I have quite a few friends that have perfect pitch and I've seen how this ability appears to work when in use and I've occasionally pried them for information.
The first thing and most obvious thing is that I think perfect pitch is really a mode of listening rather than an ability. The friends I have hear most everything. Their ears pick up parts of the audio field that I'm not even aware of. Quite often this includes overtones and a remarkable ability to categorise things I can't even properly pitch. The sound of things like the rush of air as a car drives passed. If I'm lucky I would be able to reproduce the pitch-curve with my voice but more often than not, I struggle tremendously because the fundamental is unclear. Another example is that I sit on a bus and hear some sort of discordant rattling noise. To me it sounds like a rattling sound. To them, they can decipher this noise into its constituent pitches as they best fit the western pitch-system.
All that said, I believe that most of this is primarily a completely passive process. The interesting thing is that their experience with the audio-spectrum seems to me to be very similar to that of someone with Autism etc. (which results in an extreme sensitivity to noisy environments) in that their audio perception is not filtered, At least not in the same way as most people.
I think a large part of perfect pitch is in fact simply this detailed awareness of all the audio events occurring, which I think is probably very similar to our pre-language awareness of sound.
If you consider it from the pre-language perspective, perfect pitch makes sense as the most natural way of listening, in that it is an awareness of where things lie within a vertical spectrum of sound. It is also an instant, sound-by-sound awareness, as opposed to relative pitch where one must *wait* for the second pitch to create a categorical judgement. I think what happens is that there are two paths that one can take:
1. Perfect Pitch: The awareness of the audio field is at some pre-language age combined with some form of categorisation (aka a piano and its tuning system) and those categories (this key, that key, those keys on the piano) become their way of categorising what they hear. Then they learn language and all the terms are applied *on top* of this pre-existing set of categories.
2. Relative Pitch: The awareness of the audio field isn't combined with a way of categorising, so with language learning, the focus of perception falls away from the actual audio spectrum in its moment by moment form, and shifts towards time-centric, language-centric form. That is to say, as with language you must first hear the whole of the word to know what word was said, and you must hear the whole of a sentence to know what meaning it had. So the perception shifts from momentary occurrences on a vertical audio field to a focus on the change of a sound or sounds, as the form words, sentences and melodies.
As a result of this shift it is hard to develop absolute pitch because you are trying to develop it while operating in a different auditory mode. So I suspect that if you ever really wanted to master perfect pitch, you would have to first find a way to allow yourself to slip into the other mode of perception where you are hearing things as they occur moment-by-moment in the sonic spectrum, and then after getting into this mode, you would then have to reapproach the division of the audio spectrum into the chosen categories...
This is why I say that perfect pitch is another mode of listening, and also why I think that it is in fact a completely passive mode of listening. I have personally experienced this to a limited degree when listening to music. The only way I can explain it is that you remain completely passive, not attempting to analyse or categorise. And then suddenly you stop listening to the relationships... you still hear them, but you don't follow or anticipate them... and you start hearing the music as a wash of sounds. And in this mode of hearing, what you start to notice is the repetition of specific pitches.
As in, you may have heard a Bb in this mode of listening (although you may not be able to recognise/label it) but then without any effort, you suddenly begin to hear the pitch every time it is played. It is like the music is flicking a light switch every time that pitch is played. While it's being played, that switch is in the on position, and when it's not being played, the switch is in the off position.
There is no real effort, and you aren't at all trying to recall the pitch, something in your head just seems to click each time that note is played and you go "oh, there it is again! and again!"
I suspect that this experience is probably much more akin to the absolute pitch mode of auditory perception.
The good thing is that if this is correct, then I think APA should work fine provided you are able to find a way into this mode of listening.
The only thing I can suggest is to try playing the game of listening to a piece of music with total attention but absolutely no effort. And after a while, your brain might begin to use a different mode of perception and instead listen for reoccurrence rather than patterns.
