Perfect pitch trainig with children and pitch differences

January 16, 2017 at 04:16 PM · Hi, anyone taught small children perfect pitch? Currently teaching my toddler violinist pitches with colours and animal names and she seems to be learning slowly. But she currently has no ability to recognize pitches on piano, only on the violin.

As im no violinist myself I use a tuner program to check the tunes Im playing but was wondering when I read that someone said that there is a difference in d# and eb? As my backround is piano for me they are the same.

Also any experiences about pitch training with small children would be well appreciated as I dont have those costly softwares that there are around. Thanks!

Replies (24)

January 16, 2017 at 05:24 PM · Pitch in violin occurs within context, not as separate notes. D# and Eb aren't necessarily different pitches, it all depends on the context of the music. It really becomes an issue when playing solo violin - like Bach, which is extremely difficult to play in tune or when playing with other stringed instruments. Perfect pitch is really not helpful on a violin, other than having an 'A' in your head to tune with. Recognizing intervals and chords is far more important.

Also, I'm not sure why you're trying to teach your toddler perfect pitch. It's a cute party trick, I guess, but not helpful in learning music and sounds like a great way to kill the joy of playing music. Singing, rhythm games, and listening to music is a better way to spend your time.

A few of things I do with my very little students:

-We play the copy cat game. I play a simple phrase (usually a fiddle tune, because they're catchy and no more than 2 or 4 measures long) and then they sing the tune or clap the rhythm.

-I show them a youtube clip from an opera or Peter and the Wolf, we talk about singing stories, then we listen to classical pieces and make up characters and stories.

-We dance and move to music.

Developing a sense of musicality- not rote memorization of a note- is going to benefit your child more.

January 16, 2017 at 05:50 PM · I agree with Julie!

There are many tunings: in Baroque times (I'm told) A was 415 Hz, these days 440 Hz is a standard for many, but some orchestras are tuning to an oboe's 442 Hz. Will it handicap a person who is so ingrained with a 440 Hz A that anything else will sound out of tune?

A long-time friend and tone-master recording engineer who died last year had "perfect-perfect pitch" (at least that's what I call it. Not only could he tell you what note was being played but he could tell you what the corresponding frequency of A was for that pitch. He could ID WW-II airplanes by their pitch and tell you how fast you were driving by the pitch of the road sound (tire noise). As a conductor he was the only one I played under who could tune 4 wind instrument players simultaneously.

Now that could be useful perfect pitch!

I play violin, viola, and cello and I've been playing for 78 years without having perfect pitch. I've got good relative pitch - that's what you need and what you get by singing your "Do-Re-Me's."

January 16, 2017 at 06:01 PM · Well as most of the most famous violinist have perfect pitch it might be a bonus for a violinist?

But mostly because I had a terrible time with solfa and music theory lessons and having perfect pitch would have made them so easy. And as I have terrible pitch memory I will not be able to help her with pitch issues as she gets older, so its best that she develops it as far as her limits go.

So there are my reasons, I know this is a controversial issue and really really would not like to start a debate. :) I consider perfect pitch a bonus but it in no way undermines the importance of the sense of music and all the other things.

Also I think that when a child is not born with perfect pitch but instead it is developed early, she might have the best of both worlds, to be able to name pitches and hear correctly when reading notes and also to transfer melodies and play with other than A440. I think so, but I dont know if it possible, thats why I wondered if any have done the teaching part of it and would tell how the pitch hearing developed when growing up.

Thanks for clearing up the d#eb issue, thats probably quite advenced though so I dont really understand it, being a pianist lol

Probably should mention in case someone wonders, she is taking proper Suzuki lessons too with a qualified teacher so this thing is just a bonus. We do pitch training with games so the training in itself is not a problem :)

January 16, 2017 at 06:13 PM · Is it actually possible to develop perfect pitch if one is not born with it?

January 16, 2017 at 06:19 PM · Well, it seems that it might be possible from what Ive read, but you have to start before 4, they do it in Japan and some in the States too. But have not talked to anyone who actually does is, only read articles and studies. The success rates are very high, at least thats what is written,

The thing is quite new so there is really not that much data as to how perfect pitch you can develop though.

