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"Perfect Pitch" and "Relative Pitch" course?


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I'm a guitar beginner, three months into weekly lessons on classical and jazz guitar. Love it! Saw an ad for the _Perfect Pitch_ course in a guitar magazine - was wondering whether the course delivers the goods, and more to the point, whether I need a perfect pitch to develop as a guitar player. Or would I be better off spending that time practicing scales?


Appreciate any feedback on the _Perfect Pitch_ and _Relative Pitch_ courses.



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While I don't recommend the Perfect Pitch course, I do recommend ear training. You can find some free ear training software on the net, but here is some good stuff that's not cheap but a darn site cheaper than Perfect Pitch and simply gets right into ear training, no bs or sales pitches: Ear Master .


You start out simply identifying which interval is larger, then move on to harmonics, and then on to naming the intervals. Once you master that, and it can take a lot of time, you move on to chord and scale identification. A nice neat program in one package. My feelings are that if you master this program, you will be able to learn the songs you want by ear.



Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder.

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Over on the KC, it was mentioned that some believe absolute ("perfect") pitch is only "learnable" at a young age. At least from what I read, it seems to be more of an innate ability; something you're born with. People with absolute pitch can recognize pitches before learning the labels associated with them: middle C, A440, some "weird" frequency just under 440 Hz like 439.99876 Hz, etc. (They can identify all pitches, not just the 12 chromatic pitches.)


A non-perfect analogy to color was given. In that sense, most of us can recognize whether a pitch is low, high, or in between. That's like being able to tell something is red, yellow or blue. But there are millions of colors just on most PC monitors. Can you tell the difference between two subtle shades of blue, without being able to compare one to the other? (Not many can, if paint chips used for selecting house paint colors are any indication.)


Most musicians get by just fine with only relative pitch, so don't worry about it too much.


A slightly different kind of "perfect pitch" uses your long-term music memory. I think this is what the ad in the magazine tries to teach. There are some songs that you've heard so many times that you can hear them in your head at will.


For us older guys, that's songs like "Smoke On The Water" by Deep Purple. It happens to start on a G. So now I have a label to associate with that sound in my head. For further reference, I could recall "Shook Me All Night Long" by AC/DC, which also starts on G (and is one of their few songs not in A). Now I can compare the sound in my head to the sound I am presently hearing. If it is a match, I know I'm hearing a G.


People with true absolute pitch do not have to go through this process.


But, let me say it once more, most musicians do just fine with only relative pitch. This can be mastered by ear training, which can be done with a properly tuned guitar just as well as any software. At least your jazz instructor should be able to help you with this.

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Originally posted by mdrs:

If you can hear a string that's slightly out of tune when someone strums a six string chord on a guitar, does that mean you have perfect pitch??

No way, my fiance notices if my guitar is out of tune in about 3 seconds and she doesnt exactly have a muscical ear.. she can just tell "it doesnt sound right, stop being lazy and tune the damn thing" :)
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Actually the term "perfect pitch" is a misnomer & in technical areas the term "absolute pitch" is used.

The difference?

First, there's little that's perfect about it (mopre on this later)! Though generally loath to admit it, most that pride themselves on this skill (which, as mentioned before by Ric, is an innate ability with which most of us are born) often ignore certain scientifically demonstrated facts about it.

It changes over time, as our hearing changes with practice (or non-practice) & also as we age.

It's a skill that can be kept sharp but it often is more relative than people admit.

Often it applies to instuments with which one is more familiar (a large part of pitch recognition is dependent on overtone frequencies & the timbre of the sound*) & people with seeming absolute pitch skills on one instrument have less success identifying pitches on another.

It also is variable in the recognition of strings of pitches at different speeds.

[*Several sets of experiments have demonstrated that it's not difficult to confuse even skilled listeners on the relative pitch of sounds just by altering overtone content.]


Primarily what is considered here is the recognition of specific frequencies; nothing more (nor less). One doesn't recognize note names, although the method of identifying a pitch is based on the name it has.

This seems to be somehow a sensory ability like the way we recognize different colors (also a case of frequency differentiation).


It has musical uses but many people with tested absolute pitch are not particularly musical. In some cases, for example, mechanical diagnostitians have demonstrated use of this ability to check the function of motors..."tuning an engine", as it were.


As far as music, it's really a mathod of good hearing & concentration.

If one has the abitily to hear pitches well enough to find them easily on one's instrument---which can be learned & must be practiced, it doesn't remain there if unused---then that's all you really need.

The fact that you can say, "Oh that's Bb 2 octaves down from middle C.", has no inherent musical use in itself if you can unconsciously recognize that nate & play it.


There are also documented cases where musicians with this skill have found it more a hindrance than advantage. Most notably as they age & hearing begins to alter, with high frequencies being lost. Many lifelong classical players find that their pitch "memories" don't match what they seem to be hearing anymore, something that causes them both emotional & professional problems.


Some side notes...

There are those who, either independently or in, conjunction with "perfect pitch", suggest that there are connections between musical notes & colors or that certain keys carry inherent emotions.

There's nothing particularly wrong with this sort of thing as an artistic conceit but we really have to wonder what this says about the fact that around the world there are a lot of different ways that musical systems are set up & tuned.

A salient point as regards Western music might be: How does this fit with the fact that classical tuning has ascended over time, with older music played at a higher actual frequency than it was originally?

Moot point if you ask me...


The methods one may practice to acheive & maintain good working relative pitch have been discussed many times on the forum so I won'tgo much into that but I do suggest that one needn't invest in any expensive system.

You can just work with other musicians & practice on your own; working with other players has the additional benefit of keeping you engaged more directly with music---& people, the actual reason for music!---& can keep things from becoming dry exercises.


I highly suggest that Robert Jourdain's book Music, The Brain & Ecstacy be consulted for demonstrations of some of the assertions I've made...& for a very revealing look at many aspects of musical areas in general.

Somewhere in my files I also have some sites that have posted investigations into the ideas of this skill being an inborn ability that most have but lose through neglect.

If you really want, PM me & I'll post those.

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