Perfect Pitch

Perfect Pitch

Anyone out there have absolute pitch? Were you born with it or did you train yourself? I ask because I’m interested in improving my ear. I play tenor banjo and though I don’t have a great ear it is improving as I listen closely to the intervals when practising scales. I’m getting much better at playing by ear (abandoning the zimmer-frame of dots) -which is a relief as I thought I’d never make progress!! -but was wondering if any of the perfect pitch courses were beneficial to any players out there as progress is slow. The ad sites all look a little iffy and I’m unsure whether just to continue with the close listening with my cloth ear or invest in a course. Thoughts?

Re: Perfect Pitch

Don’t waste your money on a course—plenty of free ways to improve your ear.

Here’s one: http://www.good-ear.com/

Besides, the skills you need to play this music aren’t that difficult. When you listen for pitch (say, to distinguish one note from the next so you can learn a tune by ear), all you really need to hear is (1) whether the "next" note is higher or lower in pitch, and (2) how *much* higher or lower it is (this is called the "interval").

Unless you have some sort of auditory processing disorder, hearing whether a note is higher or lower than the note before it is easy, right?

What might be trickier is being able to hear the interval—for example, is the next note a *little* higher or a *lot* higher? You’re in luck—you play a fretted instrument. Use those frets to train yourself to hear the difference between one note and the note just one fret higher (or lower). And then two frets higher (or lower), and then three, and so on. This will give you good *relative* pitch—which means exactly what it says—being able to hear pitch relative to the other notes in the tune you’re playing.

And don’t worry about absolute pitch—it’s not something that helps much when it comes to playing this music. Just get good at hearing relative pitch and you’ll do fine.

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My daughter has perfect pitch. All it does is make her intensely uncomfortable at any session. Personally, I find being on pitch highly over rated. Which might explain a lot, actually…

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I suppose having good relative pitch to hear the intervals will be more useful in picking out tunes -considering the dominance of certain keys and modes. I have been using that good-ear site already and find it useful. The problem is more that when I try to ‘sing’ the tune I find it difficult at times especially when trying to hear flurries of notes -I think I’m tone mute sometimes as opposed to tone deaf. This isn’t so much of a problem when I have a recording but much more of a problem if I don’t. I guess I don’t internalise the tunes very quickly.

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In my opinion, perfect pitch would be a terrible curse for a musician. What is your internal A calibrated to? 440? higher or lower? Every note you hear could be "out of tune" to you.

Far better to have "relative pitch", as Will says. That’s what I have, and besides ITM, I live in a musical world of tuning pianos and classical orchestral music. If I had perfect pitch I’d be going crazy all day long.

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I thought perfect pitch was tossing a ………. into a skip.
(insert name of stereotypically hated instrument)

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You can’t acquire perfect pitch; it’s something you’re born with.

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I have a similar problem Mac Donn. If I am singing (with words) I often have difficulty knowing if a small interval is up or down (say when trying to transcribe a song tune before I forget it) . If I hum it is normally OK. If I whistle with my lips it is no problem hearing differences. It is not immediately obvious to me on the flute that some intervals (say fifths between various notes) are the same.

My thinking is that I am thrown by the different harmonics in the notes (especially from vowel sounds when singing). I am also thrown by the sense of harmonic movement in a tune. If a tune ends by decending to a key note it can dip down to a leading note and come up again without me noticing, even though my fingers will go for the note when playing.

But pick at notes on a piano keyboard and it is no problem and I when playing flute or singing I have a strong tendency to match someone elses pitch and it is no big deal.

So my conclusion is that it is not really a problem unless I am trying to transcribe a tune that is hard to play on a whistle or to work out the starting notes of a tune to learn by ear. Then it is a handicap but messing with a keyboard or those interent resources seem to be the way to improve.

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On the contrary, Hup, it’s been shown that anyone with normal hearing can learn perfect pitch.

A jazz musician I know who has perfect pitch told me "the mystique about perfect pitch is silly. It’s just memory: if you were born in a place where you never heard an A=440 you couldn’t have perfect pitch for it."

So the idea that somebody is born knowing what A=440 is is absurd.

