Correction to This Article
The article misspelled the last name of a researcher who published an article on the subject in the journal Music Perception. His name is Ken'ichi Miyazaki.

An Elusive Musical Gift Could Be at Children's Fingertips

A Japanese method of training may help young music students learn "perfect pitch," a skill that many thought was only innate. The method, as shown in this video, teaches children to raise a certain color flag when they hear a specific chord, starting with the red flag and the C chord. Throughout the training, more flags and different chords are introduced.Video courtesy of Ichionkai Music School, Edited by Ashley Barnas/The Washington Post
By Kathryn Tolbert
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 27, 2009

TOKYO -- If you could give your child the gift of perfect pitch -- the ability to identify a note simply by hearing it -- would you? The few who are born with perfect pitch say notes have a concrete identity and presence, almost like colors, and being able to intuitively recognize them gives music an almost three-dimensional quality.

To put it simply, "if you taste a dish and you can name every ingredient -- that is like having perfect pitch," said pianist and music teacher Chizuko Ozawa.

It is widely accepted that you cannot learn perfect pitch as an adult. But your child, it appears, can.

Kazuko Eguchi started developing a method 40 years ago, when she was a young college music instructor frustrated both by her own lack of perfect pitch and the weaknesses she saw in her students. She attributed the problem to poor early training.

U.S. piano teachers will get a glimpse of her eventual solution this week. Tomoko Kanamaru, pianist and assistant professor of music at The College of New Jersey, will give a presentation titled "Can Perfect Pitch be Taught? Introduction to the Eguchi Method" at the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy in Lombard, Ill.

The Eguchi Method is used by more than 800 teachers around Japan to teach perfect pitch to very young children, claiming a success rate of almost 100 percent for those who start before they are 4 years old. At the end of the training, which starts by matching chords with colored flags, a teacher will play random notes on the piano and the child, without looking, can identify them.

Once learned, perfect pitch stays with a child for life, the teachers believe. But attaining it is not quick or easy, even for a 3-year-old. It also requires a committed and patient parent willing to invest a few minutes several times a day for up to two years. And it is all separate from learning to play the piano or any other instrument. In fact, the child never touches the keyboard during these ear training sessions.

The teacher starts by playing the three-note C major chord on a piano, and the child is instructed to raise a red flag. (It doesn't have to be red, or even a flag; any simple symbol will do.) At home, the parent carries on the instruction by playing the C chord and the child, sitting where he cannot see the keyboard, raises the red flag. They do this a few times every day.

After a couple of weeks, a second chord and flag are added. Now the child has to raise a yellow flag for an F major chord, and the red for a C. Then a third and fourth chord join the mix. Eventually all the white-key chords are associated with a colored flag, then all those with black keys. The child names the chord only by its color.

Training sessions are meant to be quite short, a few minutes each, but repeated frequently. Chords are played in random sequence, never in the same order, to prevent the child from identifying any chord by its relation to another.

Later, the child calls out the individual notes that make up the chord. For C major, which is C-E-G, or do-mi-so, the child raises the red flag and says, "red, do-mi-so," for example.

Eventually, the parent or teacher, after playing the chord, takes the highest note and plays it separately. The child names the chord, the individual notes, and then upon hearing the single note, identifies that one.

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