• Cory Morrison

A unique music profile

Updated: Jun 13


My journey with music skills has been unique. You may wonder why? I have an unusual profile of strengths and weaknesses with music. According to Verywellhealth, many people with autism have uneven abilities. These skills are known as splinter skills.


Music was not a strength in the early years.


Throughout most of my elementary school years, I was not particularly interested in playing instruments, music class, or anything to do with music unless I listened to it. In fact, I couldn't even read music until I was 12.

When I was in the fourth grade (2002-03), this was the age when students would learn to play recorders in music class. I would keep blowing onto my recorder while everybody else would move their fingers on the holes of the recorder to play the expected song. I was actually unsure of what letter notes and recorder fingering even were. Eventually, I had the accommodation to play the xylophone instead of the recorder. I also had letters written on my sheet music and on the xylophone. The letters on the xylophone were already there, anyway.


Learning piano


Playing instruments continued to be one of my biggest weaknesses until Easter weekend 2003. I visited maternal relatives in London, Ont. for a family celebration. I went to their living room and pressed random notes on their piano despite not knowing how to play it. At one point, I only played the black keys. I somehow ended up playing Jolly Old St. Nicholas in Gb major. Do not ask me how I first learned about Jolly Old St. Nicholas as a preschooler because the answer is too embarrassing. Let's just say that a certain purple dinosaur somehow ensured I would play the piano.


I finally knew how to play a simple song on the piano. The whole family would eventually watch me. Everyone, including myself, was proud.

My keyboard at home.

What happened after I played Jolly Old St. Nicholas on the piano? My parents eventually signed me up for piano lessons in May 2003. I was quite successful in learning simple tunes. I think I took piano lessons at my first place for roughly five months until I realized that our next-door neighbour to our left at the time was teaching piano. We figured, why not take them there, since it is only a five-second walk compared to a 15-minute drive. Despite continuing to get mediocre grades in music class at school, I would learn new tunes quite well.


Also, during my last fourth-grade music class in 2003, we did a talent share as a fun activity. I played Jolly Old St. Nicholas for my classmates on the piano, even though it was June and not December.


Discovering playing by ear and perfect pitch ability


In 2005, this was where things get interesting. I was in seventh grade at the time, which meant moving on to band instruments. I played the percussion bells for my last two elementary years. Admittedly, I was jealous of almost all of my other classmates who played blowable instruments, but this didn't stop my music interest. In late October 2005, I was at the same relatives' house from the earlier scenario at what I believe was their 20th or 25th wedding anniversary party. There were a lot of people from my family and my in-law uncle's family at this event. I made up a random piece called the Morrison Symphony, which I played for them. They were all quite impressed.


My parents told me that it is awesome that I can manage to play the piano so well without reading music. This moment was when I learned that I had a talent for knowing what the notes sound like. This ability also motivated me to enter the school talent show in the spring of 2006, where I played a piece that my piano teacher taught me.


At another point in 2006, one of my cousins brought a friend of hers over to my house while my parents were away. We were listening to random songs on our iPod in my loft. As "You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban played on the iPod, I attempted to play it on the keyboard. Her friend was extremely surprised when he noticed this. He came up to the keyboard and said to me, "Okay, okay, don't look. What note is this?" He plays the note E, and I said E. He was like, "Oh my god!". After that, my cousin told my other relatives that I apparently have perfect pitch. My parents would eventually learn about this ability, as well.


I play "We Are The Champions" by Queen on my keyboard in July 2020.

By eighth grade, my apparent perfect pitch inspired me to audition for the school band, and I made it.


Playing in the band was something out of my comfort zone in the previous year. I had some difficulties following along at first, but I frequently practiced the band songs on my home keyboard. The practicing helped me quite well.

Eventually, in June 2008, near the end of ninth grade, I took a test on perfect pitch at McMaster University. A student was doing studies on auditory links to autism. I can't be fully specific about this because I do not remember every single detail. Six months later, I was home sick from school one day, and ironically, the student calls and says that I have absolute perfect pitch.


What is perfect pitch?


According to HelloMusicTheory, perfect pitch, also known as absolute pitch, is a person's ability to identify, understand and reproduce musical notes. The person does not need a reference tone to learn what they hear. Interactive Autism Network says that anywhere between less than one and 11 per cent of musicians have this ability.


Five abilities people with perfect pitch have include the following:

  1. They can identify any pitch played by an instrument (A, B).

  2. They can identify a key of any song (Knowing that "Sweet Child of Mine" by Guns N Roses is in Db major).

  3. They can name notes in a chord or any random note collection.

  4. They can sing a pitch off the top of their head (C#).

  5. Name notes of common musical sounds such as car alarms or door squeaks.

This video features what perfect pitch is like in a musical setting.

This video can help you learn what the musical notes sound like.

Some examples of musicians that have or had perfect pitch are Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Mariah Carey, Jimi Hendrix and Bing Crosby.


Also, does Jack Black have perfect pitch?

Does perfect pitch relate to autism?


According to Interactive Autism Network, it is unclear how many people on the autism spectrum have perfect pitch, but it is possibly higher than the general population's rate. Some studies have examined large pitch abilities in autism, but not necessarily strict perfect pitch.


Music as a career path?


In my early teens, I considered music as a career path until I realized that I was not that exceptional at it. I am still not skilled at reading music, though can read music. What made me talented in music is my ability to play by ear because of perfect pitch. One setback for me was in late elementary and early high school, I had good grades in music for the most part, but I struggled with many written tests. Music history tests were especially problematic for me, while music element tests were easier.


Conclusion


Although I can play by ear and identify notes well, there were barriers to learning musical skills that other peers would naturally pick up on, such as reading music, learning some musical elements and understanding music history. My profile with music is rather unique.


Follow me on Instagram if you want to listen to me play piano.


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