Monday, September 22, 2014

Musical Superpower: Perfect Pitch!

Now your child is enrolled in Let's Play Music classes and you're getting excited about the long list of amazing skills that will be taught during 3 power-packed years.  One fantastic super-power you'll see signs of in your child is perfect pitch.

What is Perfect Pitch?
Perfect pitch is also referred to as absolute pitch (AP).  Pitch defines how high or low a tone sounds; a person with perfect pitch can identify the tone without hearing a reference.  For example, if you play a note on the piano without letting your child see, and he correctly exclaims, "That was a D," he's able to discern the pitch! Amazing!  If you ask him to sing a middle C and he can hit it exactly, he's demonstrating absolute pitch.

Children who speak a tonal language (one where pitch of voice is an important consideration, like most forms of Chinese) usually have an easier time developing perfect pitch, although the tonal languages rely on relative pitch (the change in pitch during speaking).   It is still possible and worthwhile to improve pitch skills for all young children. In fact, it is recognized that although anyone can improve AP skills, only those who start very young can truly gain Perfect Pitch. Read a bit more about it in this BBC article.

Why is it useful?
All varieties of pitch training are useful in helping your child become a complete musician, the focus of Let's Play Music.  With some absolute pitch skills, a musician can:

* Sing a song in a requested key.  
* Provide the starting note(s) for singers or musicians singing parts.
* Listen to a singer or other musician, determine what key they are in, and accompany them with appropriate chord progressions. This is especially helpful when you're at the piano during the Christmas party and Aunt Martha starts singing and she doesn't know what key she is in.
* Identify if stringed instruments are tuned properly. This is especially useful if you're sitting around the campfire without a pitch pipe iPhone app.
* Correct themselves while singing or playing an instrument, especially when sight-reading. Those with AP are amazing at playing new music. 
* Read musical scores in their minds. It really is like reading a book with a soundtrack!
* Master brass instruments or vocal music easily: the slight contractions of throat, oral, and lip muscles determine the pitch; only your ear will give you feedback as to whether you've hit the note exactly. Most musicians/singers without AP use a piano to check if they are hitting the correct note.
* Have success learning a tonal language as a second language.

What can we Do?
In Let's Play Music class, your teacher has specific games and activities designed to improve absolute pitch!  As your child sings "Do Is Home" using Middle C, she's practicing trying to find that pitch without reference, and learning to check herself.  You'll love seeing improvement by the end of the year.

I recommend you download a pitch pipe app or a keyboard app onto your phone, so you can recreate this type of activity at any time.  More practice leads to improved ability!  One family made it a habit to sing "We Are Here" every time they arrived at a destination in their car (checking the middle C pitch with an iPhone app.)  

It's also easy to play pitches on piano (or piano app) for you child and have him identify which note he hears.  To make it easier for my beginners, I use only white keys.

Don't Have Perfect Pitch?
Most Let's Play Music students will be able to sing a Middle C when requested.  Most will not develop complete perfect pitch.  Are we worried? No way!  

In addition to absolute pitch (AP), we will be training your child's ear for relative pitch, ability to identify chords by ear, ability to hear chord progressions, and ability to discern and identify rhythms by ear. Although a fun and desirable skill, very few famous musicians and composers have AP.  Let's Play Music class will prepare well-rounded musicians who have the ability to hear and understand music.

Shelle Soelberg, creator of Let's Play Music, knew that some solid practice in AP would benefit all young LPM students and set them on the road to acquiring true absolute pitch.  As each of her own children completed the program over the years, they were perfect at hitting Middle C along with other graduates.  With a bit more practice, four of her children acquired absolute pitch by age twelve!  Soelberg told me, "we made pitch practice a part of our daily habit….nothing structured, it just became a fun thing we all started doing.  The piano is near the kitchen, so during cooking, meals, and chores, it was natural to try to sing a pitch and go check, or play a pitch and quiz the family."

Whether or not you continue to practice AP games beyond the Let's Play Music years, your child will be blessed for life to have an ear a bit more sensitive to absolute pitches.

Not in a Let's Play Music class yet? Don't miss out - find a teacher near you now!

-Gina Weibel, M.S.

Related Posts:
Intervals are worth knowing
Ear-Training: Intervals with Turtle Tom and Tim


  1. As an LPM Connections teacher I was amazed a few weeks ago when I saw one of my students (LPM graduate) exhibit this skill in his lesson. He correctly identified the matching pitch he heard on the grand staff during a Tonic Tutor game without even listening to the sample answers first!