A sort of odd thing is that I used to know a violinist who had perfect pitch for just one note, A=440. She could tune the A string of her violin quite accurately to that note by ear, then tune the other strings to the A string. But she could not tune any of the other strings to concert pitch by memory.

I’m long involved in the Scottish Highland piping scene, and it’s interesting how many of the judges seem to have perfect pitch for the pitch of the pipes. Now, every solo competitor and every pipe band might be tuned to a slightly different pitch, but A=453 has sort of emerged as the standard pitch.

There was one contest where a certain judge wrote "band tuned sharp" on one band’s scoresheet.
Somebody who had recorded that contest went back and checked the pitch of the various bands; all were at 453 but the band in question was playing at 455. It amazes me that somebody can hear that one band is two cents sharp.

I have not the slightest notion of perfect pitch, but years of tuning bagpipes has given me (and all experienced pipers) very acute relative pitch.

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"You can’t acquire perfect pitch; it’s something you’re born with."

A slightly bizarre claim, since pitch standards are entirely arbitrary and have shifted many times over the decades and centuries. Perhaps the capacity to acquire an indelible memory of a particular pitch or set of pitches (which is what ‘perfect pitch’ is) could be an inborn trait. Perhaps it is also something you can learn through training. But it seems, a lot of people who have perfect pitch have ‘recorded’ in their auditory memory, very early in life, a single ‘correct’ pitch standard, anything else sounding ‘out of tune’, irrespective of the *relative* in-tune-ness of notes. Outside the upper echelons of the classical music world, where pianos are tuned daily, this would seem an entirely useless ‘skill’. There is another class of perfect pitch bearers, who have ‘pitch memory’, but can adapt easily to whatever pitch standard is being used in a given situation. This would seem far more useful.

I consider myself to have a reasonaly good sense of relative pitch, and that serves me well. If I need to find a pitch without the aid of a tuner or reference pitch, I know more or less what the strings of a mandolin or a guitar sound like at their proper pitches (although I have been known to be a semitone out ); I also know what my voice ‘feels’ like, singing a bottom E. When it comes to playing with other people, I just tune to them.

Re: Perfect Pitch

"Perfect pitch" is sometimes confused with the ability to remember a specific pitch (usually A=440). This comes about with long exposure to that pitch - tuning up in an orchestra, a band, a session, for instance. There’s nothing magical about it, and it certainly doesn’t stop you from playing in tune at other pitches such as the baroque a=415; you’re just aware that it isn’t "concert" pitch. An experienced violinist, violist, cellist, bassist will also be aware of the specific resonances, vibrational"feel" of the instrument, and string tensions that the instrument has at A=440. I think all of this, and pitch memory, is what Richard’s violinist has.
Everyone in my string chamber orchestra and the more experienced session fiddle players I know can do it. You don’t often need a tuning fork, and certainly not electronic tuners.

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It seems that some research suggests native speakers of tonal languages such as Mandarin, Vietnamese and Thai have a greater tendency toward having ‘perfect pitch’ than speakers of non-tonal languages such as European languages. It’s not thought to be genetic as samples of people from these ethnic backgrounds who grew up in the West and were not exposed to a tonal language as children fare no better than the rest of the poor non-tonal language speaking sods. No point, just interesting is all…

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Perhaps in-utero exposure - wither to music or to a tonal language - plays a part. :-)

Re: Perfect Pitch

…by which I meant ‘whether’.

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I don’t haveperfect pitch but many banjos and guitars make me feel uncomfortable in sessions, as I might not be able to play them, but I could do a better job of tuning them.

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Brian McNeill has written a tune called The Perfect Pitch, but I think he was talking about busking…..

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RichardB - The punch line there is ‘Without touching the sides’

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"…years of tuning bagpipes has given me (and all experienced pipers) very acute relative pitch"
I have played the pipes for years. When I play the guitar I have to re-tune it whenever I change to a different key.

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I would say I can remember the pitch of certain notes. I never thought of this as having perfect pitch. All I do is remember how the strings on a guitar or fiddle sound. It also works if I "play" a song in my head that I know is in a particular key. There’s no great mystery here as other posters have said. Good relative pitch is of far more use as other posters have also said. Training you ear is a life-long process just as learning to play your instrument is/should be.

