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Relative Pitch Problem

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Cougar, Nov 27, 2017.

  1. Cougar


    Feb 15, 2014
    Hey Guys,

    So I am trying to develop my relative pitch ability so that I can transcribe basslines. However, many of these Apps and instructors say that you should sing the notes and interval. The big problem for me is that I cannot match pitch I hear using my voice. I can slide up and down until I get it, but I cannot take a straight shot. Also, I cannot sing on pitch with recordings or with a person live. The amazing thing is that I am in church and hear people do this so well when they have no musical training ever.=

    I hear the pitches but my brain/voice has no clue as to how high or low to place the sound from my mouth or even if I hum. There is a disconnect between what I hear in my head and my vocal cords. So I am wondering if I have some kind of deficiency? Am I the only person who has this difficulty? Can I me fixed?

  2. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    You are definitely not the only person to struggle with "matching pitch." I've certainly been in your shoes, as have many others. You have to be patient with yourself and recognize it's not going to happen overnight. How many months have you been taking voice lessons? What sort of exercises does your vocal coach have you working on?

    The three factors that eventually helped me to develop this skill:
    1. Sing as much as possible throughout the day: in the shower, in the car, doing laundry, working out, going for a walk, etc.
    2. Don't be ashamed to practice very easy songs (Happy Birthday, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Silent Night, etc.) at a slow tempo with attention to detail.
    3. Join a church choir, community chorus, amateur musical theater production, barbershop quartet, etc. so you are singing with other people in a supportive group environment. The holidays are coming; have some egg nog and go caroling with your friends! :)
  3. Rev J

    Rev J

    Jun 14, 2012
    Berkeley, Ca.
    Another way to train your ears and develop your technique at the same time is practicing scales. Especially broken scales (i.e scales in 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 7ths, and octaves). By repeating intervals and knowing what they are it will drive the sound of the intervals into your head especially if you are conscious of the intervals that you are playing.

    Rev J
    staccatogrowl and Skeptismo like this.
  4. tlc1976


    Aug 2, 2016
    I have good pitch and interval recognition and can play a fretless in tune. But I can't sing for anything.
    staccatogrowl likes this.
  5. Then you gotta work on matching pitch first. You can’t learn intervals (2 pitches) by ear until you can duplicate a single pitch. Call it a prerequisite.
    staccatogrowl and joebar like this.
  6. I rely upon ole Google to call up some fake chord sheet music and I fake the rest. It would be great if I could transcribe by ear, but, I can not. Point of my post there are other ways. Fake chord does it for me.
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2017
  7. HandsFree


    Dec 23, 2015
    In that case you're ok. Singing is supposed to help hearing the tones, but if you can already hear them in your head there's no need for the singing.
    The whole point of EAR training is that you can recognize intervals and chords without playing or singing. To get there, some like to sing the tones first. Others, like me, don't.

    So how's the transcribing going?
    tlc1976 likes this.
  8. mrcbass


    Jan 14, 2016
    Sacramento, CA
    Hearing relative pitch and being able to sing relative pitch are two different skills. Just about anyone can learn the former, but the latter requires a least a little natural talent. I have a very good ear and can basically sing - sometimes my voice goes where it wants, but I can get by. I have known people who "sing" like you describe. It's hard for me to imagine why they can't find a closer pitch, but it's just what they were given.

    Learning to sing intervals is much more tool to improve vocal skills than it is to improve ear training; it allows you to be able to sight read music without knowing the song. Can we train to improve our vocal skills? In most cases, yes. I know I get a little better with continuous practice, but I don't see that as the point here.

    If you were trying to develop your voice, then I'd say "yeah, keep at it". But you're trying to train your ear, not your voice. Having to learn to sing better to extend your ear training is kind of like having to learn how to construct a bass before you can learn how to play it. Don't let vocal deficiencies interfere with what you are trying to work on - use a keyboard to help train your ear.
    Groove Doctor likes this.
  9. BrotherMister


    Nov 4, 2013
    I strongly recommend the book Hearing And Writing Music by Ron Gorow. It's a bit of a large book but it's essentially a progressive method for converting the sounds you hear in your head to manuscript paper without going via an instrument or playing them on the instrument without stumbling around.

    The first half of the book in particular really focuses on not only hearing intervals but replicating them with your voice as well which is pretty much the best way of dialling this stuff in.

