowledge comes from. Thus, he is prone to some significant cognitive biases that will enhance his own view of the world. Especially considering that he builds this view on his son being special with the ability of perfect pitch - which is a massive conflict of interest when trying to stay objective to this specific subject.

If someone is interested in this topic, please refer to Anders Ericsson’s book “Peak”. He is a professor that has spend 30 years investigating topics such as these. At some point in the book the passes the subject of perfect pitch with several studies as a reference.


That sounds interesting. I don’t have the book, but if anyone here can look up the titles (or DOIs) of the studies, please post them here so we can read them. :slight_smile:

I did a quick search and found these articles:

University of Chicago Studies

There’s a relationship with auditory working memory capacity:

Absolute pitch (AP) is typically defined as the ability to label an isolated tone as a musical note in the absence of a reference tone. At first glance the acquisition of AP note categories seems like a perceptual learning task, since individuals must assign a category label to a stimulus based on a single perceptual dimension (pitch) while ignoring other perceptual dimensions (e.g., loudness, octave, instrument). AP, however, is rarely discussed in terms of domain-general perceptual learning mechanisms. This is because AP is typically assumed to depend on a critical period of development, in which early exposure to pitches and musical labels is thought to be necessary for the development of AP precluding the possibility of adult acquisition of AP. Despite this view of AP, several previous studies have found evidence that absolute pitch category learning is, to an extent, trainable in a post-critical period adult population, even if the performance typically achieved by this population is below the performance of a “true” AP possessor. The current studies attempt to understand the individual differences in learning to categorize notes using absolute pitch cues by testing a specific prediction regarding cognitive capacity related to categorization – to what extent does an individual’s general auditory working memory capacity (WMC) predict the success of absolute pitch category acquisition. Since WMC has been shown to predict performance on a wide variety of other perceptual and category learning tasks, we predict that individuals with higher WMC should be better at learning absolute pitch note categories than individuals with lower WMC. Across two studies, we demonstrate that auditory WMC predicts the efficacy of learning absolute pitch note categories. These results suggest that a higher general auditory WMC might underlie the formation of absolute pitch categories for post-critical period adults. Implications for understanding the mechanisms that underlie the phenomenon of AP are also discussed.

University of Arizona / Tel Aviv University

It looks like some kind of absolute pitch awareness might be more common than previously thought, though it might not be the exact same kind of absolute pitch shown in the videos above:

Overlap with synesthesia

This also looks interesting:

Absolute pitch (AP) and synesthesia are two uncommon cognitive traits that reflect increased neuronal connectivity and have been anecdotally reported to occur together in an individual. Here we systematically evaluate the occurrence of synesthesia in a population of 768 subjects with documented AP. Out of these 768 subjects, 151 (20.1%) reported synesthesia, most commonly with color. These self-reports of synesthesia were validated in a subset of 21 study subjects, using an established methodology. We further carried out combined linkage analysis of 53 multiplex families with AP and 36 multiplex families with synesthesia. We observed a peak NPL LOD = 4.68 on chromosome 6q, as well as evidence of linkage on chromosome 2, using a dominant model. These data establish the close phenotypic and genetic relationship between AP and synesthesia. The chromosome 6 linkage region contains 73 genes; several leading candidate genes involved in neurodevelopment were investigated by exon resequencing. However, further studies will be required to definitively establish the identity of the causative gene(s) in the region.


I have perfect pitch and I study in a conservatory. My pitch really helps me to memorise music. I can memorise the notes in any music without playing it. And this is getting unconsciously. I can memorise film musics or jingles even tought I don’t want to.

I believe that adults can develop perfect pitch. I’ve seen examples of this. It is more difficult than a child to do but it’s possible.

What is written in the article is correct. I know lots of people who has perfect pitch just like the child in the video. I think people like to make it look like a rare talent.


That’s interesting. How accurate is the memorization?

Do you have synesthesia, by any chance?

Are you able to describe your mental representations of pitches, or is it as ambiguous as trying to describe a color to someone?

If you know anyone who has developed perfect pitch, could you see if they would be willing to answer some questions about it by email ([email protected]) or here in the forum? I would like to give their methods a try. :slight_smile:

Hi @Josh

The following randomly selected post says:

There are two types of working memory: auditory memory and visual-spatial memory.

My feeling is that the majority of the folks on this forum probably use the term working memory to refer to visual-spatial memory. I therefore respectfully suggest that you might want to edit your text in my first quote above to read either: auditory working memory capacity or visual-spatial memory capacity - depending on your beliefs.



