According to a post at telegraph.co.uk (here), “Learning to speak Mandarin and Vietnamese as a child helps make you more musical, claims a study that suggests being fluent in the languages helps you have perfect pitch.” The article goes on to point out that perfect pitch in China is a rather common occurence. However, In the US and Europe, it is estimated that only 1 in 10,000 people have perfect pitch.
Apparently, many Chinese languages are ‘tonal languages’ – meaning that the pitch of a word is essential to its meaning. Tonal languages? I had never even heard of such a concept. It’s fascinating. And the part about those languages nurturing perfect pitch? Wow. I have always been under the impression that genetics played the main role for people with perfect pitch. It’s simply fascinating to know that social factors may play a bigger role in acquiring or having perfect pitch.
“It really looks as though infants should acquire perfect pitch if they are given the opportunity to attach verbal labels to musical notes at the age when they learn speech,” said Prof Deutsch.
Maybe I’ll be a parent who forces perfect pitch on my kids by having them learn 4 chinese languages. Then again, maybe not. I have known several people with perfect pitch. I knew this guy in college who could tell you the pitch of a fart. My wife’s mom can tell you the frequency at which a light is buzzing. From talking with various friends about it, perfect pitch can be an amazing gift, but it can also be a real nuisance. For example, let’s say you are listening to an acapella choir that goes flat by a quartertone. For most people with perfect pitch, the experience is nearly ruined because they cannot listen to the performance without noticing how the choir has gone flat. And it goes for instruments, too. Furthermore, I have also heard that perfect pitch will begin to fail in old age. I couldn’t handle that. It would be like a super power was being taken away slowly. People would say, “Poor Hulk. He’s can’t turn dark green anymore. He’s only making it to lime green these days. Poor guy.”
In conclusion, while it might be awesome in theory, simply being a good musician may be better than having perfect pitch.