Perfect pitch - can you lose it?

srblue5

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Oct 12, 2020
Posts
1,127
Location
Alberta
Is it possible to lose perfect pitch over time? If so, is there a way to regain it?

I have perfect pitch. Bandmates ask me if it's something I was born with or whether it's something I developed. I don't recall ever actually working at it but I found out I had it in the school band when I kept aping what the band teacher was playing rather than sight-reading it. It got to a point where when I worked a summer as a hospital porter in high school, I noticed that one of the service elevators' whirring sound was a B minor chord -- I'd sometimes sing "King of Pain" or "Comfortably Numb" over it, but I digress...

Over the years, the perfect pitch has served me well, especially in my current band where the singer often calls for songs we've never played before during gigs. I'm not sure how I would fare if I wasn't able to figure out chords and keys so quickly. The rest of the band looks to me to figure it out on the spot and tell them what it is.

Over the past few months, I've noticed that my perfect pitch is off slightly. Usually I can tell the key of a song within 5-10 seconds but lately I'm off by a half tone. It's not for every key/note either, mind you. I seem to struggle especially with C#/D-flat, B-flat, and E-flat. I can figure out pretty quickly that I'm off but this has never happened to me before. I'm concerned that it's only going to get worse.

What can cause loss of perfect pitch?
I do play around with Varispeed a lot when I'm recording/producing music at home -- I grew up on Walkmans and I used to like how eerie and subtly different music would sound when the batteries started to run out and the machine was running flat -- so I wonder if that has messed around with my sense of what a C# is vs. a D.
I'm not so concerned about hearing loss per se, although I haven't been very diligent with wearing earplugs in the last 4 years.

I also wonder how much of it could be psychological (i.e. stress/fatigue-related) or alcohol-related (not gonna lie, it has been a particularly stressful year)...
 

JeffroJones

Tele-Meister
Joined
May 2, 2022
Posts
338
Location
Melbourne
Is it possible to lose perfect pitch over time? If so, is there a way to regain it?
Just to make an observation, because my pitch is so far less than perfect that its sad...
I remember an interview with our local pop icon, Johnny Farnham, who, in an interview, said:
"I used to have perfect pitch. Until I joined a band, and they tuned to Eb. That was the end of my perfect pitch!"
This seems to imply that if everybody had used standard tuning, his sense of pitch would have remained unchanged.
Because he had to follow the tuning, and sing everything a half tone lower, his sense of perfect pitch was lost.
Do you think, with the enormous variables you face in terms of shifting pitch, something like this might have happened?

:::
 

Rocky058

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Aug 31, 2009
Posts
1,440
Age
64
Location
Clearwater Florida
Rick Beato, along with his son demonstrate what perfect
looks like.

I have never seen an adult perform to this level (although it may be possible). Rick says our pitch
diminishes as we age.


 

stxrus

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
May 25, 2007
Posts
10,896
Age
70
Location
St. Croix, USVI
I knew a lady in Dallas that had true perfect pitch and it drove her crazy. Small differences in pitch would make her cringe. Forget a concert or any musical event.

When she committed suicide, at the age of 27, there was speculation that her ability to hear perfectly in a non-perfect world was a possible contributing factor. Unfortunately we’ll never know
 

Tricone

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
May 4, 2021
Posts
1,590
Location
Sic Semper Tyrannis
I knew a lady in Dallas that had true perfect pitch and it drove her crazy. Small differences in pitch would make her cringe. Forget a concert or any musical event.

When she committed suicide, at the age of 27, there was speculation that her ability to hear perfectly in a non-perfect world was a possible contributing factor. Unfortunately we’ll never know
Man. That is tragic. May she Rest In Peace.
 

trapdoor2

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Feb 23, 2018
Posts
3,687
Age
65
Location
Sauth Carolina
I knew a lady in Dallas that had true perfect pitch and it drove her crazy. Small differences in pitch would make her cringe. Forget a concert or any musical event.

