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For those that need a reminder of the difference between accuracy and precision


I don't have perfect pitch. For those who do, how accurately and precisely can you recognise, say 440Hz for an A.

(1) You can hear a note, and say that it is nearer to an A than to some other nearby note

(2) You could tune a piano to perfect concert pitch without any reference to any outside measure of frequency whatsoever.

(3) You can distinguish perfectly between different keyboard temperaments and say from hearing a single scale, the temperament the instrument is tuned in.

(4) Someone could play you a pure frequency on an oscillator, tell you the precise frequency in Hz and you would be able to identify and reproduce that precise frequency to within 1Hz for the rest of your life.


I realise that abilities differ but I'm trying to get a general understanding of what is possible and how finely the ability can be honed.

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    I daresay that like any capability or ability that some may possess, its depth and perfection will vary between individuals. As in, there cannot be anything but a sliding scale (no pun intended), so if one person actually has perfect absolute pitch, and another has it to some degree, where does that leave us? – Tim Jan 17 at 9:03
  • This smacks of a poll, but I do feel like entertaining you with my entry. – Dekkadeci Jan 17 at 16:37
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In terms of my level of absolute pitch, I'd say I definitely fit #1, I can kinda fit #2, I only vaguely sorta fit #3, and I cannot pull off #4 at all.

I can definitely hear notes and give you their closest note in the usual 12-note scale (with more effort, also their octave, although orchestral music can make me skew the loudest octave wrong) assuming A440 12TET. If they sound like quarter tones, I'll give you their two closest notes instead and declare the actual note a quarter tone or something close enough to it. If they distinctly sound out of tune, I'll say whether they're sharp or flat.

I'm not sure whether I have the manual dexterity to pull off a satisfactory piano tuning, and I may end up tuning to A444 or A438 instead, but I can definitely tune your ukulele to standard tuning with no auditory references. I generally prioritize making open strings sound good when played with each other (e.g. the C and G open strings sound like a great perfect 5th together) over tuning to exactly A440.

Termperament-wise, all I can say is if you're reasonably within equal temperament or you're clearly deviating (e.g. just intonation, out-of-tune singer, meantone temperaments). I can't say which precise temperament system you're using if it's not equal temperament. The main way I detect this is the presence of consistent out-of-tune notes and a lack of consistency in how notes are (or aren't) out of tune.

...So I can't tell you the precise Hz of heard frequencies and need to deduce Hz differences between similar notes by checking for beating like everyone else, including people without absolute pitch. And then I'll probably be unable to distinguish between A432 and A430 the next day despite (re-)learning A432 yesterday. Sorry.

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(1) You can hear a note, and say that it is nearer to an A than to some other nearby note

Yes.

(2) You could tune a piano to perfect concert pitch without any reference to any outside measure of frequency whatsoever.

Yes in principle, but just so you know, that would be a lousy way to tune a piano.

The proper way to tune a piano is to start with one note, then one octave, then go up and down by octaves, then try various intervals and other tricks and adjust all around until it sounds good.

(3) You can distinguish perfectly between different keyboard temperaments and say from hearing a single scale, the temperament the instrument is tuned in.

Not by perfect pitch, but possibly via relative pitch.

(4) Someone could play you a pure frequency on an oscillator, tell you the precise frequency in Hz and you would be able to identify and reproduce that precise frequency to within 1Hz for the rest of your life.

1 Hz is a very big interval in low octaves, and an almost insignificant interval in high octaves.

You should instead ask by how many cents one's perfect pitch is precise. (A cent is a hundredth of a semitone).

I'd say that an average PP can be as precise as 20 cent, and a really good one, 10 cent or so.

Also keep in mind and with advancement of age, the sense of perfect pitch tend to slide down. That is, the same note that sounded like a concert C in your head when you're young, after middle age will start to sound like a B, then a Bb, then an A... (the latter is the case of a friend of mine in his 80s).

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