[Dixielandjazz] Perfect pitch

Larry Walton Entertainment - St. Louis larrys.bands at charter.net
Mon Jun 4 10:33:22 PDT 2007

I found the article to be very interesting.  While I worked at Missouri 
School for the Blind I did some studies on the subject.  The question always 
was can you learn it or not and what are it's characteristics.

I first got interested in it because I couldn't get a couple of my horn 
students to play in tune no matter what I did.  I knew they had perfect 
pitch and could do all the tricks that were mentioned.   They could tell me 
the key of anything and what the notes were in a chord and the pitch of a 
car engine or a door squeak.  But they couldn't play in tune even with 

I got my strobotuner down and started doing graphs to find out what if 
anything I could do or at least learn something about it.  Here I had kids 
with perfect pitch that wasn't

One of the characteristics that they all displayed was the notes C D E F and 
G (first octave middle C to G second line) were the worst but other notes in 
other octaves were out to a lesser extent.  The other characteristic was 
that they all lived at the school and had been there since kindergarten.  I 
thought that this was very odd.  Not being a piano player I didn't put it 
together real fast but my office was right next to the piano practice area. 
I started checking the pianos and those notes right in the center were the 
most out of tune on all the schools pianos probably because of misuse.

My conclusion was that they learned their perfect pitch on instruments that 
were out of tune.

While I do agree that you can't learn perfect pitch (at least as an adult) 
relative pitch can get better.  I know from personal experience that my 
sense of pitch keeps getting better and things that are out of tune bother 
me more and more.  I was near a choir yesterday that was all over the place 
and it absolutely drove me to distraction and I was really happy when they 

I did an experiment on myself that lasted a month that you might try.  Every 
morning when I got up and had not been contaminated by sounds I would try to 
remember a pitch and I would turn on my tape recorder and hum that pitch 
into it.  After thirty days I played back the tape.  There was some 
variation but I was surprised at how many times I had hit the pitch right on 
or was only a little off.  There were a few days I missed entirely but 
usually not more than a minor second.

When I was in college there was another student named Bob Sisco who had an 
octet and played Alto Sax.  He would sit in the back of the room with me and 
he would arrange an entire octet arrangement in the class time.  A few 
minutes before the class would finish he would write out the entire ear 
training dictation lesson and hand it in.  Yes he got A's.  What an amazing 
gift.  Bob went to LA to become an arranger and writer and was killed in a 
car wreck.  That was about 1964 or so.

I went to a concert last year put on by the AF Academy Jazz band.  In that 
group there was an exceptionally talented Trombone player.  As the 
performance wore on I became more and more irritated at him and his solos. 
Although his performance was brilliant he was out of tune with the band.  By 
the end of the evening I was ready to jump off a bridge.

It dawned on me that he might very well have perfect pitch and was more or 
less saying I am right, everyone else is wrong, full speed ahead and damn 
the torpedoes.   That didn't make me feel better about his performance.

I guess I do in a way agree with the article in that people with perfect 
pitch maybe should stick to their own kind.  I think good relative pitch is 
much more of an asset to a working musician unless he wants to do 
transcriptions from records.

Perfect pitch does not guarantee that the person will be a good musician. 
There is a band leader here who has transcribed an incredible library of 
Kenton and other big band tunes from records yet he is a perfectly crappy 
trumpet player and has a perfectly crappy big band.  Does he have perfect 
pitch? Maybe but I wouldn't trade places although I wish I could listen to 
something and write out the chart.

I find that I hear sharp and like things bright.  Instruments tuned to A-440 
sound a little flat to me.  I'm also surprised that the author of the 
article played guitar which is always a little out of tune when moving 
between keys and can't be tempered.  While I played guitar I liked the B 
string tweaked a little sharp to sound in tune to me.

I was listening to a recording I made where we sat down and started the 
concert.  I don't remember anyone tuning before hand yet the entire piece is 
right on.  I think that's the goal.
St. Louis
----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Ken Gates" <kwg28 at sbcglobal.net>
To: "Larry Walton" <larrys.bands at charter.net>
Cc: "Dixieland Jazz Mailing List" <dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com>
Sent: Monday, June 04, 2007 9:16 AM
Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Perfect pitch

> An interesting article about perfect pitch----
> Ken Gates
> http://www.jackgrassel.com/pages/perfect_pitch.html
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