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Perfect Pitch

Perfect pitch is the ability to identify a note in the musical scale by its correct musical name – e.g. - if someone played the note D on an instrument like the piano, violin, guitar etc, a person with perfect pitch would be able to say it was indeed sounding a D before being told. Now it seems that some people may be born with this ability to correctly identify notes/keys, and others may learn it at an early age, depending on their musical environment. I was fortunate to be born to a mother who was musically gifted, and an extraordinary pianist; you could sing her a tune, and she would be able to play it on the piano, with accompaniment, after only one or two hearings. She loved the piano – it was her life – and played whenever she could. She played professionally - in hotel bars, for musicals and theatre performances, ballet and keep fit classes, church services, recitals, accompanying instrumentalists, and anywhere she was needed and wanted. And she was still playing professionally until two years before her death at the age of 89!

So that is the musical environment in which I grew up. My mother played the piano at home whenever time allowed, so I often heard her playing. She had perfect pitch, and being an amazing musician, she was keen for me to learn music too. When I was very small, she used to turn on the radio each day in the early afternoon, for “Listen with Mother”, and we would sit together and listen to the daily nursery rhyme, and the story, and whatever else was in the programme then (I can’t remember now!), and this was a ritual every weekday, between the ages of two and five. One day, after the programme, I apparently went to the piano, climbed onto the stool, and picked out the tune of the nursery rhyme in the right key, much to her amazement. So from that she realised that I too had perfect pitch.

I started having piano lessons at the age of five, and violin lessons at eight, and the rest is history, as they say. Having perfect pitch helped me tremendously when I went to the Royal Academy of Music as a Junior Exhibitioner on Saturday mornings from age 12, as aural tests were a doddle, and it just made everything so much easier. Similarly when I did my main training at the Royal College of Music, and played professionally for twenty years in the mainstream classical music world – it was very handy to have perfect pitch – a great gift. And I found that right up to the time I started playing the gong some fifteen years ago now.

There were a few years, when, for personal reasons, I didn’t play the violin much at all. And when the music inevitably came back into my life, it initially went down the Sound Healing route over twenty years ago. Then the gongs came in, and I found that the dissonant harmony of the gong sounds took some getting used to after my classical music training. Gong sounds are quite different to the sounds of any of the other more conventional instruments I was used to in my former classical career, and as I got into the gongs, my pitch changed. I gradually became used to playing spontaneously instead of from music; and constantly hearing the enormous range of harmonics that a large western gong produces, seemed to affect my ability to hear the pitch of Western scale notes accurately. I found I was no longer 100% accurate in identifying them, as I always had been before. So my sense of pitch changed when the gong came in.

Nowadays I do still play the violin – mostly folk and traditional music in recent years - and the more I play, especially with others, the more accurate my pitch is. For the most part, it seems now to be more relative than perfect. i.e. I can often identify notes accurately, but not always – I can sometimes be a semitone or even a tone out in placing which key we are in, or what notes/chords are being played (Western scale). So it would seem that the gong sounds may have shifted my sense of pitch in some way. Interesting! It may also have something to do with concert pitch being at 440 hz, which I worked with exclusively during my life in the classical arena, and Solfeggio being 432 hz, which I have also been using on and off in my Sound Healing work since 1999. My “perfect” pitch seems more tuned into 432 hz these days. Maybe the combining of these two “A” frequencies has confused the brain, rendering it unable to perfectly identify notes/keys now. This comparison between 440 and 432 could lead to an interesting discussion, but that’s for another day’s Blog!

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