But I hope Ive made it clear Im no expert on this, so if someone knows more I would appreciate it :)

January 16, 2017 at 06:32 PM · I think someone with a bit of talent for music has relative pitch, i.e., can discriminate distances between given notes, and, moreover, if you play the violin every day, you get the sound of the open strings in your mind, so combining the two you have a kind of perfect pitch. I am sure though that if you would take the violin away from a "famous violinist" for two weeks, and after that period ask them to sing an A, they would probably be off, possibly by more than a whole tone. I actually would contest that there is such a thing as perfect pitch. I believe it has more to do with getting thoroughly familiar with musical notes from working with them on a daily basis. take a vacation of two weeks and your perfect pitch will be gone. sorry for writing twice the same thing, a bad habit of mine :-)

January 16, 2017 at 08:20 PM · I do know people who have 'perfect pitch.' They can tell you the pitch of anything- pianos, violins, lawn mowers, birds, nose blows. One person I know who had this skill didn't even have musical training! I think that's an inborn skill and very rare.

Then there's pitch memory, which is teachable. I have that with violin- I can transcribe anything written for violin because I recognize the notes. I used to be able to do this on multiple instruments back in college, when I was working with it more- but that's all gone now.

Then there's relative pitch, which is recognizing intervals and pitches in context.

True perfect pitch doesn't help with violin. Pitch memory and good relative pitch is incredibly helpful.

As for music theory, I remember having a difficult time with Freshman ear training because I was trying to identify each individual pitch. Then one of my classmates told me to listen to the interval of the bass notes and everything clicked.

I would recommend that if you don't have any training in teaching music to young children, you shouldn't teach your daughter. You are at best spinning your wheels, and at worst, teaching things incorrectly. The best thing you can do as the parent of a budding musician is make sure she practices, involve her in as many musical activities as you can (youth orchestra, practice playdates, school groups), get her the best teachers, surround her with music, and most importantly, clap for everything she plays.

January 17, 2017 at 01:55 AM · If it were really that helpful, I would have seven Grammys by now. I could just tell you the pitch of my neighbor's vacuum cleaner and call it a day. It might be a bit helpful for singers, but still not an absolute necessity. Even there, there are potential problems if one has major issues adjusting to different tuning systems. But no, any skill that has true value to a musician takes lots of practice to develop, not to mention the networking/political side of things. Some of the best musicians around are incapable of this (strangely) institutionalized party trick.

January 17, 2017 at 03:08 AM · I'd like to know what animal names you've got for all the pitches. Could just as well use colors, flavors, cheese varieties, pasta shapes, or Republican congressmen. Oops I meant "vegetables."

January 17, 2017 at 06:07 AM · Thanks Julie, so the question seems to be if it is possible to teach a really good pitch memory or does it convert into perfect pitch when started very young. A really good pitch memory is s great bonus. True absolute pitch not so much. In my language we actually call it absolute pitch, not perfect pitch, because those that have a real absolute pitch are a bit different than the rest who can recognize the notes. Their brain analyzes the pitches completely differently than the rest who do know the pitches. But is it something that can develop or not or is it just really good pitch memory that developes.

I myself am not able to hear all the intervals let alone count the notes from them, it just didnt develop even through my piano training, it baffles me how any violinist is able to tune their instrument at all lol I raise my hat to you all. Violin is so much more difficult than piano.

Still hoping to hear from someone done the teaching with the coloursystems, it seems it is not widely used as yet.

Paul, congressmen is a good idea, but maybe better to stick to vegetables lol

January 17, 2017 at 06:18 AM · I disagree entirely with people that say perfect pitch or relative is some cheap parlour trick.

How about for memorizing passages and phrases? How is a musician supposed to identify chord structure or progression, turnarounds, modes, chord substitutions, or even sitting in on sessions where you'd have to play-by-ear?

You've already rejected the notion of a child being able to use one of their senses to distinguish 12 different values, so keep believing it is impossible and unimportant on every level. Give them a coloring book and a box of 8 crayons andvtell them to stsy within the lines.

January 17, 2017 at 01:05 PM · I honestly don't know if perfect (absolute) pitch is learned or inborn. The people I've met who have it all said the same thing- they were never taught it; it was just something they could always do, which leads me to think it could be innate. And it truly doesn't make music theory any easier. Relative pitch (intervals) and pitch memory absolutely CAN and should be taught- they are necessary for memorization and chord identification!

