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Learning pitch by heart?

Discussion in 'music making & live music' started by Prince Bert, Apr 8, 2012.

  1. Prince Bert

    Prince Bert Banned Banned

    Is this even possible? I have been playing an instrument on and off for about fifteen years, but still find it very difficult to listen to a piece of music and play the same notes without any other reference. If the tune is slow enough and I have heard it many times it will eventually get to the point where I have the tune in my head and can mess around with the instrument and manage to play the tune (eventually) - some are easier than others.

    Anyway, I have never learned music by grades or anything like that. Is this an actual discipline that has to be learned to get your graded qualifications? I have seen teenagers playing stuff by ear quite impressively on Youtube and they don't seem to have perfect pitch. Even if they get a few notes wrong it is still impressive to me.

    I also came across a music teacher a few years back who was able to discern the pitch of certain notes I was playing even when they were played quite fast and in an unusual rhythm. There must be many benefits to this as a musician, and more so if you want to learn to improvise.
     
  2. SpookyFrank

    SpookyFrank Bound for glory

    I wonder about this too. Sometimes I find that whilst I don't know what note is playing, if I play a note on my guitar without thinking too hard it'll quite often be the right one. I can pick out some simple melodies and chord patterns by ear but it tends to be a pretty laborious process.

    I don't know if you can learn to do it perfectly but the more I learn about scales, music theory and the way songs and melodies are constructed the easier it gets to play tune by ear. I don't necessarily have to think about that sort of stuff while playing, but knowing it seems to improve my instincts if that makes any sense.
     
  3. Greebo

    Greebo Next step, do that lefthanded.

    I can play by ear and learn tunes by ear, no problem. Which is just as well, because I can just about read music, but not fluently.

    But I haven't got perfect pitch as somebody with formal musical training would describe it ie being able to always sing middle C to match where it is on a tuned instrument, before hearing that note played. Knew people who could do that, and they claimed to match the sounds in their head to different colours. *Shrug* it doesn't work for me. Anyway, the people with perfect pitch had far more difficulty learning tunes by ear, so I don't think it's something which'd be useful to me.
     
  4. smmudge

    smmudge We teach life, sir.

    I think I heard about 10% of people have perfect pitch, though most of them probably don't know it.

    But I think if you want to be able to play a tune/get good harmonies going etc. it would be best to get good relative pitch. So you don't necessarily know what the notes are but you can easily pick out intervals. Yeah it does help to know some theory for this, and it will help with improvisation and picking out tunes because you'll know what notes to hit to make a certain shape/sound, if you see what I mean. And getting good relative pitch is really just about lots of practice, lots and lots.
     
  5. Prince Bert

    Prince Bert Banned Banned

    But what kind of theory? As for practice, maybe it is something like continucally testing yourself by trial and error with exercises designed to identify notes?? Obviously, just playing day to day doesn't really address the issue, even if over time relative pitch might become easier to grasp than it was previously.
     
  6. Greebo

    Greebo Next step, do that lefthanded.

    I don't know. It seems to have been part of the graded music syllabus (singing a given note or saying which note a played one was), which I didn't do, but knew people who did.

    Can't remember not having a sense of relative pitch any more than I can remember not having feet. It's just always been there.
     
  7. southside

    southside Banned

    Perfect pitch is rare IMO and very difficult to acquire, some people have the gift. I break music down into the obvious three components harmony melody and rhythm then once I have that I'll work on melody which is very difficult to replicate, it's a bit like relaying a conversation, not only learning the words but also relaying the pronunciation. It's very difficult to do this on guitar because of the diversity and the amount of musicians who all have their own voice and technique. I've built a repertoire over the years but the exact copying is almost impossible so I always make my own interpretation of music I cover without deviating too much. I find as the years have moved on so have I, if I'm transcribing I usually work out the key and what scales are being used and move on from there. I also have to consider my own abilities and the level I'm at if trying to learn music from people who play for 10 hours a day then I have to be realistic when I'm trying to attain the skills required to play challenging pieces.

    As time goes on and as you improve and become more experienced your abilities relating to pitch will improve, it just requires the patience of a saint.

    Edit: If you want to become good at improve you'll save yourself years of trial and error by learning scales and the relationships they have with chords it really does pay of in the end if you want to be a good improviser.
     
  8. southside

    southside Banned

    What I did in the past was to hit a note without looking and tried to identify it.

    My pitch is now quite good, so much so that I can restring my guitar without a tuner and it will only be slightly off concert pitch which is quite pleasing.
     