Thanks, I’ve updated it.

I have not synesthesia, but I have a strong natural memory, which might help.

My memorization is not entirely accurate sometimes there are gaps in it. And I can’t memorize a music the first time I listen to it, I need to listen a few times. The more polyphonic the music, the harder it is to memorize for me. I play the piano and the violin. It is easier to remember a violin piece because a violin can produce maximum two notes at the same time. I can memorize simple piano pieces too but it is harder to memorize a five-voices Fuge by Bach.

And by listening I only memorize the notes, I need to practice the fingerings, dynamics and rhythms to play the piece.

I’ll ask for it but I don’t think they do anything different than the children do. You can practice by asking a friend to play some notes on piano or you can do it yourself by closing your eyes. An you can learn harmony and do the harmonic analysis of pieces to improve memorization.

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Thanks, that’s interesting. I’ve been trying to whistle a middle C on and off since I watched those videos, and I was only a semitone off on the last two attempts. I don’t have a sensation of being correct with it, and it feel like it’s just a guess, but I will keep trying. :slight_smile:

I don’t have perfect pitch, but my brain tends to automatically repeat music, which causes me to remember it even unconsciously. I can sometimes whistle the music that was playing in a store 30 minutes earlier, even if I wasn’t paying attention to it and have never heard it before — but it’s usually only a verse and a chorus that I can recall, not the entire song, and the exact notes and phrasing might be modified slightly. The tendency is so strong that if I don’t feed my ears music, my brain will start to repeat a corrupted version of my phone’s booting noise or my alarm clock. :confused:

This is odd then. I don’t think that memory is that big of a part. I have a very strong memory too but I don’t think I can develop perfect pitch. I think perfect pitch might be determined by something else.

Perhaps it is just like vision. There are some people who can see more colors than other people and can distinguish two or three colors that you and I would think is just one color. Perfect pitch could be the same but with hearing.

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Seeing this post I don’t really know if I would have perfect pitch or not, I can tell the difference between all notes played but I assume I would do badly when multiple are combined but I also haven’t learned to label them.

I can reproduce any sound from anything I have heard , e.g I can listen to someone speaking in a foreign language and verbally reproduce their voice for whatever I am thinking in my head. Actually making the sound would take some ‘refinement’ but then I can also mimic the voices of others to some extent it’s not a very fast process though and takes some minutes of adjusting my own voice, I don’t think it would need refinements for notes. I also don’t particularly get affected by auditory illusions and instead hear both sounds. I don’t think something like this classifies as perfect pitch and my general interest in music outside cognition and listening isn’t too high.

On that point though I have always had it easy to memorize music, at some occasions I have done so after 1 listening and a delay, even in languages I didn’t understand at the time. I have also in some instances memorized the odd 700 sentences in a day.

I don’t see why this can’t be learned though, all you would have to do is memorize the sound to the label association, then increase your recall speed of it or am I missing something?

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Like anything, you can train your ear (or rather your brain’s auditory processing should) like any other are of mental training. It is called Aural Skills. Most music colleges offer classes in this and it often uses software.

First you learn the notes by name, then intervals of two notes together or in a progression by name, then chords ( three or more notes) and on.
The reverse to this music ‘writing’ is off course ‘reading’, making sounds corresponding to music notation.

Music theory has accumulated many mnemonic devices over the years- names, notation, shorthand, etc. that would be an interesting study for anyone interested in memory skills. As in any field, some are savants but not most.


This is interesting.

A curious difference emerged, however, in how they sang the notes back. When the notes played were very high or low, U.S. participants accurately shifted the notes into an octave within their vocal range. The Tsimané didn’t. To them, it seemingly wasn’t clear what notes in their range best corresponded to the ones they heard. Their responses didn’t seem to reflect a perception of octave structure at all.

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This is interesting. (In one of those videos above, Rick Beato mentioned that exposing very young kids to complex music could help them develop perfect pitch.)

Lately I’ve been listening to microtonal music to try to improve my ability to distinguish pitches: Tone-Deafness Test and Microtonal Music

It would help with differentiating phonemes I guess.

Hi all,

My first language was Greek and I can sing in Greek and speak the language as well.
English was my second language actually.

I have extremely good relative pitch and can hold a tune very well and have a very good sense of rhythm also.

I find that rhymes facilitate amplifying a particular note in one’s memory.


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Worth adding this new content to an old thread:

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This video is interesting, especially quasi absolute pitch. It makes me glad that I don’t have perfect pitch.