The best way to understand intervals is through songs: The first notes of Twinkle Twinkle are perfect 5ths. The first two notes of Somewhere over the Rainbow are an octave. The beginning of Happy Birthday is a whole step. Play the beginnings of simple songs on Piano and transpose it to other keys so that the kids are recognizing 5ths, not using pitch memory to identify the interval.

But I'm still not 100% sold on the idea of teaching this to a toddler (2?). I think having her develop a rhythm sense is more beneficial and developmentally appropriate- clap rhythms (or beat a pot with a spoon) or have her copy, practice holding a steady beat- clapping with a metronome.

January 17, 2017 at 11:04 PM · Actually, it is better to use pattern recognition to memorize, and recall types of chords. What is faster, memorizing a passage by trying to match each pitch you hear in your head, or breaking it into components, of say, a certain type of scale, or as steps of a sequence? Would you rather hear an F Major triad as F, A, and C individually, and piece it together, or recognize the sound of a major chord immediately? In my experience, using the former method in each case is slower and more frustrating. It is best to focus, in my opinion, on the "color" and distinct features of each chord, or scale type, rather than trying to teach Gestalt listening by transposition of melodies ad nauseum. Transposition alone simply trains one to do quick mental math to calculate from the sounding pitch.

January 17, 2017 at 11:45 PM · I have perfect pitch and never trained it - it is just there. One of my daughters has it too. It is not very helpful at all. Playing scordatura is very difficult if you have perfect pitch. Or playing with a piano tuned too low. I also sing in a choir an there the absolute pitch is also a burden. It is not uncommon that the conductor decides that a certain piece sounds better a semitone higher or lower. For other choir members it is not a problem, but I have to transpose. And as was mentioned above it makes it harder to hear intervals and chords. I hear the individual tones and calculate the interval where others can just hear which interval it is. The only advantage is that I can not only say that this is a minor chord, but also the tonality. I am not sure absolute pitch can be learned, but I certainly don't think it should be.

January 18, 2017 at 05:55 PM · Training kids to have perfect pitch?

What a waste of time.

What they need to learn is RELATIONSHIPS, such as intervals, scales, keys, etc.

By definition, one with perfect pitch perceives note as entities unto themselves.

"How is a musician supposed to identify chord structure or progressions..."

Not with perfect pitch.

January 19, 2017 at 02:15 AM ·

Relative pitch or solfege has a lot of uses: sight reading/singing, composition, prerequisite towards perfect pitch, interval recognition and an aid towards good intonation.

Fixed do or movable do is the question. I think a fix do is better when the goal is to learn perfect pitch.

January 19, 2017 at 07:22 AM · Having taught theory and aural skills many years at college level, I'm convinced moveable do is far more useful in teaching the scale relationships. It makes far more sense in actually sight-singing because the half steps are always between the same syllables. Fixed do, like a southeast wind, is good for nothing.

January 19, 2017 at 10:34 AM · There, is, however, a breakdown that occurs with moveable do when the tontality of an excerpt becomes ambiguous, or just isn't there to begin with. It relies on one being able to always fit the passage in question squarely into one key at a time. I also haven't seen any moveable do users approach enharmonic modulation in any way that isn't clumsy. Perhaps the trick is to learn both systems, and decide which one to use in each situation.

As for those who already bring perfect pitch to the table, I would say that solfege in general is a tougher sell, and that it is more difficult to make It serve its intended purpose for such a person. Almost no matter what, it feels like one is just calling notes arbitrary new names all of the time, with no end in sight. And unless the professor or TA tests whether to see whether the passage can be transposed effortlessly, it is difficult to know how someone is executing their sight singing. I have yet to meet anyone with perfect pitch, myself included, for whom solfege was a game changer.

I have noticed, however, that those without it seem to almost unanimously swear by it. I honestly don't think anyone has come up with a reliable way to get those with perfect pitch to hear the big picture. solfege is nevertheless great to have a feel for when working with musicians, who's native languages use the syllables as the sole names for the notes.

January 19, 2017 at 03:55 PM · "There, is, however, a breakdown that occurs with moveable do when the tontality of an excerpt becomes ambiguous, or just isn't there to begin with..."

Yes, but by that time one doesn't really need solfege anyway in a course of study. If you aspire to sing Berg or Shoenberg, you'll have text anyway. If you look at sight-singing texts, you'll find chromaticism, but not atonality, and for good reason. Most students have a difficult enough time just singing, period.