  9. trashpony

    trashpony The kittens are taking over the world

    When you study music formally, you learn how to how to transcribe melody. It's about familiarity with scales as much as anything. When I was singing all the time I did have perfect pitch (ie I could pretty much hit a middle C 95% of the time) but it's about familiarity and practice as much as anything - when you know your voice very well, you know what a low D or whatever sounds like. I couldn't do it now.
     
  10. smmudge

    smmudge We teach life, sir.

    Well it definitely helps to know what notes are in scales, or at least how to work it out. How much you need to know that depends really; like if you're playing piano it's pretty essential, if you play guitar you can get away with just learning scale shapes but it still helps to know how to find notes on the fret board.

    Knowing the notes in the scale will help you figure out the chords in a key, and which ones are likely to come up, which ones sound good next to each other, and whether to play them minor, major, 7th etc.

    Also learn what different intervals sound like, both harmonic (notes played together) and melodic (played one after the other). This will help in figuring out the chord progression of songs, and in your own improvisation because you can anticipate what something will sound like before you play it.

    This is all in the first few grades of music theory, and learning the theory isn't that difficult. But it only really becomes useful if you can apply it, and that takes a bit of patience, but will definitely pay off.
     
  11. Superdupastupor

    Superdupastupor ἀταραξία

    perfect pitch phenomenon is more common in populations when the languages are tonic which suggests to me that the human brain is geared towards noticing the relationship between frequences.
     
  12. zenie

    zenie >^^<

    yeh you'll find it easier to learn pitch for your instrument if you can also sing it ime
     
  13. Prince Bert

    Prince Bert Banned Banned

    That last point is a good one. I remember some years ago when I played clarinet and a music teacher encouraged me to learn to whistle tunes. In fact she was classically trained and really thought it would benefit me if I could be able to whistle a full range of notes. I can't remember why but I think she was of the view that it would help to get tunes into my head or something.

    As it stands my ability to whistle is not very good, and I hate trying to sing. It's awful when a music teacher tries to get you to sing when you are self conscious. Also, if tunes are really fast it is difficult to hear every note in any case. I suppose most normal people would need something to slow the music down.

    So from what gather it will probably help to learn guitar. I think you come across scales and intervals with wind instruments, but you never fully learn them unless you do some kind of exercises to test yourself, which I never do.
     
  14. rutabowa

    rutabowa YUPPIES OUT

    intervals are easy but who knows about perfect pitch... all my guitars are tuned to themselves but not to any proper key, like i have one where the bottom string is a bit between d flat and d.... it keeps things interesting. so i'm not sure guitar is best one to learn if you want to learn perfect pitch, as it is so often fractionally out. probably an electronic keyboard that always stays in tune would be best. i don't know how useful it would be except as a novelty though.
     
  15. danny la rouge

    danny la rouge Anti-homelessness stud.

    You can train your ear. It's called, funnily enough, ear training. There are book/CD combos you can buy to do this. Berklee are the best-known of these. It does help if you already know some basic theory: intervals, arpeggios, the major and (natural) minor scales. But if you don't, you can learn these at the same time.

    What instrument do you play? You can start yourself off on this road by recording a few random notes. I play guitar mainly, so what I get people to do is do a string at a time. So pick a string. Let's say B. Record yourself playing 14 notes from open to 14th fret, in any order. Leave about 5 second between each note. Then play it back. Listen to the note, then try to find it on your string. You will already know the string, so that's easy. But you will also find you already know what vague region of the string the note is. (You almost certainly won't think an open B played back to you is fretted on the 14th fret). With practise, you'll find you get better and better.

    If you start to memorise the note order, re-record them.

    Then move on to two strings at a time. And so on.
     
  16. rutabowa

    rutabowa YUPPIES OUT

    (you need to tune your guitar properly first to do this)
     
  17. danny la rouge

    danny la rouge Anti-homelessness stud.

    Yes, to work towards perfect pitch. If you tune your guitar a step down, say, you can still do this, because you are still finding the note that was played and playing it back. It'll just be Gb instead of G (or whatever). But you do need to tune your guitar the same every time!
     
  18. rutabowa

    rutabowa YUPPIES OUT

    yeh i know it sounds obvious but i think most people with guitars (at home anyway) just pick them up and tune everything to whatever microtone the "E" string was at. even if you do tune the open strings properly the notes will probably get fractionally out of tune as you go up the neck, the intonation is never perfect... and even electronic tuners vary a bit!
     
  19. seeformiles

    seeformiles Lost in the wood

    I can do this and have never questioned it i.e. I can hear something once and play it - but can also put a guitar with slack strings into perfect tuning. Not sure how I can do this but I can. :)
     
  20. danny la rouge

    danny la rouge Anti-homelessness stud.

    Yes, many solo home guitarists tune the guitar to itself. Which is OK unless you want to play with another musician, or along to a record.

