Fortunately — and unfortunately — I do not have perfect pitch. Perfect pitch, also called absolute pitch, is a rare phenomenon that occurs in 0.01% of the general population. If you have this special ability, you can identify — both name and recall — a musical note with no reference. Somehow, I grew up surrounded by several people with perfect pitch, including my two sisters. I always felt left out whenever my sisters would talk about their perfect pitch abilities, but it’s OK — as you might not expect, the experience does not always seem to be positive. Do you have perfect pitch? If so, you can probably nod your head to some of the downfalls that come with it.
You can tune an instrument with your ears and name the key of any song
In an ensemble setting, you are a human tuner. You can tune any guitar knowing exactly what an E2 sounds like in your head, and you can tell your bandmates what key the original song is played in. You can take the role of a harmonica and help that a cappella group stay in pitch throughout the entire song.
You can name the note of natural sounds
Others hear a garbage truck beeping outside: You hear a D5 repeating in quarter notes. While your friends are clinking their cups saying “cheers,” you’re fascinated that your glass rings a G while your friend’s glass sounds like an A. This is your daily life, naming various pitches inside your head — a bird chirping, a car’s engine and even someone saying “um.”
You sometimes find it difficult to focus on a song
Group happy birthday singing sessions are painful for you, especially when people suddenly change the key at the third “happy birth—” when the note goes up an octave. When listening to a song, you often start to unconsciously name notes in it, and you lose track of the words and melody. For live performances, if the singer sings a slightly off-pitch note, that’s all you can think of for the remainder of the song.
You get bothered when someone hums a song you like in another key
You appreciate that someone has the same music taste as you — except you don’t. You smile and hum along, but you’re not really smiling. When someone sings your favorite song in an entirely different key, you want to stop them and tell them what the right key is.
Having perfect pitch sounds like a bothersome yet fun experience. Off-key moments aside, my sisters love it overall. But honestly, for those of you without perfect pitch, sticking with a trainable relative pitch is not a bad experience either. After all, we have tuners for our convenience.