Psst... Ready to join TalkBass and start posting, make new friends, sell your gear, and more?  Register your free account in 30 seconds.

Perfect Pitch

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Mike Crumpton, Apr 21, 2004.


  1. I've run a search and find it hard to think this hasn't been mentioned before but has anyone tried those oft advertised courses in perfect pitch 'or your money back' that seems to involve 32 cds. You know - the ad with the grinning idiot posing with a stratocaster underneath a hair-do that would embarrass Brian May (well maybe).

    Also,:
    1) do people beleive that perfect pitch can be learnt?
    2) assuming so is it really a major advantage? (my teach has argued that it's relative ptich you need to develop and that perfect pitch can drive you crazy once you can spot all the deficiencies from absolutes (well thoses tuning based on A440, (or 438 for some!) that we accept as correct)
    3) if so why isn't it aprt of college etc courses? (or is it?)

    ... and if someone's learn't it or taught it - any tips - what does it involve (without buying all those cds)?

    Cheers folks
     
  2. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
  3. oops - thanks a lot!
     
  4. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    I think absolute pitch does you not much good when it's more important to know what relative pitch sounds like and what intervals sound like. We're always playing relative to some tonic so abs-pitch becomes somewhat of a trivial thing.

    You can live without one, but not without the other.
     
  5. McBass

    McBass

    Mar 31, 2004
    Brooklyn, NY
    Someone who was on that program explained it to me. He said that basically you're just developing your relative pitch to the point that you can remember reference pitches longer and longer. I don't know if thats the official position of the program, but that was his take on it.
     
  6. godoze

    godoze

    Oct 21, 2002
    this was a very hot topic when i was in college as a theory major. It seemed to boil down to: perfect pitch cannot be learned. Relative pitch however can be learned in varying degrees of intensity. A theory I wholeheartedly subscribe to.
     
  7. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    If Brian's existing hairdo didn't embarrass him, I'm guessing he lacks the "Embarrassment Gene".

    I've been working on my pitch recognition skills for the past 20 years, and I believe that this is a skill that can be improved with practice. Like anything else, the only practice is doing the activity. But I like to play "guess what key I'm in" with CD's that I listen to in the car, and I've gotten a lot better at it. It comes in handy in my case when I play with a certain piano player who likes to start tunes with solo intros which morph into whatever tune happens to cross his mind as he's making up the intro, often in whatever key the intro has meandered to at that point. Ocassionally I'll miss the key, but most of the time I'm able to come in in the right key, which is a big improvement from 20 years ago.
     
  8. Hey Chris do you have any special method for training you ears except singing scales, chords and the modes that make it? Do you ever used a Pitch pipe? Sang through the roots of a progression?

    I really could use some info on this subject since it's darn impossible to get a teacher in my town. All the jazz playing people here are 50+ lawyers and such. :rolleyes:

    Thanks already.
     
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This is going to sound really dumb, but for the past 20 years, I've kept a pencil with an eraser on the tip on the music stand of my piano (back when I was in school, I did this in my practice room). Every time I enter the room, I pick up the pencil, close my eyes, and press down the eraser on a key, then guess the key. It has worked pretty well over the years, and I can see regular progress. Interestingly, I "hear" pitches better when they are played on a piano than on horns.

    Also, I try to remember the beginnings of musical themes that have for one reason of another stuck in my head. Some examples of these include:

    Beethoven Symphonies 3(Eb Ma Triad), 5(C mi), and 6 (Fma).

    Bartok Music for Strings: (A, Bb, Db)

    Mozart Symphonies 40 (Gmi) and 41(Cma)

    Various Standards in the "standard" key.


    When there's silence, I can usually sing any pitch by referencing any of these themes and using relative pitch to get to the pitch I want. When there's music happening, it's much harder - then only Beethoven V and Mozart 41 seem to work, and I often have to cover my ears to block out the external music. :D

    I feel like a total dork for admitting this, but I do keep a pitch pipe in my glove box for when I'm listening and playing "guess what key I'm in" on road trips...lately, I don't use it much, as I can more easily just cut the stereo briefly and hear one of the above. But the other exercise I do is to transcribe solos off of records directly into Sibelius without an instrument, and only check myself every 8 bars or so. I think this helps a lot. It takes a lot of willpower to turn the playback sounds off at first, but knowing you can turn the sound back on a any time helps a lot. Some of my more stubborn students refuse to do this, claiming that I can only do it because I'm "a freak" or because I have "sick ears" :rolleyes: (for you old folks out there, that's supposed to be some sort of weird compliment). The smarter ones usually give it a try and report slow and steady progress.

    Hope some of this stuff, goofy as it may sound, helps.
     
  10. bass_means_LOW

    bass_means_LOW

    Apr 12, 2004
    Las Vegas
    Wow, I know some awesome musicians who admit to great relative pitch. Is perfect pitch all that neccessary?
    I've also heard that flourescent lights buzz at B something. Have you heard that one, Mr C?
     
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Seeing as I don't have it, I sure hope not. I definitely think relative pitch is way more important in most situations anyway. There was a girl in my theory class way back in undergrad who had perfect pitch. She could tell you what note was playing at any point in the middle of an orchestra concert - amazing. She always used to say it was a blessing and a curse, because she found things like low pianos and recordings of pieces she knew that had been altered (like when a tape runs too fast or slow, so that it runs "in the cracks") annoying to the point of being painful. Given the state of most pianos around here, that doesn't sound like too much fun.


