Thinking About Perfect Pitch… Going to See Jason Mraz

By | November 3, 2008

Jason Mraz is playing a sold out show tomorrow and I’ll be there.

Here is an old picture I took of Jason Mraz playing my 12 string Takamine guitar. My old band Xenophilia opened for Jason one Thursday in 2001 @ The Parkside in San Francisco and a few other times. At this show he broke a string so I let him use my guitar while I fixed his.

Toca Rivera and Jason Mraz playing playing Xeno’s 12-string guitar.

Jason Mraz has a rare thing called absolute pitch. I have good relative pitch, but not absolute pitch.

He can hear a note and tell you every time what it is, I can’t. Give me an A, and I call tell you instantly what a D note is, however, no problem. But, if you try to trick me and give me a G# and tell me it is an A, I’ll give you a C# and tell you it is a D. I’m trickable that way. Jason Mraz and others with absolute pitch are not.

I wouldn’t know the difference until I picked up a tuned guitar. Then I’d realize my mistake. I can’t just sing any note out of the blue on request. I think Jason can.

I have met five people in my life who have this ability. To me it is magical, amazing, almost unbelievable. I can recognize when someone has it right away. Just tonight I’ve learned how rare it is: Only 1 in 10,000 people has it.

Besides having a gifted ear, he also has the vocal ability to hit his pitches with extraordinary accuracy, (or not) as he wishes. This is one secret of his success. It is a subtle thing. For most people, he just sounds good.

I haven’t talked to Jason for years, but if I get to hang out with him for a minute or two backstage tomorrow I’ll ask him to sing me an F#, just by guessing.

Here is me holding Jason’s guitar. Funny, I€  took this picture seven years ago thinking I’d want proof. It was a cool moment. It was kind of like hanging out with Elvis. Well, I hope he gets that big someday… no, not physically big … you know what I mean.

Xeno holding Jason Mraz’ guitar after putting a new string on it.

I never bothered to check, but I just found confirmation of my theory. Jason Mraz is on the wikipedia list of people with absolute pitch.

They don’t have Bobby McFarrin, but they should. I saw him as a kid at a Jazz festival in Reno, and he has it. Bobby can jump around hitting high and low pitches perfectly in different tones in a way that it sounds like he is playing a walking bass line, supporting chords in the middle and a high lead part. With just him alone, he can trick your ear into thinking he is playing three different instruments together at the same time.

Here is an interesting study on the topic of perfect pitch:

… Musicians and singers work for years to develop their sense of pitch but few can name a musical note without a reference tone. U.S. researchers on Monday said one gene may be the key to that coveted ability. Only 1 in 10,000 people have perfect or absolute pitch, the uncanny ability to name the note of just about any sound without the help of a reference tone. … Dr. Jane Gitschier of the University of California, San Francisco, whose study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

She and colleagues analyzed the results of a three-year, Web-based survey and musical test that required participants to identify notes without the help of a reference tone. More than 2,200 people completed the 20-minute test.

“We noticed that pitch-naming ability was roughly an all-or-nothing phenomenon,” she said. That lead researchers to conclude that one gene, or perhaps a few, may be behind this talent.

Gitschier said those with perfect pitch were able to correctly identify both piano tones and pure computer-generated tones that were devoid of the distinctive sounds of any musical instrument.

She said people with perfect pitch were able to pick out the pure tones with ease. And they also tended to have had early musical training — before the age of 7. “We think it probably takes the two things,” she said. – vtw

My quest, which I get diverted from but keep coming back to, is to see if perfect pitch is learnable. Some think it is. I’m not sure yet, but I’ve had some success on and off. Tuning in to very subtle things takes a careful relaxed kind of attention that is at once both effortless and elusive. When you get it, it is so obvious, like it was always there, right in front of your nose. I had the same experience with lucid dreaming. Realizing while you are dreaming that you are dreaming is a similar trick in my mind. I’m not sure why.

6 thoughts on “Thinking About Perfect Pitch… Going to See Jason Mraz

  1. Ellie

    I think my brother has absolute pitch. I certainly dont, though often i can sing a C…f# definately not hahaha

  2. Bubblusem

    hello it is test. WinRAR provides the full RAR and ZIP file support, can decompress CAB, GZIP, ACE and other archive formats.

  3. NA

    I know three people who has it, and they’re all students in high school! They’re all gifted musicians though.

    1. Xeno Post author

      I have tried the David Lucas Berge courses and didn’t really make progress. Wasn’t really effective for me, which is why I’ve been working on my own. It is great to have an iPhone app with a simple piano keyboard so I can test my pitch any time.


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