When she committed suicide, at the age of 27, there was speculation that her ability to hear perfectly in a non-perfect world was a possible contributing factor. Unfortunately we’ll never know
Family friend had it. She could tune a guitar spot on without a reference tone...but as soon as you played a chord, she'd grimace. Her ability was both natural and learned. She was a concert-level pianist and she said it took her time/training to deal with a piano's stretch tuning.

She hated my banjo and my playing (I was just starting out). She wasn't alone!
 

sax4blues

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Apr 14, 2006
Posts
6,203
Location
Colorado Springs, CO
What I struggle to understand is a defined pitch is just a human construct, so why is A-440 significant to an individual? And if a single note was played flat/sharp, why would it matter? I can hear when a note is out of tune in relation to a chord or band setting, and I'm sure the most tone def person can cringe at poor group tuning, or recognize a singer who is off key. But if all instruments are tuned together a set amount sharp/flat, why would that sound bad to a person?

Also how many non musicians have perfect pitch? I'm thinking this is a learned skill through exposure to making music, where the structure already exists. Would perfect pitch even exist outside music which is the construct to determine if a person has perfect pitch?
 

stxrus

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
May 25, 2007
Posts
10,896
Age
70
Location
St. Croix, USVI
What I struggle to understand is a defined pitch is just a human construct, so why is A-440 significant to an individual? And if a single note was played flat/sharp, why would it matter? I can hear when a note is out of tune in relation to a chord or band setting, and I'm sure the most tone def person can cringe at poor group tuning, or recognize a singer who is off key. But if all instruments are tuned together a set amount sharp/flat, why would that sound bad to a person?

Also how many non musicians have perfect pitch? I'm thinking this is a learned skill through exposure to making music, where the structure already exists. Would perfect pitch even exist outside music which is the construct to determine if a person has perfect pitch?
She was not a musician. Sho tried to learn clarinet in elementary school but had to quit after the second class. She did self-teach flute and was good at it she just couldn’t play with other people

Maybe it was just one of her demons. As I said we’ll never know
 

Lou Tencodpees

Tele-Holic
Joined
Oct 15, 2020
Posts
897
Location
Near Houston
I can't say I've ever had perfect pitch or just happy accidents. Not long ago I was driving with my wife and the tire noise struck a note that had me starting to sing "Moon River". A quick YouTube of the Andy Williams version found me spot on. Other times I failed with similar incidents. Nothing near as spooky as Rick Beato's kid, holy moly.
 

kiwi blue

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Nov 14, 2005
Posts
2,036
Location
Wellington, New Zealand
What I struggle to understand is a defined pitch is just a human construct, so why is A-440 significant to an individual? And if a single note was played flat/sharp, why would it matter? I can hear when a note is out of tune in relation to a chord or band setting, and I'm sure the most tone def person can cringe at poor group tuning, or recognize a singer who is off key. But if all instruments are tuned together a set amount sharp/flat, why would that sound bad to a person?

Also how many non musicians have perfect pitch? I'm thinking this is a learned skill through exposure to making music, where the structure already exists. Would perfect pitch even exist outside music which is the construct to determine if a person has perfect pitch?

I remember a Magnus Pike science show about perfect pitch on TV at least 20 or 30 years ago. So I hope I'm not misremembering it, but here goes ...

He had two people with perfect pitch on the show. One of them learned when very young on a piano that was in tune with itself but was tuned flat overall. When that person was asked to sing a note (without a reference note being played), they were able to consistently hit the note consistently flat, ie, it was perfect pitch with reference to their childhood piano. So it looks like at least some people with perfect pitch have an internal reference from memory and can tell when a note matches that internal reference.

Equal tempered scales are another clue here. If a person's perfect pitch is equal tempered, then I would think it must be learned (eg, from a keyboard), otherwise their sense of pitch would fit a natural untempered scale.

This is the sum total of my knowledge of the subject, and as I said I may be misremembering. Others will know a lot more.

