So I was wondering if, theoretically, it would be possible to have perfect pitch only on one instrument. For a bit of background, I grew up as a Suzuki cello student and thus have been playing the cello for quite a long time now.

When I'm listening to a piece of music that features the cello, I can 95% of the time tell what note is being played (unless it's in that really high range above the D in thumb position on the A string) accurately. However, this isn't the case for any other instrument - I can't even begin to think about how I could tell what note is what on these other instruments.

So my question is: Is this a known phenomenon: does this count as perfect pitch, or is it just finely tuned relative pitch?

Edit: It has been suggested that this has already been answered, but the question I am asking is not if attaining this on one instrument is possible but instead if it counts as perfect pitch.

Edit again: No, this is not a duplicate of 'is it possible to learn instrument based perfect pitch'. I have already attained this quasi-perfect pitch ability and want to know if it counts as perfect pitch.

  • If not a duplicate, then related
    – user45266
    Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 20:17
  • 4
    that's not what perfect pitch is. Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 20:31
  • 2
    I don't think that's perfect pitch; I think you just know the cello very well and have developed a great sense of relative pitch. Perfect pitch implies that you are able to name the exact pitch regardless of the instrument.
    – Annie
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 3:18

5 Answers 5


You might be listening to the timbre of the different notes. I remember watching this video , where the person describes learning perfect pitch from the timbre of the instrument. His process is to become familiar with the timbre of different notes and then mentally playing the instrument in his head in order to find the correct pitch when he hears it from a different timbre. Perhaps the cello timbre is consistent enough across different instruments that you are able to do a similar thing and hear the timbre of different notes.

  • 2
    This is probably what's going on. Most possessors of absolute pitch do have better discrimination abilities for some timbres than others, but those who can only sense pitch for a single instrument often are basing it on timbral cues alone.
    – Athanasius
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 2:12
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    I was thinking timbre too. Each string is probably identifiable to someone experienced, and fingered versus open timbre. Knowing those things immediately reduces the number of possible pitches. Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 17:43
  • Yeah, this is it, you're just way more familiar with the "voice" of the cello which is kind of your native tongue. Violin is probably easier to hear than banjo or vacuum cleaner right? I'm sure you'll be able to improve recognition of non cello tones if you practice like this guy youtube.com/watch?v=JlqTt9C8s0g&list=WL
    – Nathan
    Commented Nov 20, 2019 at 6:31

If you have perfect pitch then it doesn't matter if it's an instrument, voice or the hum of an electronic device. It sounds to me like you have developed very good relative pitch. Since you are most familiar with the cello, then it makes sense that your ears would respond best to that instrument.


does this count as perfect pitch, or is it just finely tuned relative pitch?

Not an ideal answer to hear, but it's a mix of both. Firstly, yes, this is a phenomenon and you'll rest easy knowing that it is much more likely for musicians to be able to more accurately identify exact pitches when played on their primary instrument as opposed to an instrument that is less familiar to them.

The reasons for this phenomenon should be fairly obvious.

Regarding absolute pitch, in the strictest definition, it would not count as absolute pitch is the ability to distinguish any sound as a musical approximation, irrespective of source: "oh that elevator is Eb" etc. This is why it's called absolute pitch.

It may be perfect, but that accuracy is relative to the instrument.


I am an amateur music learner. Here are my 2 cents

Answer these questions:

  1. Can you identify a single note on the cello 95% of time?
  2. Have you tried the same melody on another instrument first and then on cello? My guess is that there is bias of known melody.

My theory is:

your years of training with cello have had a heavy effect on your ear training. It can be argued that musical notes should produce same notes across instruments. But same note played on cello and guitar will have common part. Still there will be some things that are specific to an instrument.

Try this:

instrumental music of same melody; to see considerable difference use one wind instrument and one string instrument, e.g. flute and cello – you will know the difference.


It's a known phenomenon. Some people call it "true pitch" to distinguish it from full-fledged, all-instruments perfect pitch.

I remember some YouTube videos talking about it, if I can find them again I'll post the links.

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