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Thread: Absolute Pitch

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    Senior Member Yoshi's Avatar
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    Default Absolute Pitch

    So, I've been very confused about what is considered absolute/perfect pitch.
    People including music teachers, told me that I have it. The thing is that I've always heard that it was something very rare and only some great geniuses had it.

    What I can do is... if I hear any sound I can identify the note. For example, if someone sings a random note I can tell what it is.
    Another thing is that if you tell me to sing a specific note, I can sing it. I thought most musicians could do that, but I found out recently that it's not a common thing. For example in music classes, I'm the only one who can start singing a song with the right notes from the sheets without a reference. When I hear a sound, even if it's not from a music instrument (it could be a car horn or something) I relate it to the name of the musical note.

    Does this mean that I have what is called absolute pitch? If not, what is it then? And does anyone here have it?

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    Most people cannot do that without first hearing a reference pitch. And yes, that is absolute pitch.

    It is helpful, especially for learning things like violin at a young age, or in singing.

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    Jan:

    It's not 'common', but at the same time, it isn't exactly 'rare', either. Some musicians have it, other's dont. What a great many musicians develop over time is a good sense of 'relative' pitch--in other words, once a 'home' tonality is established, they can accurately either read or sight-sing the other tones 'relative' to it in a melodic line.

    Myself, I seem to have 'hit-and-miss' Perfect Pitch (for instance, I know that the class bell at the high school at which I teach is tuned to the second higher F# above Middle C--whoopee!) but there are other times when someone plays a note on the piano and I have to stop and think about it. However, my 'relative' pitch is just spot-on. Even though I'm not necessarily a strong vocalist, I can sight-read vocal music with no problem. It's a practiced thing, I don't remember being born with it.

    But if you have Absolute pitch, it should suit you well, especially if you sing or play a string, woodwind or brass instrument. And it should--with practice--make you an extremely good sight-reader.
    Tom

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    Hmm they were right then. It's weird because I honestly thought it was a common thing, that's why I never even imagined that I had absolute pitch until someone mentioned it a few weeks ago.

    Interesting that you mention the violin, I started it a year ago and my teacher says I always keep the right tune. I guess it does help.

    Edit: This was a reply to Jean Christophe Paré

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    Absolute pitch isn't really as great as it seems. I don't have it, but I've heard about people who do, and there are horror stories about people with perfect pitch not being able to listen to some recordings because of different tunings or transpositions or some such thing (William Primrose, the famous violist, had perfect pitch; as such he never transposed Bach's 6th cello suite for viola because the only way to do it well was to go down a fifth, which he couldn't stand to do).

    Also, it isn't geniuses who have it. True, geniuses can have it, but there's no correlation. It's just a misconception. It's actually rather common among Chinese people or other nations whose language utilizes pitch.

    What's rather fun for me is that I have very good relative pitch and a great pitch memory and so can usually hear a pitch without any reference and tell what pitch it is. It's not absolute pitch; it's just picking a note out of my head to use as a reference, so I can fake absolute pitch. A lot of people think I have it and won't believe me when I say I don't.

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    Quote Originally Posted by TWhite View Post
    Jan:

    It's not 'common', but at the same time, it isn't exactly 'rare', either. Some musicians have it, other's dont. What a great many musicians develop over time is a good sense of 'relative' pitch--in other words, once a 'home' tonality is established, they can accurately either read or sight-sing the other tones 'relative' to it in a melodic line.

    Myself, I seem to have 'hit-and-miss' Perfect Pitch (for instance, I know that the class bell at the high school at which I teach is tuned to the second higher F# above Middle C--whoopee!) but there are other times when someone plays a note on the piano and I have to stop and think about it. However, my 'relative' pitch is just spot-on. Even though I'm not necessarily a strong vocalist, I can sight-read vocal music with no problem. It's a practiced thing, I don't remember being born with it.

    But if you have Absolute pitch, it should suit you well, especially if you sing or play a string, woodwind or brass instrument. And it should--with practice--make you an extremely good sight-reader.
    Tom
    I see. I can't remember ever practising this, but I don't know if I was born with it either. It's something I just thought about lately.

    Well I play piano, I don't know how it could be useful, except playing pieces by ear maybe?

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    Quote Originally Posted by World Violist View Post
    Absolute pitch isn't really as great as it seems. I don't have it, but I've heard about people who do, and there are horror stories about people with perfect pitch not being able to listen to some recordings because of different tunings or transpositions or some such thing (William Primrose, the famous violist, had perfect pitch; as such he never transposed Bach's 6th cello suite for viola because the only way to do it well was to go down a fifth, which he couldn't stand to do).