    Next time I hear a flourescent light playing the piano, I'll let you know. :D Seriously, I've never thought about that one. But my window fan drones at Db, and my car horn produces a very wobbly F#.
     
  12. And I've known some very marginal musicians who have perfect pitch. Its not an indication of virtuosity by any means.

    I know a guy who claims to have a "photographic ear," that is, he can play a piece of music once and have it completely memorized. I don't know if this is akin to perfect pitch or not.
     
  13. B*****y hell, Chris - you mean you're playing with Keith Jarret! :D

    These are very interesting posts Chris. In my car the radio (cd player - wots that?) is bust so I have a metronome going at 40 but that's off thread.

    MY tenor player last night told me both his daughters had perfect pitch and in fact, one of them chose this subject for her final year dissertation. As part fo the research she got a copy of the 'course' and tried it out on dad. It didn't work for him and involved trying to associate colours with pitch. I supose this is much the same as the way some keys are described in the classical world as birght or dark.

    It could also relate to advice I'd had in the past before I played bass - that you listen to a pitch and try to hear it as on your instrument, and since acoustic intstruments give different colours to pitches throughout their range, you will come associate it with the right note.

    When I started bass I noticed special dificulty with this and it from time to time got me to mistune - that different strings have different colours. Whatever, I'll reckon to get thereabouts with the bass in my hand - without it ...

    So I'll think I'll make an effort to give notes a name as well as just move my hand and think what's this then. I think Chris's 'goofy' sugestions aren't. I don't think he is developing perfect pitch - do you Chris - I do think it's recognition. This hair splitting I think is necesary becuase we have to identify what we want to recognise in order to learn to do it.

    Chris or other - what do you think is the difference or colour or quality between different pitches that you are recognising ro are you really getting perfect pitch?
     
  14. phatcactus

    phatcactus

    Apr 2, 2004
    Chicago, IL
    I actually bought that Perfect Pitch training CD set a few years ago (thanks, eBay), trying to relearn how to do what I could do when I took piano lessons as a kid. Basically, it paralleled audible notes with visual colors, not 1:1 directly, but just as a concept, with higher and lower octaves related to brightness and darkness and volume related to intensity. Makes enough sense, I guess.

    Quite possibly the most boring drivel I've ever heard. I never finished.

    As a kid I remember thinking of all the notes together as a kind of a big extended family, with cousins, grandparents, whatever, and each note would be a different person, and each person had a distinctly different personality. Looking back, I have a feeling that I was actually telling each note by the extra harmonics that went with it; I bet I heard each note as a faint chord, and each was identifiable in the same way you can tell a minor chord from a major.

    Like others have said, I'm not sure how useful it was. I played everything by ear, so I never learned to read music. Drove my teacher nuts. :D

    [Edit: Weird, I posted that at the same time as Mike posted his.]
     
  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    In my dreams. :D

    No, the pianist I was referring to is Harry Pickens, and to be fair, he usually plays songs in the standard keys or lets me know when he's going to choose a different one. But he has a theory about each key having a "color", and feels that some tunes work better with some "colors" (keys) than others. I still remember going theough a rehearsal in which he asked Jason and I to play "I Fall In Love Too Easily" in about 8 different keys before he finally settled on Eb, which interestingly is one of the two standard keys for that tune AFAIK. Scriabin had a similar theory, but that's the subject for another thread.



    No, I don't think I'm developing perfect pitch, just pitch recognition - and it's been slow going. To me, the essence of the thing is that what we hear when we hear pitch is vibration which can be measured mathmatically - A study of acoustics shows that the more "pure" intervals have simpler/more "pure" ratios. I think that working to improve pitch recognition is really akin to simply increasing sensitivity to "measuring" the vibrations that occur when pitches are sounded. But that's just me.
     
  16. Thanks everyone - great posts Chris - given me things to try out and work on. Not sure exactly how to approach things yet. I have a book purely devoted to writing down/transcribing music (it begins with advice about what type of pen, paper and ink to use - get the drift) that sugests tat after a while you give up refering to an instrument to work things out (like CF and Sebelius). In my dreams I thought - perhaps I need to dream a little more.
     
  17. Edit: i was reading this post again...and i think that my sometimes bad english forgot something... so maybe this post is a bit senseless for english speaking persons. i understand the perfect pitch as absolute ear...don't know if english speaking people call it like that....

    I've met someone with the perfect pitch
    he was one of my bass teacher student
    he don't know how he got the ability(edit: the ability to recognise every note in his head in perfect tuning) but he remembers that when he was a child he used to play songs from the radio on a piano or something like that, he also looks at the individual notes as colors.... the other thing(that i can't remember well) is that he is always with headaches cause when he is in the streets everything is out of tune. the usefull thing is that he can recognice chords, he can copy an idea you just played really spontaneously, and he can transcibe songs and solos really fast..... there are lots and lots of benefits... i think that the perfect pitch is not something you can reach.... but you can have a very nice ear with the help of lots practice(and musictheory.net) and be very happy with it.(my 100 chilean pesos)

    now he is living in france and he studdied EB with dominique di piazza and now he is currently studying the DB.