Monday Mail: What Is Absolute Pitch?



Q. My friend says she has "absolute pitch." What does that mean?
A. Wikipedia says:

Absolute pitch (AP), widely referred to as perfect pitch, is the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of an external reference.
For more information, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absolute_pitch

Absolute pitch is a certain kind of hearing ability that can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the situation. It is a sense that some people have of the actual pitch of any note they hear. In other words they can identify any pitch you play (let's say "E" or "G#") without looking at the instrument. Some people claim they are born with this ability, but it is much more likely that they really have an excellent aural memory, and simply "remember" the name of a pitch once they've heard it and have been given its name. It really helps a string player in tune, but is very difficult to deal with if someone else is playing out of tune; what the rest of the folks can accept drives an "absolute pitch" person crazy!

However, anyone can develop "relative pitch" with practice. This learned ability allows you to identify a given pitch in relation to another note already played. If I tell you I'm playing a "C," for example, you would then be able to name a second pitch either above or below that "C" - and relative pitch won't drive you crazy.

I wrote an article awhile back on Relative Pitch. Here it is if you're interested.

Relative Pitch is the ability to be able to listen to music and identify intervals between pitches (and even chords). Having relative pitch is different from ideal pitch.

This is an article on how to listen effectively. There are various ways to harmonize the melody. For example, in the event you determined the one note melody to Jingle Bells, you'd be able to apply elementary chords in a matter of minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What if I don't require to play a chord on every melody tone?
2. How do I figure out the chord progressions that I'm hearing when the melody isn't as evident?
3. What if I require to play chords and not follow the melody?
4. What if I'm accompanying someone who is already playing or singing the melody?

Harmonizing the melody is more common for hymns, basic songs, nursery rhymes and melody-intensive tunes.

1. Ideal Pitch

When it comes to effectively listening to music to learn new songs, there's different ways to do it:
Some folks think you require ideal pitch to play by ear but that isn't true.

2. Relative Pitch

Ideal pitch is the ability to listen to exact tones without the use of a musical gizmo or reference. One out of 10,000 people have the ability to listen to a C tone & say that's a "C" without using the piano.
Now, some people with ideal pitch have a hard time with relative pitch (which is more practical for learning by ear).

Relative pitch does not depend on specific notes. It depends more on intervals & distance between notes. With relative pitch, you may not know specifically what chords or tones are being played (like "C" or "E") but you know what's going on(e.g. - You know that a song is beginning on a major chord & moving to the minor sixth keynote).

Someone with nice relative pitch would know that a melody line like C to E to G is utilizing the notes of a major chord, but might not know which major chord (because unlike ideal pitch, the exact note is unknown until you sit in front of a piano & determine it.) In the event you can listen to the changing chords in your head and can quickly transfer this knowledge to the piano (after determining the major key), then you have developed nice relative pitch.

Often times, it is going to the piano and matching up tones that allows you to play a song (literally in seconds because you already know what's going on -- you require a reference a reference point -- a major key. Let's say you've been studying intervals and by now, you know that a "2-5-1" progression is common at the finish of a song. Now, you're listening to a song & there you listen to it, a "2-5-1". You even know that it's a min9 chord because it sounds jazzy going to some kind of dominant chord (like a 13 chord) and then finally returning home to a pleasant major chord.

Most of "playing by ear" occurs in the mind. If you've gotten to the point where you can pinpoint 2-5-1 & 1-4 progressions in songs, then you're relying on relative pitch. You're doing well.
You may not know specifically that it's a Gbmin9 or an Fmin9 but you know it's a minor9 and it occurs on the second tone of the scale. The 'actual' note will be determined one time you actually figure out what major key the song is in. The major key usually brings everything together at the finish.

The missing factor is the major key the song is being played in. So the same person would go to the piano, hit a few notes & shortly determine that the major key is C Major.

Ask yourself a few questions:

1. What is the 2 of C major?
2. What is the 5 of C major?
3. What is the 1 of C major?

The answers to those questions would provide the keynotes for the chords you already know.

Apply the chords: Dmin9 -- G13 -- Cmaj

So, the keynotes of a 2-5-1 progression in C major would be: D to G to C.
This gets simpler as you play 2-5-1 progressions over and over. They become second nature as any other progression will. Ideally, if they call out, "play a 2-5-1, your response ought to be, "in what key?" That's what level you require to be at -- where you know all of your chords and progressions in all twelve keys and it literally takes seconds to play any chord progression in the event you know the key to play it in.

I know it's not that elementary but one time you get it, you'll be hearing music in your head and know what's going on before you get to the piano.

On a former post, I wrote about Things You Should Know About Sound

Some people can name the notes they hear. This is called Perfect Pitch. When people with perfect pitch look at a musical score they can hear in their mind what the pitches of the notes are.

Mozart had perfect pitch. He would listen to a performance of a long work and later write down every note. He could also instantly name any note played on the piano without looking at the keys.

Test yourself: Have someone play a note in the center of the piano. Without looking, guess what note it is. If you get good, try notes that are nearer the ends of the keyboard.

Pitch

Musicians use seven letters of the alphabet to name pitches: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, but there are many more pitches than just seven. There are some very low cs and very high Cs. This all depends on the octave in which they are located. Don't forget about the black keys. They are different pitches, too. (There are even pitches in between the keys. You can't play them on the piano, but imagine a violinist sliding his finger up the string and hitting every possible pitch.)

Try it: Play all the Cs on the piano. Their sound will match, but as you move up, each one is higher and higher.

Pitch is one of the most important parts of music. It tells us how high or low a note is. Without notes of different pitches, we couldn't have music.

To understand how this works, imagine hitting two sticks together. They make a sound, but you can't match it to a key on the piano. Some drums -like the sticks- do not have a pitch that can be matched to a note. They make a sound (and you can create interesting patterns and rhythms with them), but you can't play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or any other song.





"The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you." B.B.King
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