I was listening to my latest obsession, RadioLab NYC, and came across a great story about perfect pitch — that rare ability to precisely identify any musical note possessed by Mozart, Hendrix, Ray Charles, etc — and which is, quite obviously, a genetic gift. Right?
Uh, no. A rather amazing study by Diana Deutsch tells a new story. Kids who grow up speaking a tonal language (languages like Mandarin where meaning is connected to subtle but precise shifts in pitch) are nine times more likely to develop perfect pitch — and this holds true regardless of genetic heritage. In other words, perfect pitch is not about genes. It’s about firing the circuit.
As Deutsch puts it, “Perfect pitch for years seemed like a beautiful gift – given only to a few genetically endowed people. But our research suggests that it might be available to virtually everybody.”