Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Aural Training


QUESTION: Hi Chuck, I am 29 years old without prior aural training and would like to develop my aural skills, but some music teachers in my area tell me it is not possible to develop both relative and perfect pitch at my age. A quick search on the web brings up paid courses claiming to help you develop both. I wonder what is your take on this so I can make wise decisions in trying to develop my ear. If you could recommend books or other aural training materials I would appreciate it a lot. Thank you

ANSWER: Hi Jane:

  Thank you for this question, it is the first time this particular question has been brought up to me, and YES I have some things to relate to you on this concept..

  FIrst of all... the normal (average) notion of PERFECT PITCH is that a person is BORN with it, and it is just as natural for them to remember sounds like someone else can remember their colors... (but that being said, IT IS ALSO A CURSE IF THEY learn to associate their memory to an out of tune piano, or a STANDARD that is not IN TUNE with the world of music) and the people I have known with PERFECT PITCH are always disturbed by those that SING out of tune, listen to out of tune guitars,/ pianos, etc.. and deal with this conflict.. as far as DEVELOPING THE PERFECT PITCH SKILL? I think it can be done if there is that ability to be TOLD a pitch (accurately) when it is heard, and then have it be remembered .. sorta like knowing the difference between (one shade of a color and another shade of the same color, close in hue)(a fine tuned skill , if you know what i mean)

    Relative Pitch? is very teachable and trainable, and I'd encourage you to work on that all the time.
   eg. Listen to sounds you hear daily, a door-bell, phone ring, a siren, etc. anything that is regular in your life, and discover what the actual pitch of those sounds are, and daily keep those sounds in your head, and memory.. Refer to them,
  another method is to get a special song, that you might always recall and learn the NAME  OF THE  OPENING NOTE and try to sing it ON THE SPOT< and then check how ACCURATELY YOU WERE..
    ANOTHER SYSTEM MIGHT BE TO FIND THE NOTE f# IN YOUR HEAD.. why? because that note is like a zebra among a herd of horses in the pitch world.. It is like the oboe of the orchestra, IT STANDS OUT DIFF. FROM ALL THE REST..
    Later on in your skill building efforts, try to just come up with a pitch (when called for) and check to see how accurate it was.s
    the last method I offer is to SING YOUR NOTES with a ''feeling'' in mind of HOW THE NOTES ''FEEL'' TO YOU PHYSICALLY IN YOUR VOICE, AND RELATE to them as ''high, middle , low'' in your voice so you can recall that feeling and being no different from many things we do in life based on how they FEEL and our MUSCLE MEMORY, like writing, using the clutch/ gear shift, or what our voice has to do to YELL... ALL MUSCLE MEMORY.. USE THAT TO HELP BUILD THAT SENSE.. I assume you already know when a note is higher or lower ? than it is asked for.. so keep using that skill to get a fine tuned talent.. you will be able to get your RELATIVE PITCH usable and fairly accurate over time..
      chuck (great question, thanks, and good luck)

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Hi, Chuck, thanks for the speedy reply! I am a bit confused by the way you seem to describe relative pitch. Am I right to say that relative pitch refers to the interval, or relationship, between two notes? When you say 'pitch' do you refer to just one note or to the interval between two notes? It seems to me you are referring to just one note, as you suggest learning 'the NAME  OF THE  OPENING NOTE' not 'the name of the interval between the first two notes'. If one note was what you were referring to, isn't that developing perfect pitch and not relative pitch? Also you talk about finding f# in my head - isn't that perfect pitch too?

I see that I assumed that when you used the terms
Perfect Pitch
Relative Pitch
that you were already familiar with those terms, and their applications
Perfect Pitch is the ability to hear a pitch and identify the exact name of that pitch
purely by hearing it
or the ability to sing that note when asked to produce the named pitch

RElative pitch is the ability to hear a pitch and CLOSELY IDENTIFY the name of the pitch, or
to be asked to sing a pitch and to be able to closely sing the note (be close to the named pitch)that is called for, hence your are 'relatively close'' to the right note, or the note asked for...

so the ability to hear the INTERVAL BEING PLAYED, OR THE scale note of the played note is all very easily learned .. but thanks for asking for clarification,, as i said, I ASSUMED you already KNEW the meanings of the words you were asking about learning and using..
perfect pitch? (summary) is to have someone on the piano, play notes (one at a time) at random and the listener can name each note accurately.. and if a chord were played? they could identify each and every note of the chord that is heard

relative pitch? (summary person) could GUESS at the notes he hears, BUT MAY NOT be able to identify each note quickly and easily but would have to do mental gymnastics to come up with a good guess,  it would not be like holding up a card and identifying what he sees...
i hope that helps,
and thanks again for getting some clarification for yourself..
and i can sing a given note very close to the actual note when im asked

chuck (good luck) keep asking and searching

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I am a professional musician, I can play by ear, I arrange music write music, teach music in the public school system, and teach privately. My father was a school music teacher, and I have written three volumes for teaching beginning string players, taking them from scratch to high school level. I have performed in a local production of Music Man (musical) with celebrities John Davidson/Susan Watson and have my masters degree in education. I retired from the classroom in 2004 with 38 yrs. experience-now still substituting for music- and writing arr. for my cello trio(with two audio cd's and one dvd of a performance) I have directed church choirs and am principal cellist in our local community orchestra. I really love to arrange music for the groups I perform in and sing and have music in my life every day. A day without music, is a mistake, like having a day without sunshine.


Employment history: I have been employed by our local school district since 1967 as a music teacher from grades 1-12 Organizations: I play cello principal chair in the local community orchestra, and sing in a chorus,and perfom in a barbershop quartet

Education: My early life in high school and college was summer workshops in choral conducting with founder of Westminster Choir College (N.J.) Dr. John F.Williamson (in Who`s Who in Music) and summer workshops with Robert Shaw in San Diego Grad. of Sacramento STate Univ.and masters from Univ. of La VErne, ca

Awards: awarded the Bank of America award in my high school senior year for music

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