Perfect Pitch - Can It be Learned?

Today I came across an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, by Heidi Mitchell, about perfect pitch and whether or not it can be learned. Studies have suggested that perfect pitch is linked to genetics, however, almost anyone can be trained to recognize whether or not a note sounds in tune.

The article included an interview with Dr. Joseph P. Bradley who is an otolaryngologist and professor at the Washington University Voice and Airway Center.  Bradley, who is also a singer, has been studying neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to learn new things) and how learning a tonal language, like Mandarin, at a young age can improve one’s accuracy in recognition of pitch. Bradley points to one study involving native speakers of tonal languages such as Vietnamese or Mandarin. The outcome showed that 60% of Beijing natives who began taking music lessons before the age of 5 were able to pass a test for perfect pitch while only 14% percent of Americans were able to do the same.

It is unclear whether or not learning a tonal language later in life can lead to acquiring perfect pitch and further studies would prove beneficial to answer this question. Overall it is a fascinating field of inquiry and little by little evidence is being acquired to determine whether perfect pitch is determined more so on genetics versus plasticity.


Christine Suter
Christine Suter

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