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Cheers, I'm 25 and I have some perfect pitch issues... Questions about this get asked a lot but I haven't found something similar yet! So, playing piano for most of my life, music teachers told me I have Perfect Pitch early on. It's true that I know the 440Hz almost perfectly, and for me it's a nobrainer to determine an interval. But over the last 2 years, I noticed that it's much harder to know which tone it is - and I have a hard time finding out when a song is still playing (I have to stop it then think about it). Sometimes I'm sure about pitch but when checking it with an instrument, I'm a semitone off.

I also noticed long ago that when trying to find the pitch, I play a reference tone in my head (mostly A or C, C because of the tunning of my guitar, hear that a lot) and from there, I do the interval thing.

So, is it possible that I just have a very good tonal memory, like a "fake Perfect Pitch"? OR is it all practise? Because: Often I just know and "feel" what tone it is, and I'm sure about it. I'm confused!

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  • So your ability to identify the same pitch (e.g. G flat) has slipped over the past 2 years, right? Or is it only recently that you've been tested on more difficult pitches such as G flat? – Dekkadeci Jan 23 at 13:43
  • Kind of. I'm testing myself from time to time by playing random notes or figuring out noises in daily life (same here, sometimes I need to compare). But interesting that you mention G Flat - that's indeed a pitch I struggle to instantly recognize - same goes with Eb and Ab. Rest is no problem, especially the C Scale full-step notes. – Alex Jan 24 at 17:53
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These both sound like relatively common issues with absolute pitch. To quote Gary Karpinski in his Aural Skills Acquisition:

In addition, it has been shown that many AP listeners can identify white-key pitch classes more fluently than they can black-key pitch classes (Miyazaki 1989; 1990; Takeuchi and Hulse 1991).

So when you say in the comments that you're having troubles with G♭, E♭, and A♭ but that the C scale "is no problem," this is exactly the issue: the white notes are often easier than the black notes for those with absolute pitch.

You also mention that you're occasionally off by semitone. You're only 25, so this may be a bit early, but you may be interested to hear that absolute pitch may not be forever:

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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You seem to have a certain amount of sense of perfect pitch, so to speak, but it's not quite as solid and reliable as some people seem to have.

If you had full-fledged perfect pitch, it wouldn't even occur to you to play a note in your head and compare it to what you're hearing. You would just know what it is. Also, perfect pitch is not about recognizing intervals, so that part is irrelevant to the main question.

On the other hand, without at least some sense of perfect pitch, you wouldn't be able to do most of the things you describe.

Bottom line, as always the case in life, things aren't in simple black and white, but they are the result of many intricate and interconnected factors. You seem to have way above average sense of pitch, but still short the typical full-fledged version.

And in a sense, your position is quite interesting because you seem to have the ability to improve with practice, which is more than can be said with most people in this regard. So, if you keep practicing music in general and ear training in particular, you are sure to make a lot of further progress.

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  • Thank you! I just found a simple test fpr perfect pitch here: tonedear.com/ear-training/absolute-perfect-pitch-test I got 100% right on the hardest level, some notes I recognized instantly, with some others I got a bit confused (like more uncommon ones like G#). It's a strange thing! – Alex Jan 24 at 17:48
  • @Alex On the whole, that link isn't a valid test for perfect pitch. Anyone with well developed relative pitch only needs to get one note right and then will be accurate after that. However, recognizing the notes "instantly", as you say, is indicative of perfect pitch. I can get by on relative pitch, but it's not instant. – Aaron Feb 23 at 2:54

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