I have a friend who is an exquisite pianist, who has perfect pitch, but who can't carry a tune. He can sing intervals perfectly, tritone after tritone followed by a major 7th. No problem. He can name the notes in complicated cluster chords. He can name the pitch of anything on the street, like car horns, or the beep of the cash register at the grocery store.

But he loses this ability within the context of music. Even the simplest tunes. He can't sing "We All Live in a Yellow Submarine" without messing it up. Wouldn't you think that if you have perfect pitch you automatically have a very useful sense of relative pitch?

What's more, he doesn't know it. He doesn't hear the pitch of the sound coming from his throat. And can't be told. If someone winces at his singing--and they often do--or points out that the intervals are wrong, he simply says that he doesn't pretend to be a good singer.

It's maddening. We'll be talking about music, and he'll start to hum a Schubert Lied. I'll match his initial pitch and try to join in and straighten it out, but it just makes it worse. It's especially maddening if I start to sing the Schubert Lied, and he joins in. Yikes. It drives me to distraction.

I know we just had a thread on perfect pitch, but nothing like this was brought up. Has anyone heard of anything like this? Are there remedies?

Another question about perfect pitch: My sense is that pianists are more likely to have it than vocalists or string players. Do different kinds of instrumentalists have it in the same proportion as keyboard players?


"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10