    Also, it isn't geniuses who have it. True, geniuses can have it, but there's no correlation. It's just a misconception. It's actually rather common among Chinese people or other nations whose language utilizes pitch.

    What's rather fun for me is that I have very good relative pitch and a great pitch memory and so can usually hear a pitch without any reference and tell what pitch it is. It's not absolute pitch; it's just picking a note out of my head to use as a reference, so I can fake absolute pitch. A lot of people think I have it and won't believe me when I say I don't.
    That happens to me! I was in a choir lesson and we had the sheets, so the teacher decided to transpose it because it was supposedly easier to sing in that register. I was in horror because I just couldn't follow it, I identified a specific note on the paper and we were singing a different one and it was so confusing. There was also a time I had to sing a canon in group and I had to explain them that I could only sing on the original key, because the other one just didn't sound right. I can't listen to pieces in other keys, it's just annoying.

    I suppose it is a misconception then and being more common on chinese people does make sense.

    Picking a note is a good trick

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jan View Post
    That happens to me! I was in a choir lesson and we had the sheets, so the teacher decided to transpose it because it was supposedly easier to sing in that register. I was in horror because I just couldn't follow it, I identified a specific note on the paper and we were singing a different one and it was so confusing. There was also a time I had to sing a canon in group and I had to explain them that I could only sing on the original key, because the other one just didn't sound right. I can't listen to pieces in other keys, it's just annoying.

    I suppose it is a misconception then and being more common on chinese people does make sense.

    Picking a note is a good trick
    Jan:

    You absolutely have it, then! Transposing at sight is generally a nightmare for people with absolute pitch, because it's right THERE in your head. And it only sounds RIGHT in that particular pitch.

    I accompanied a violinist that had absolute pitch in college, and if the piano had not been tuned in a while, it drove the poor girl nuts. She was a terrific musician and a really sweet person, but workiing in a practice room with her on one of the pianos could be an absolute nightmare for her. So you figure that: 1: Piano's are tuned to relative pitch to begin with, and 2: the piano hadn't been tuned in months--well, you can imagine what it must have been like for her.

    And yes, having absolute pitch really DOES help if you want to play 'by ear', as they call it. It's the transposing that might possibly catch you up short.

    Tom

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    In my music theory class, we have to transpose some things (mostly because the prof. just does so on a whim). It's the only hint that I might actually have absolute pitch, because it does really annoy me. I mean, sure, I can think intervallically, but it still doesn't click in my mind.

    I still doubt I have perfect pitch, and I honestly hope I don't. Out of tune pianos also annoy me to no end, but that's just because they're out of tune by default, being well-tempered or whatever, and I play a string instrument, which isn't.

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    Out of tune pianos, and even in tune pianos, bother many experienced string players without perfect pitch.

    I don't have perfect pitch, but for some weird reason I can pretty reliably tell whether a note played on the piano is a black key or not.

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    World Violist has put the subject into an excellent context. All 'absolute pitch' is is a very finely-tuned pitch memory. No-one is born known what the note 'A' is (the pitch of this note has varied over the centuries and STILL varies a little around the world); they LEARN it. Some people have type of aural 'photographic' memory and can learn (and reproduce at will) any given pitch once they have learnt (memorised) it.

    I have very good RELATIVE pitch (although I can usually hum an 'A' on demand owing to the number of years I have heard musicians tuning to it!), but not 'absolute' or 'perfect' pitch.

    As World Violist has already pointed out, 'absolute' pitch can be very imperfect indeed if any flexibility of tuning or temperament is required. A learned 'absolute' pitch will most commonly have been memorised from the notes of the piano, which is also inherently 'imperfect' in its 'equal temperament' - a compromise tuning which, although not strictly in tune, allows for music to be played equally well in any key.

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    Thank you all for clearing that out then
    I was really confused about this but now I'm finaly sure that I have perfect pitch... and yes tanspositions drive me nuts

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jan View Post
    [...] being more common on chinese people does make sense.
    I have doubts on that. It wouldn't be the case if it is genetic like I might believe it to be.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jean Christophe Paré View Post
    I have doubts on that. It wouldn't be the case if it is genetic like I might believe it to be.
    No, I think it's because they might have more practise on distinguish certain sounds/pitches because of their language. I could be wrong tho.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jan View Post
    No, I think it's because they might have more practise on distinguish certain sounds/pitches because of their language. I could be wrong tho.
    It is correct that in people whose mother tongue is a tonal language (such as Chinese, Vietnamese) occurances of 'absolute pitch' seem to be more prevalent. This is, no doubt, due to the necessity of learning pitches as well as vocabulary and grammar.

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