    As for intonation, it can be out, but if your C on B string at fret one isn't the same as your C on G string at fret 5, and C on D string fret 10 and A string fret 15 and low E string fret 20, by your ear or your chromatic tuner, then you've got a problem. You sort it either by bending your string slightly to get the right note (which is what I instinctively did on my first guitar before I understood these things) or by getting your local guitar shop to fix it.
     
  21. rutabowa

    rutabowa YUPPIES OUT

    ah but the nature of guitars and frets means that the intonation will never be perfect across all 6 strings up and down the neck.
    even the nature of the western 12 note system means it is not perfectly in tune! i don't really understand that though.
     
  22. danny la rouge

    danny la rouge Anti-homelessness stud.

    Since the "well-tempered" system of tuning, Western music has opted to behave as if the 12 keys can be evenly divided. This allows us to transpose a tune from one key to another, and it'll sound the same. Modern pianos are "well-tempered". Bagpipes aren't, though. That's why accompanying the Great Highland Bagpipe on piano can have mixed results.

    If you want to heard a similar effect on guitar, tune your guitar by ear using the notes of an E major chord as your measure. (IE fret a E, then keep tuning until the E chord sounds good). Now play an open G major chord. Or "A" type G barre on the 10th fret. It'll sound slightly off.
     
  23. rutabowa

    rutabowa YUPPIES OUT

    yes that's why i said it wouldn't be the best to try and learn perfect pitch from a guitar! too variable. if you want to learn it then an electronic keyboard would be best. i still think it is a fairly useless skill though beyond novelty.
     
  24. rutabowa

    rutabowa YUPPIES OUT

    well it is probably quite useful for a violinist in an orchestra. and lots of other things i don't even know about.
     
  25. danny la rouge

    danny la rouge Anti-homelessness stud.

    I disagree. I don't think you've really understood intonation, to be fair. If a guitar has bad intonation, you can hear it. And it needs to be fixed. (I chose guitar as my example because I'm a guitarist).

    As for it being novelty value, it really isn't. What you want to be able to do is to hear what note is being played and know where that is on your instrument (whether that's a keyboard instrument, string, woodwind, brass or voice). That's a useful skill.

    Going back to the 12-key 12-note Western system, the equally tempered semitones are perfectly compatible with a fretted string instrument or an unfretted one, such as a violin. If it wasn't, orchestral music from Bach until Schoenberg wouldn't exist. (My example of a guitar tuned to a non-tempered tonal bench-mark was to show how to circumvent the well-tempered system).

    Yes, microtones are available. And most modern Western ears are used to them, although we might not realise it. If you listen to or play blues, you'll know them. When you bend a minor third up a quarter tone to not-quite a major third (the "blue note"), or do the same from a minor seventh to not-quite a major seventh, you're playing microtones. Those (between minor and major third, and between minor and major seventh) are accepted by modern Western ears. But if you did the same on a fourth or sixth, or an octave, most people would hear that as "wrong". (Unless they were aficionados of free jazz).
     
  26. rutabowa

    rutabowa YUPPIES OUT

    i could do that as long as i was allowed to play an open string on the guitar first! but that's intervals rather than perfect pitch isn't it.... i definitely couldn't just hear a note and say "that's a perfect C". but i can identify which string has being banged out of tune on someones guitar midway through a loud live set and correct it even as they're trying to wriggle away from me, whilst still carrying on playing myself... now that's useful.
     
  27. rutabowa

    rutabowa YUPPIES OUT

    there aren't any fretted instruments in an orchestra are there?
     
  28. danny la rouge

    danny la rouge Anti-homelessness stud.

    Yes.

    Did you watch the Voice on Saturday? The last singer was asked to do another song. He started singing Ordinary People without accompaniment. The (unseen) pianist came in with a chord a few lines in, then started accompanying. Unless we've been scammed, the singer and the pianist had not pre-agreed a key. So the pianist knew what key the singer was in by ear. That's the type of useful skill I'm on about.
     
  29. danny la rouge

    danny la rouge Anti-homelessness stud.

    Depends on the orchestra. But a modern symphony orchestra, not usually. One doing a guitar concerto, though: yes. One using baroque instruments to play a Vivaldi opera, yes (mandolin or lute, for example).
     
  30. rutabowa

    rutabowa YUPPIES OUT

    i'd be willing to be a large amount of money that that moment wasn't 100% unrehearsed and spur of the moment (i don't watch it tho)! i see your point tho, i guess potentially there a real life situations where someone starts singing and an accompanying musician has never rehearsed with them and has to guess which key its in. but it is not a very useful skill for anything i would ever want to do tho, and i would think most musicians playing together at least agree a key in advance.
     

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