The true character of perfect pitch was revealed in 2014, thanks to a beautiful experiment carried out at the Ichionkai Music School in Tokyo and reported in the scientific journal Psychology of Music. The Japanese psychologist Ayako Sakakibara recruited twenty-four children between the ages of two and six and put them through a months-long training course designed to teach them to identify, simply by their sound, various chords played on the piano. The chords were all major chords with three notes, such as a C-major chord with middle C and the E and G notes immediately above middle C. The children were given four or five short training sessions per day, each lasting just a few minutes, and each child continued training until he or she could identify all fourteen of the target chords that Sakakibara had selected. Some of the children completed the training in less than a year, while others took as long as a year and a half. Then, once a child had learned to identify the fourteen chords, Sakakibara tested that child to see if he or she could correctly name individual notes. After completing training every one of the children in the study had developed perfect pitch and could identify individual notes played on the piano.
This is an astonishing result. While in normal circumstances only one in every ten thousand people develops perfect pitch, every single one of Sakakibara’s students did. The clear implication is that perfect pitch, far from being a gift bestowed upon only a lucky few, is an ability that pretty much anyone can develop with the right exposure and training. The study has completely rewritten our understanding of perfect pitch.