I play the oboe, and have kept up on it ...enough. But since I have a gig in July, I recently began the quest to get into 'performance shape,' and I began working with reeds and figuring out which one played in tune. But at the time I wasn't referring to my tuner. I started playing a few scales to warming up, and then played and held an A-440. It felt a little low, so I pushed the pitch up until it sounded right. Then I turned to the tuner and I was RIGHT ON! Then as I continued to practice I would carefully tune by ear and then compare to the tuner, and more often than not, would be right on.
And that's when it occurred to me that I've been listening to carefully tuned samples, occasionally using controllers to force them out of tune, and that for all this listening, I've been ear training. Perfect pitch? Hardly. Not me. But my relative pitch sure hasn't suffered. Any other thoughts?
Well, pitch recognition, like any another skill, improves with practice, deteriorates when not exercised.
When I think of perfect pitch, I wonder what happened to all those perfect pitch people in about 1917 in this country, when the shift to A 440 from A 435 was adopted. When I was tuning pianos, and encountered the perfect pitch person, if they demonstrated, they invariably showed how inaccurate they were.
Lest someone think of my remarks as a "sour grapes" rant:
When I first began working in a piano shop, long ago, amidst all the din of tools and general uproar, somebody would whack out a chord on a piano and call out, "Hey, Richard, what was that?". I always gave the correct chord. Also, fairly recently, I played a vinyl recording of something I was unfamiliar with, and the work was identifed as "Something?" in E Major. But my ear told me E Flat, and my piano confirmed my ear and later, my encylopedia.
I know that if I play the piano less, this feat becomes more difficult, which to me proves the point about perfect pitch being an erroneous concept, since it develops or deteriorates with use or disuse, and because I would soon develop the same skill if suddenly all musicians adopted a new frequency standard. Additionally, there is a range of frequencies, not very wide, which most people with good pitch recognition would recognize as a particular pitch. Expanding this range just a bit causes confusion about what pitch it might be.
That's quite a pile, probably more than you wanted to hear. Seems to me that DPDan could add some comments here that ought to be useful.
Very good point, David. My perception of details has improved noticeably recently, even though I have not been involved with choirs or ensembles of any sort for at least fifteen years.
I had expected some loss as I approach the 50th anniversary of my 25th birthday, but so far, any loss has done nothing except above 10 KHz last I checked. My hearing used to be in the dog whistle range, making TV a problem because I would hear the high frequency oscillator vibrating the glass tubes. That was handy, because I could be behind a tv doing repairs, and would know when I had a picture by the sound of the oscillator.
Richard, you have brought up an interesting point about people with perfect pitch, and the actual frequency as a reference point for an in tune "A".
From my point of view, (and that's all it is)... the more important talent than having perfect pitch, is the ability to know instantly which note/s in a chord are not correct, even when the singers have already dropped almost a half step when they are still singing the first verse! YIKES!
I have argued with myself about the issues of pitch with sample libraries. It is so annoying sometimes. I just spent last night recording the GPO french horns for a piece I am working on, and some of the staccato notes were all sharp, I noticed that the notes did "settle" into the correct pitch quickly, so I had to draw in pitch data for those notes. A hassle, you bet, but it's better than the alternative. I won't call that a tuning issue with that particular GPO horn, just the player didn't quite nail the pitch at the onset of a few notes. Fixing these little issues so that it pleases the ears is just a normal day at the office of a sample user.
I decided to leave some of the out of tune notes alone since every stinkin' time I listen to music that I truly love, I hear notes that don't exist, if you know what I mean.
My friend Jay can be on stage during setup for a concert and another musician will ask him for an A or an E or whatever, and he'll just sing it right out, and right on the money too. I suspect that if Jay was living back when they changed to 440,... he would have given the correct pitch that was recognized as the perfect pitch at the time, whatever was established as correct. The color yellow could have originally been named green, but still be the same color as it is today.
Jay determined a long time ago that I have perfect pitch. I don't brag about it because I can't call out the name of the note. Jay said if I was familiar with a musical instrument every day, I would be able to. Out of 12 songs he tested me on, I was correct on 10 of them. They were tunes from a band he played in, and I set up and mixed the sound for ten or so years before. I had not heard the songs in ages. I think he was surprised more than I was.
I am human, and I'm certainly not perfect, nor is perfect pitch actually perfect IMO.
So, the next time flatulance David let's one rip, don't ask me what note it is.
For those of you who want to train your ears, get some piano tuning tools and tune a few pianos. That will let you know how many notes there really are.