Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Odd. Really Odd.

Thing One has taken piano lessons for four years now.  He started at age 6, when I realized that he could pick out tunes readily by ear.  His first piano teacher quickly determined that he has absolute pitch (also known as perfect pitch), meaning that he can identify any note correctly as soon as he hears it, without needing to first hear a reference note. He can also tell me what pitches he hears in elevator dings, train whistles, car horns, etc.  It's pretty cool.  I started music lessons as a small child as well, and I have pretty decent relative pitch, but nothing like his ability.

Thing Two started learning to play the piano this past summer.  He wanted to try it: we had no idea how he'd do with it given the abstract nature of music theory and his language comprehension issues, but we didn't want to deprive him of the chance to try. A good call, as it turned out.  He loves it, he practices like a fiend all on his own, and he's moving through the books at a rate that is startling the teacher.

Both boys are performing in a holiday piano recital at the beginning of December.  Thing Two has two easier pieces and Thing One a single difficult piece.  The other day, I walked into the living room and realized that Thing Two was playing a simplified (but still involving chords) version of Thing One's recital piece entirely by ear.  There was no music in front of him, and he can't read Thing One-level music yet anyway.

Today, for kicks, I had him play that piece for the piano teacher.  She looked at him strangely, then asked him to turn around on the piano bench so he couldn't see the keys she was pressing. Sure enough, he has absolute pitch too.

Speaking as a scientist. it's known that there is a genetic element to absolute pitch.  Given that fact, you'd expect the siblings of people with absolute pitch to be more likely to have it themselves.  Not so much of a shock from that standpoint.


In this case, we're talking about a kid with a severe auditory processing problem (in the words of his neurodevelopmental pediatrician.)  A kid whose neurological circuits between his ears and brain are indisputably, deeply scrambled, with respect to both incoming and outgoing language.  And a kid who is completely tone-deaf while singing, to boot.  So to hear that his auditory perception with regard to incoming musical notes is perfect was a surprise, to say the least.  

The brain: a wild and wonderful place.  Wish we actually understood more than the tiniest fraction of how it works.  


  1. Elizabeth: exactly!! It's such a pleasure to discover things that he can do BETTER than most...

  2. That's really interesting. Most of the people I knew in music school who had perfect pitch found it a little frustrating in that they could hear if an entire choir slipped slightly in pitch and kept going when no one else cared. I always thought it would be cool to be able to identify pitches as easily as I could colors. How amazing to have two kids able to do that!

  3. Korinthia, thank you for coming by! ;) My older son visibly cringes (at only 10) when he hears something off-key, so it's both a blessing and a curse, but all in all, it's an amazing gift. Mostly because both of my sons can sit down at the piano and recreate music that they've heard...I can do that with melodies without too much trouble, but what seems to separate my relative pitch from their perfect pitch is their ability to hear the harmonies and chords--they are much better than me at identifying more than one note at a time (both of them can hear a chord and immediately duplicate it.) I saw a from your blog that you are a luthier...I'd call that a pretty amazing skill too. ;)


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