There's been a flurry of discussions of late about "perfect pitch", which
is, BTW, the popular term given for "absolute pitch" [most likely a name-
change promoted by someone with the ability. ;) ] As most know, It refers
to the rare knack of identifying by ear any note at some standard pitch,
or singing a specified note without having first heard it. The key here
[pun "absolutely" intended] is consideration of the standard used. If a
child develops perfect pitch based on, say, an ill-tuned home piano, that
will be his/her standard for pitch later on. The phenomenon is usually
developed and shows up in childhood, but there are also musicians who
gradually attain a certain amount of perfect pitch ability. I wonder how
many other people might have absolute pitch if their childhood years had
exposed them to properly tuned music, or any music, for that matter.
Another interesting aspect of all this is that the prevailing standard pitch
has been in constant flux in the past. The standard we are used to in most
Western music today is based on a' [A above middle C] being equal to 440 Hz,
which was adopted in 1939. For about 80 yrs. before that it was set at 434
Hz. And before that, there were numerous changes. Get a load of this:
Mid-17th a'=415 Baroque pitch or Kammerton ["chamber
century pitch"] based on the Paris organ pitch
Late-19th a'=453 Old Philharmonic Pitch [too high for
century singers and woodwinds]
1859 a'=435 adopted by international committee, called
diapason normal [also called "French pitch"
or "international pitch" in the US]
1896 a'=439 New Philharmonic Pitch, adopted by England
1939 a'=440 US standard pitch, also adopted by England
Mid-20th a'=444 used by European woodwind builders, causing
the pitch to creep up again.
It's interesting that the standard has often been based on how the world's
woodwind instrument makers have determined and chosen the pitch for the
instruments they create. But moving the pitch too high or low impacts the
singers' voices or other instruments, and moving it too fast can cause even
their own instruments to become out-of-date. [Hmmm...come to think of it,
maybe that is why they change the pitch standards in the first place...out-
of-date, wrong-tuned instruments need to be "replaced"].
Anyway, whatever the pitch, it seems most important that a musician is able
to blend in on key with the other instruments, and that may have nothing to
do with perfect pitch if the group is tuned above or below standard. Being
able to recognize a'=440 doesn't cut it if the band is tuned to a'=435. The
adaptability of the musician to conform with the total mix is the real skill.
I have a shelf stereo-turntable-radio-cassette unit in my kitchen where I
like to practice harp, too, which unfortunately plays tapes a whole semi-tone
below the other tape players in the house, and obviously, is that out-of-tune
with my harps as well. It's like everything I play on it is tuned to another
standard. Though it's frustrating, sometimes I can actually play along on
a harp of a different key than should be used. And then, it isn't "perfect
pitch" that guides me from hole to hole, blow to draw, but understanding the
structure of the piece being played that is the map to my music, and applying
whatever ability I may have developed through experience and practice to find
To know the pitch is nice, but whatever the pitch, staying on it is cooler.
With a properly tuned instrument, and knowledge of how to play it, this
should not be a problem. Singing is another matter. The best training I
know of to acquire better pitch maintainance for voice doesn't take a study
course. Practicing singing songs acappella over and over develops a sense
of how one tends to drift [flat or sharp] when comparing starting key with
the key at the finish. From there it's a conscious effort to control that
drift. I believe anyone can at least improve by persevering, barring any
hearing or other physiological problems.
Long again...sorry. Ya see how I "drift"!
(: Bobbie :) *Harp Pitched Here*
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