Fun trivia: on the same show they put the people with perfect pitch into a bathtub of water. If the water was cold, they sang flat. It it was hot, they sang sharp.
 

bowman

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Sep 15, 2006
Posts
3,541
Location
Massachusetts
The lead player in our band has it. It’s spooky how he knows what’s just an iota off and what it really should be. It tightens up every song. He likes my harmonies and says I’m a natural singer, but really I had to learn how to listen - it was not an innate thing for me. I sometimes think I’m better off for that because I’m always paying attention instead of just doing it without thinking.
 

nojazzhere

Doctor of Teleocity
Ad Free Member
Joined
Feb 3, 2017
Posts
18,973
Age
70
Location
Foat Wuth, Texas
Is it possible to lose perfect pitch over time? If so, is there a way to regain it?

I have perfect pitch. Bandmates ask me if it's something I was born with or whether it's something I developed. I don't recall ever actually working at it but I found out I had it in the school band when I kept aping what the band teacher was playing rather than sight-reading it. It got to a point where when I worked a summer as a hospital porter in high school, I noticed that one of the service elevators' whirring sound was a B minor chord -- I'd sometimes sing "King of Pain" or "Comfortably Numb" over it, but I digress...

Over the years, the perfect pitch has served me well, especially in my current band where the singer often calls for songs we've never played before during gigs. I'm not sure how I would fare if I wasn't able to figure out chords and keys so quickly. The rest of the band looks to me to figure it out on the spot and tell them what it is.

Over the past few months, I've noticed that my perfect pitch is off slightly. Usually I can tell the key of a song within 5-10 seconds but lately I'm off by a half tone. It's not for every key/note either, mind you. I seem to struggle especially with C#/D-flat, B-flat, and E-flat. I can figure out pretty quickly that I'm off but this has never happened to me before. I'm concerned that it's only going to get worse.

What can cause loss of perfect pitch?
I do play around with Varispeed a lot when I'm recording/producing music at home -- I grew up on Walkmans and I used to like how eerie and subtly different music would sound when the batteries started to run out and the machine was running flat -- so I wonder if that has messed around with my sense of what a C# is vs. a D.
I'm not so concerned about hearing loss per se, although I haven't been very diligent with wearing earplugs in the last 4 years.

I also wonder how much of it could be psychological (i.e. stress/fatigue-related) or alcohol-related (not gonna lie, it has been a particularly stressful year)...
I've replied a number of times to these "perfect pitch" threads, and realize that some people simply don't understand what perfect pitch is......and how it manifests in our musical lives.
Perfect pitch is NOT simply hearing that one player in an ensemble is off-pitch or out of tune. Most of us can do that.....and we don't have perfect pitch. A person DOESN'T learn perfect pitch.....you're either born with it, or not. Now.....you CAN develop very good "relative pitch", which is actually a more valuable skill. In college (as a Music Major) we were taught many "tricks" to identifying a pitch by intervals. Most of us here easily recognize a triad, (I-III-V) played together as a major chord, or the intervals of the chord progression, I, IV, V......as the chord pattern of many simple songs......but without ANY reference, someone with perfect pitch can identify and name the precise "notes" being played. Many trained musicians can guess very accurately, but could be off by a quarter or half step. My favorite example of how perfect pitch is NOT always a good thing, is, in college A Capella choir, we sometimes went straight from one unaccompanied song to another. We derived our "starting" pitches from the last notes of the previous song.....easy to do if you pay attention. But, we had one soprano who had (verified) perfect pitch. During the first song, the choir drifted a little flat, which wasn't a problem as we were all still "relatively" together. It might have bothered a listener who had PP, but they usually are able to "disregard" it when just listening. Anyway, we finished one song slightly flat, so we began the next song slightly flat.....except our soprano (with PP) looks at her music, and instinctively begins singing the "correct" note, which unfortunately was sharp from the rest of us. Technically, she was correct, although since the rest of the 31 members of choir were "off"....but together.....it sounded like the soprano was "off". From that point on, our director always had the accompanist give starting pitches on the piano before beginning a song.
I've known three people intimately that had perfect pitch, and with the one exception above, they were always able to control or ignore it when necessary. And, to @sax4blues......while a person is BORN with perfect pitch....if they have no formal musical training to understand what they "have", I don't believe anyone would ever know. Having good, developed RELATIVE pitch is a much more valuable skill for a musician. ;)
 




Top