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3-2 count, bases loaded and the hitter is sitting dead red, expecting nothing but heat. Instead, you throw a knee-buckling deuce for a called strike three. A perfect pitch.

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?

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The definition of ’ perfect pitch ’ is, hitting the skep first throw with the banjo at 25 yards and smashing an accordion and a bodhran when it lands.

Dave H

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The David Lucas Burge one is available as a torrent. He reckons that you take an average, same way you take an average of colours

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"The David Lucas Burge one " - I think that is referring to www.PerfectPitch.com. I’m not saying anything about such commercially-oriented courses because I don’t know them, but I think we’d all be wise to bear in mind the general comments voiced in the first two posts on this thread.
I think a better way is to go to a music teacher who is able and prepared to give ear-training as part of learning an instrument (often the piano or singing in this case). Then at least you’ll have the benefit of learning to play as well, instead of learning to to train your ear in isolation. If you’re working for music grade exams on an instrument then at some stage you’ll be required to take a practical in identifying chords played on the piano - whether they’re major, minor, augmented, diminished, and their various inversions. The teacher would of course prepare you for this, and then you would have good basic ear-training.

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Any stringed instrument teacher worth their salt would teach the pupil all about good intonation from the very beginning, starting with tuning the instrument, and pointing out when a note played is too sharp or flat. At a more advanced stage, when the student’s ear is more developed, then the teacher will teach important subtleties such as C# isn’t the same as D-flat, or the E in the key of A is not the same as the E in the key of C.

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Perfect pitch? What a nightmare! What would it be like if every session instrument sounded out of tune? Good intonation is not the same thing (IMHO, of course).

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isn’t that when the banjo lands right in the dumpster?

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It’s a curse. I’ve always had it. I’ve had to learn to ignore it. My mate’s flute doesn’t blow exactly A 440. it used to give me fits, and hives, now I just get a little rash.

Re: Perfect Pitch

Joy’s Entry in Belfast. At the entrance it is an archway which protects you from the rain and the wind.

Oops, I thought this was about busking.

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well I have it now, and I usedn’t, so it can be trained. I reckon it
just comes with playing a lot. I never feel uneasy if the pitches are slightly off, to me ‘perfect pitch’ means I can instantly play anything I hear, like singing with my instrument (Fiddle). I can still be confused with ‘altered’ jazz chords, and it works best when I don’t think about it.
Its demon for learning tunes though.

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hmmm i’m not sure. I think I trained myself because I remember I used to have difficult times deciphering McDonalds jingles…
it’s a little tricky with Bb or Eb instruments, since you might forget they are pitched a semitone(s) lower/higher and all that.
it’s actually quite fun though; you can listen to songs and write down the notes and play on your instrument for your entertainment. continue your training!! (if you wish)

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"You can’t aquire perfect pitch, it’s something you’re born with." Thats not true, because i have perfect pitch with with "D" and "A" and "F#". "D" and "F#" because i was addicted to "Canon in D" for years, and listened to it several times a day. "A" because i bought an "A" tuning fork for fun and to train my ear to the "A" note. If a "C" note buzzed in your head all day, everyday, for a week, and you knew it was a "C", i’m sure that by the end of that week, you would know what a "C" sounded like. Same for every other note.

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lantalooon posted some good stuff up there. I particularly like when they said "…like singing with my instrument…." :) I can’t wait until i learn the fiddle so well it’s like looking at my vocal chord lol. That will very very fun.

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I was trying to train myself to sing 440, prior to verifying it with a tuning fork. I thought I was making grand progress, until one day I realized that all I was really doing was learning to harmonize with the cooling fan in my computer.

We have pitch memory — the only way you can test yourself for perfect pitch is to first be in silence for 15 minutes. Then hear a pitch and identify it. Software will generally not work for perfect pitch training, because you can’t use it without the references sounds your computer makes. Unless your computer is silent, that is — maybe an iPad. But even then, only if you don’t have fluorescent lights, refrigerators, or other things that hum.