What actually is “perfect pitch”? And if you don’t have it, can you acquire it? As a musician, do you even need it?

So … what is perfect pitch?

Perfect pitch”, or “absolute pitch”, is an aural faculty that enables the possessor to identify the pitch of a sound, or a note played by an instrument, without the aid of a device such as a tuning fork. It’s a handy tool for musicians and a neat party trick in some circles: not only will a person with perfect pitch will be able to name any note played on the piano (without seeing the keys) or what key a song on the radio is in; they will also be able to pitch any note they imagine in their heads out of the blue, without first hearing an external reference.

Are there degrees of perfect pitch?

The term “perfect pitch” is a little misleading; there is nothing “perfect” about absolute pitch. Precision can vary, but most people with the ability can identify at least 70 distinct tones; the brain assigns a unique auditory quality or “flavour” to each of these notes that sets it apart from any other pitch.

Some may distinguish exact frequencies, and others...