Last week, my sister posted a link to an article on the NPR website titled, “Want Perfect Pitch? You Might Be Able to Pop A Pill For That.” In case you don’t know, having perfect pitch or absolute pitch means that you are able to identify or recreate a musical note without having a reference tone. According to the article, Takao Hensch, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard, says that perfect pitch is the result of “early life exposure and training in music.” And so he is studying a drug which puts the brain back to its early state, allowing “the brain to absorb new information as easily as it did before age 7.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t discover that I had perfect pitch until I was in sixth grade, at least, that’s when I remember being able to put a name to it. It was about the same time that my two sisters (they being in fourth grade and first grade at the time) learned that they also had “the gift,” which you could consider either a blessing or a curse.
But what is perfect pitch good for? It means you can identify any pitch that is played or sung. I don’t know how many times we have been at a concert or the opera, and the soprano sings a high note, and my husband Carl turns to me and asks: “What note is that?”
It also made taking musical dictation a cinch — that’s where a melody is played and you must put it into musical notation. Many years ago, I was asked to notate a Hawaiian song and produce the sheet music, because the composer didn’t read music! And not too long ago, a family requested an organ version of “Kanaka Wai Wai” for a funeral I played, so I listened to some YouTube performances and was able to take it down in dictation.
Learning new music may possibly be easier with perfect pitch, since you can hear the entire piece in your head first. But ask me to sing an anthem which is transposed (in another key) — and then I’m dead in the water! (People with perfect pitch sing the notes, not the intervals.)
You would think, though, that maybe having perfect pitch would be an asset to learning a foreign language. However, I’m discovering that learning a foreign language, like learning music, is a lot easier when you’re young! Having perfect pitch is not necessarily helping! It’s been 45 years since I lived in Paris, and at the time, I was able to get around reasonably well after four years of high school French. But that was 45 years ago and my French is pretty rusty. Because we’re planning a trip to France this summer, I have installed an app on my phone (Duolingo) which is my personal daily tutor!
I found a very interesting post by Benny Lewis, “Why learning a language is like learning a musical instrument,” As I teach adults, I found these points interesting:
• Both are about listening carefully and learning how to reproduce the sounds you hear.
• To learn a language or instrument you need to keep at it. Practice every day, even if only for 10 minutes.
• Both learning a language and playing a musical instrument take patience.
Amen to that.