When someone has perfect pitch, can it get "out of tune"? I've heard of musicians who had perfect pitch but as they got older they didn't have perfect pitch any more, or maybe it just got "de-tuned": so that if you played middle C, the pitch produced wouldn't match their internal expectation of what middle C should sound like.

Can that really happen?

  • If it does, and I'm sure it can do, that must be Hell for the musos it happens to. At that point, they'll always be playing 'out of tune', surely.
    – Tim
    Aug 29 '20 at 8:01
  • @Tim Indeed! I once tried improvising duets with a musician who had this problem, and it was near impossible for him, because he had to "transpose" his parts on the fly.
    – Aaron
    Aug 29 '20 at 9:05
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    What is the relevance of this to anyone's music making? There is an incredible amount of questions about perfect pitch on this site, considering that the answers won't make any difference to any musical performance, composition, practicing, anything. It must be some kind of a status symbol. Nevermind the actual music, people want to be something? Aug 29 '20 at 9:55
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica - maybe not a status symbol, sometimes a blessing, often a curse, it would appear from posts on this site and elsewhere. Certainly a phenomenon which occurs with direct relationship to music, and music making.Certainly has relevance on this site, and with many folk offering answers, more light will be shed on the subject. Where's the problem with that?
    – Tim
    Aug 29 '20 at 10:17
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica - if you don't like a subject which is not off-topic, then just hide the tag. Done. No-one else needs to know or care. Battling in comments is certainly not the way to go about it. If you want a policy change or review, take it to meta.
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 29 '20 at 15:24

Perfect pitch does not always remain perfect. There are studies and anecdotal discussions observing this phenomenon. For example:

Personally, I know two musicians whose perfect pitch has changed: one a working professional pianist in his 70s (as of this post); the other an amateur multi-instrumentalist in his 40s (again, as of this post). In both cases, they described difficulty playing, because the pitches coming out of their instruments no longer matched what their inner ear expected. (The instruments were in tune, of course.)

From @Richard in his answer to Unlearned Perfect Pitch / never had it?:

To quote Gary Karpinski in his Aural Skills Acquisition:...

Finally, it seems that many with AP find that at some time during midlife their perception of AP begins to "shift," eventually mapping once-learned pitch-class names onto incorrect pitches (Vernon 1977; Ward 1999, 280–81).

In a footnote, he mentions that this shift often occurs in the sharp direction, so that A440 will start to sound like B♭. Furthermore, this shift seems to stretch with age: the older someone is, the wider (and more "off") their AP may become.

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    This is caused by the stiffening of the basilar membrane inside the ear, which is an important component in pitch detection. It is the auditory equivalent of people needing reading glasses as they age because the lenses in their eyes stiffen and can no longer easily focus at short distances. Aug 29 '20 at 18:46
  • @ToddWilcox This would make a great answer, especially if you can post a reference.
    – Aaron
    Aug 29 '20 at 19:01

I have absolue pitch and yes: it is possible losing absolute pitch if you don't listen to tuned music for a long period or if you use drugs.

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