    Outside of that, transcribe the simplest of things like nursery rhymes and build upon that. It's worth investing in a small electronic keyboard or something, it makes the process so much easier.
    staccatogrowl likes this.
  10. Cougar


    Feb 15, 2014

    Actually - I can hear and recall some intervals OK (4ths, 5ths, 3rd, 2nd, etc), but others are difficult (particularly 6th and 7th). However, I do best on testing Apps rather than listening to real music. I am thinking, based on some of the Youtube instructors, that being able to sing the pitches will make a huge improvement.

  11. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    There's much to disagree with here. But to the OP, the one part I DO agree with I bolded above. Trying to work on ear training by transcribing is a lot like trying to learn how to play basketball by running plays. Sure, maybe you can pick up stuff, but if you never learned how to do a lay up or jump shot, imagine trying to figure that out in the middle of play. And when you talk to folks that are in the show, they don't just work on game play. They work on making left handed jump shots from the far corner, and then moving over a foot and practice making lefthanded jumpshots and then move over another foot. And all of the other minutiae and exercise that frees them from having to THINK about what to do next and how to do it in the middle of play.

    So get a keyboard and work on this method. And despite the "advice" above, I'm a real proponent of if you can't sing it, you're not really hearing it with any kind of accuracy.
  12. Working with a keyboard massively helped to develop my ear AND my singing. It felt like the singing slowed me down at first, but my transcribing ability skyrocketed once my voice caught up.
    staccatogrowl likes this.
  13. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Many years ago, a highly advanced/highly knowledgeable Classical Musician/Composer explained to me (now, it's only my super-simplified explanation of that Knowledge:bookworm:) that there were TWO - kind of separate - "apparatuses" in your head/brain/body...
    One is responsible for receiving and appropriating the SOUND (including Pitch), and the other one - your vocal chord/vocal box - responsible for producing the SOUND (including Pitch).
    staccatogrowl likes this.
  14. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Working with a keyboard/piano - it's a must for ANY musician seriously thinking about the Musician's career.

    Transcribing - from only my narrow perspective - is more about recognizing/interpreting/analyzing intervals then developing some, close-to-perfection Pitch.
    Groove Doctor and staccatogrowl like this.
  15. HandsFree


    Dec 23, 2015
    I'm not really undertanding you there. First you hear something in your head, then you sing it. If you don't have enough control of your vocal cords the singing may turn out differently from what's in your head.
    That has nothing to do with not hearing it correctly.

    Also, many students that practise singing intervals are eventually able to sing for instance a major third by adjusting the tension on their vocal cords correctly without actually hearing the interval first. Singing is just a different skill.

    In the end the ultimate goal is to understand what you hear without having to verify it with an instrument or by singing.
    Unless things have changed a lot since I've been through that mill you are not even allowed to sing during a solfege test (if only to not disturb other students).
    tlc1976 and Whousedtoplay like this.
  16. DavC

    DavC Supporting Member

    May 17, 2005
    Tallmadge , Ohio
    simply practice ... it's an undeveloped neuro pathway and muscles ... they need to be trained to work together ..
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  17. Ewo

    Ewo a/k/a Steve Cooper Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2008
    Huntington WV
    OP, I can relate to the pitch-matching problem you described. It was trouble for me, too.

    But practice takes care of it. Just sing along with lines in recordings, sing along with melodies, play a random note on your bass and sing it, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat.

    Oh--one other thing I found, at least about me. The more I stressed over struggling with pitch-matching, the more poorly I was able to do it. Take it easy on yourself, relax, cut yourself some slack. I wouldn't be surprised if you found that helped considerably. Be patient with yourself.

    Added: Another thing, about being patient. Consider pitch-matching to be one project, and interval recognition to be another. Unbundle those skills. Work on pitch-matching first--and pat yourself on the back (it's a motivator!) when you can sing a phrase/line/melody accurately _even when you don't know exactly what the intervals are_. That's time well spent.
  18. Relative pitch helps but learning songs has a lot to do with knowing the cliches of your genre and music theory helps you organize that. You should focus on theory and learning to sing along to the radio first. I don't mean to insult, because I could be wrong, but not everyone is talented in that way. Even if you can't do relative pitch, there's still tabs, videos, and your guitarist.
  19. Skeptismo


    Sep 5, 2011
    I agree with rev j for sure...one way to make this work is to memorize songs and associate key intervals in your head. For instance, the chorus of "Bali Hai" from South Pacific has that tonic to 5 to flat 5 sound. I'll never forget it, thanks to Ms. Lima, my grade school choir teacher. Good luck!
    staccatogrowl likes this.
  20. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    You don't think so, fine. No skin off my nose. But did you take a look at the post I linked to?
    Whousedtoplay likes this.

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