As I said, it's about RELATIONSHIPS. Students need to understand the basic scale patterns and functions, and it shouldn't matter where you start. C does not (and should not) always be represented by "do." It should only be called Do when it FUNCTIONS as Do.

When I gave aural skills exams, students would sing individually in my office, having prepared several tunes from their sight singing text. But I didn't demand that, if the piece started on D, they had to start on D. That's not really reasonable. I just said start wherever your voice is comfortable. They just had to sing the tune with the correct relationships, so wherever they started in pitch, it was Do. I didn't want them to associate Do with C, but with TONIC.

January 19, 2017 at 07:21 PM · I don't know about you, but I remember aural skills always coinciding with what was being covered in theory class, which meant that there was atonal, and very chromatic sight singing to be done as a part of the standard curriculum. Atonal theory/aural skills referred to fixed do, whereas functional harmony used moveable do, with the one exception being where specific common pitch-class sets were being taught with exercises containing only the specified pc set ( perhaps [014], or [012]) of the day. The difficult part was that awkward in-between stage, when the theory curriculum was covering late romantic nationalist and impressionist music, and tonality was in the beginning stages of breaking down. And I do think one does need to learn to hear functionality, and fortunately, singing solfege works for the vast majority of students. Many say that they could not orient themselves without it. I just don't think anyone has figured out how to circumvent the handicap perfect pitch poses in this situation. We also need to ask ourselves the practicality of most of these skills for modern day classical musicians. I agree that some basics are necessary, such as intervals, basic functionality, etc., and that it partly depends on your aspirations. I think composers and conductors have different needs than violinists, than do singers, and we need to acknowledge this in order for students to have any inkling of motivation when approaching these courses. When you play in orchestra, do you automatically know who can't sing a locrian scale at the drop of a dime? As for the OP, can you tell who has perfect pitch by listening to them play?

February 13, 2017 at 06:09 AM · one word-solfege - perfect pitch is good. solfegge will let them transpose and sight read like a savant

February 13, 2017 at 06:53 AM · There may be differences in the style of music theory training. When I was young only the fixed german a h c d e f g system was used, and so fixed do, so movable do is very alien to me, not used here as far as I know, I dont see the point in that at all due to my background training. I was requiered to name notes and atonal melodies when young (it didnt go very well, but I somehow managed through) the whole point of a lot of music theory was to train the ear to be spesific. Transposition we did, but you dont need to have a movable do to do that.

Maybe it is a cultural system and Im willing to bet that european and american musicians have both excellent aural skills but at least here having good pitch memory or perfect pitch is an advantage.

And letting you know of our progress, it is going very well, she is now able to name 6-8 notes on violin very well and for the rest she has some idea. She likes the training very much, even asks for it and we have done this now for about 2 months. She definately had no perfect pitch in the start, I dont and my huspand doesnt and no one in the family has as far as I know so based on this experience I would say that it is indeed possible to teach at least a very good pitch memory if one starts very young. Of course it takes much longer time to know every pitch but in 2 months this is a good start I think :)

At the same time that we have been doing this she has made made very good progress in her violin playing, it may be that it is just a coincidense but then again it might be this ear training too. She is 3 years old now, soon to be 4 and and has played for a year with suzuki.

February 13, 2017 at 09:35 PM · "Pitch in violin occurs within context, not as separate notes. "

This is mostly false. Any note associated with an open string--such as any third or fourth finger on first position-must be tuned according to the timbre and partials. If you don't, it just sounds out of tune. Regardless of the context.

February 13, 2017 at 11:15 PM · I would say this is mostly true but with some important considerations . I would say that intonation is more about relationships, and timbre, than picking them out in isolation. What happens if you need to match a group or instrument, and matching to your open string just doesn't cut it? What about leading tones, which need to be slightly higher? Then things sound different, say if you tune in 1st position E natural on the D string to the open A, then play it against the open G. Then you will have to adjust slightly for the 6th. Then you also have to think about tuning fifths for the open strings a little tighter in a string quartet, especially in keys where the open strings are exposed, because of the sheer distance between the cello C and violin E. Aside from the hearing, one also has to get the right hand position and coordinate the changes properly. Lots to think about. That's probably why intonation mostly isn't automatic for AP possessors either.

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