I think once you are in this mode of listening where you start to notice how certain pitches repeat, if that is the point at which a category or note-name is introduced success would be much more forethcoming.
For example there is a piece for piano, Brahms intermezzo in Eb, where I had this experience, and the note in question was a Bb that kept popping out. I listened to the piece once without trying to identify the note, and then afterwards worked out which note it was on piano before listening to it again.
Now Bb is one pitch that I find particularly easy to recognise on Piano. It often seems to stand out a little bit more than other notes.
Perhaps this could be a method of teaching it: Here is an un-named pitch x, and here is lots of music that contains that pitch (in different octaves and timbres?) simply sit there and let the notes from this music hit your ear, and if any of them happen to sound the same as pitch X just acknowledge their similarities.
Repeat this a lot of times with a lot of different music.
Now tell them, okay, that note that you were noticing was what we call "___" (insert note name). Listen again to all these pieces acknowledge each time you hear it with the actual note name this time.
Repeat process for other 11 pitches, each with different music.
And then once that is done, start working through ALL the music used for all 12 pitches, adding one note at a time and asking them to acknowledge it when they hear it, until every piece has had all the pitches filled in this manner.
If my theory is correct this would possibly work as a way of creating the same auditory buckets/categories that people with perfect pitch have while also giving them practice listening in what I think is this absolute mode of listening.
The trick is to set up an expectation of repetition of the focus pitch. If you expect to hear it, it begins to become a discreet auditory object. It can be a bit difficult getting the ear to jump to that mode of hearing. Sometimes it happens quite easily, other times not so much. The timing of the repeated 'reminder tone' can have a big impact. If it repeats too often it doesn't work, but if it repeats too seldom it wont work either.
I think you could develop AP by using about 120 pieces of music (say about 3 minutes each).
- For each pitch you would have say 10 pieces of music which are quite heavily ladened with that particular note.
You would be given for example a middle C and then have some C-Laden music played while also repeating that reference/reminder C periodically.
After a short while, your brain automatically begins to notice Cs in the music, thinking that is the reference tone being played when, in fact, the note is in the music itself.
This repeats for all 10 pieces.
You then repeat the exercise with sheet music, and observe all the C's in the music and while listening for that single pitch in the music and observe the ones that you found less obvious etc. (perhaps in different octaves, timbres, whatever).
Now repeat for the other 11 pitches / 110 pieces of music
Once you have gotten used to identify each of the 12 pitches in music, you return to the start and repeat adding extra notes:
- Listen to the pitch C in music as listed above.
Now listen to the second pitch... lets say F... as you did using the steps above.
Now listen to the music for the pitch C and listen for both C's and F's. You can either alternate or do both at once.
Now listen to the music for pitch F and listen for Fs and Cs.
When you get comfortable hearing them both in both contexts... move to the next pitch (Let's say an A):
- Listen to the music for A as in Stage One.
Now listen again to the music for the C Pitch listening for As as well as Cs
Listen to the music for A listening for Cs as well as As
Repeat through all 12 pitches.
Then repeat the process with F as the central note. Then A. Then whatever the next one is.
Or if you think you can handle it, try listening for 3 pitches at once.
Then work up to 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
The point is that you should hopefully get to a point where you begin to be able to recognise several notes simultaneously in music, and eventually all 12.
I've even made demo to mp3 to try and give you an idea of how it might work, this one using the pitch "C" as the reminder tone and Brahm's First Piano Sonata, Mvt 1 as the music.
https://docs.google.com/open?id=0B8aVSL ... E5oSzFXR2s
The fact is, and I think you will notice it at least a few times, that the C will pop out as being a discreet auditory object. If this is the case, then the only problem one would have is transferring the C from short to long-term memory.
Also, I find that once you start noticing the target pitch jump out at you, you can start backing off the amount of repeats of the reminder tone.
I was playing with this last night for about 15 minutes. I stopped and then went back to listening to music about 20 minutes later and the C was still jumping out!
Does anyone want to try this approach with me and see how far we can get?