Written by The Weekend Vote
Published: May 1, 2015 at 5:40 AM [UTC]
Though I can't do that, I do have relative pitch, and that allows me to do things like sing in tune, play in tune, and do a transcription from a point of reference. I'm told that perfect pitch doesn't help you play in tune and can actually hinder that (when the orchestra has to tune to a different pitch, like the A=415 in Baroque music or a really flat church organ), but honestly, everyone I've known with perfect pitch has also played quite well in tune!
So what exactly is perfect pitch? Perfect pitch, or absolute pitch, is the ability to accurately identify a pitch, with no reference point. Relative pitch is the ability to identify pitches, but with a reference point. Can perfect pitch and relative pitch be learned? I think so, at least to a degree. I do wonder how much having those pitches identified as a young person helps a person to have "perfect pitch." Until I was nearly nine and started learning to play the violin, I was fairly unaware of the fact that music notes even had names, much less could I name them!
Do you have perfect pitch? What are your thoughts on the matter?
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Since 415 is about a half-step below 440, I just think of a piece written in A as being played in A-flat when the players use 415 tuning. What really throws me off is tuning somewhere between 415 and 440. Fortunately, I have strong relative pitch; so I can adapt to playing with a piano in the ensemble that has its tuning a bit off. For my own practicing and playing, I use 440.
Pitches and note names are variable, even in a440. So any sense of perfect pitch is your brain feeding you misguided information.
Also - how can a person have perfect pitch without having learned about why notes have which names. And even the person who said that working with A=415 - or such- adjusts from thinking about A as 440 and thinks of it as though the A flat is now A. Seems that all of these are Relative Pitch recognitions with some being better at it than others - more naturally receptive, having to work less.
"Since 415 is about a half-step below 440, I just think of a piece written in A as being played in A-flat when the players use 415 tuning."
In other words, with my 440-pitch orientation, it's as if they had transposed the piece down a half-step to A-flat.
And I have found myself in "a situation with a different A -- say 436 or 443" -- e.g., having to play when the accompanying piano is tuned lower or higher than 440. Fortunately, I also have good relative pitch, and here is where relative pitch takes over. In high school musical shows, we, the orchestra, sometimes had to transpose a number down or up a half-step -- sometimes more -- to suit the individual singer's voice. In opera, the conductor occasionally has to tell players on the very day of the performance to do this; e.g., if the lead baritone is unwell and can't sing the high G called for in the score -- but can still hit high F.
@184.108.40.206: Re " 'perfect pitch' is a curse not a gift":
For players so bound by it that they can't function musically apart from 440 -- or whatever their usual reference point is -- this is probably true. I have perfect pitch and strong relative pitch. The former has come in handy -- never considered it a curse; but I find the latter far more valuable to overall musicianship.
Mathew Schneider wrote:
"I too am glad to not have it [perfect pitch]. … any sense of perfect pitch is your brain feeding you misguided information."
Information isn't misguided. People are misguided. Also, if you don't have perfect pitch, how can you be so sure what perfect pitch is and isn't? I have perfect pitch. Best way I can describe it: It's like being able to tell colors apart -- or like voice recognition. In this case, it's pitch recognition or pitch memory.
ADDENDUM - 5-8-2015: Mathew, it appears you and I will have to "agree to disagree." From the review I just did of the base verb, misguide --
-- I stand by my statement as well.
About "people with perfect pitch [who] have difficulties playing and listening to other frequencies of A":
I don't know if this is "pretty common." I majored in music and personally knew at least one player with this problem -- a pianist who had to play a piece written in A-flat on a piano with tuning a half-step low. The piece sounded as if she were playing it in the key of G instead. She told us, "I could not play."
I suspect the problem is more common among pianists than violinists, but I'd have to do some research on that point. Fortunately, my sense of perfect pitch isn't so absolute and inflexible that I can't tune lower or higher than 440, if I have to, and still play just as well. As long as I've mastered the material and have had at least one run-through with my ensemble partners, I'm fine. But preparation and run-throughs are expected anyway, whether at 440 or some other tuning. Then, too, during performance, violin strings can drift off pitch, as you know, and players routinely compensate -- often only subconsciously. Again, this is an example of where relative pitch comes into play.
But my adaptability and strong sense of relative pitch haven't at all diminished my sense of perfect pitch -- the ability to name individual tones and keys. You've reported that you don't have perfect pitch. I do have it, and I've proved it over and over. I know what I'm talking about.
After consulting a dictionary, I stand by my use of the word "misguided".
I'm basing this on what other people have said, as well as extrapolating from other things my brain does.
It seems pretty common that people with perfect pitch have difficulties playing and listening to other frequencies of A.
You mentioned relative pitch needing to take over with A=436. But that's actually the value of A when when played together in just temperament with a C in A=440.
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