More perfect pitch

August 20, 2004 at 04:39 AM · I know of quite a few violin teachers who insist that students be able to sing in tune before accepting them. For a while I could see what they were getting at, although as a child I was always a self-conscious singer, convinced that what was coming out of my mouth was not what was in my head. This idea was consolidated a couple of weeks ago: At Easter I began teaching an adult learner who swore she was tone deaf, completely unmusical and definitely couldn't sing. We did a little aural work, and although I'm not sure I believe in tone deaf, she did indeed have trouble singing back a played note. She also found singing Happy Birthday difficult. This doesn't matter. The crux of the story is that I realised a few weeks ago that she has perfect pitch. And despite some trouble with singing, and the belief that she is unmusical, her intonation on the violin is unusually good. The point of this post (I will get to it eventually) is that from this experience I believe that it is a mistake to judge someone's aural facility according to whether they can sing 'in tune', and I'm wondering how many potential violinists are slipping through the net due to this way of measuring aptitude. Does anyone have experience of this *cough* technique, or any thoughts on this issue?

Replies (14)

August 20, 2004 at 02:25 PM · I can't sing at all. But I can hear that I can't sing...if I sing slow enough I can sometimes correct myself...but for the most part I'm always a third off where I should be...

...but there's nothing wrong with my hearing at all...

August 21, 2004 at 12:20 AM · I cant sing to save my live but my violin teacher says that my intonation is perfect, so i guess the point that you are making is absolutely right. I think singing has a lot to do with confidence and practise, maybe they sould replace it in the aural test with whistling! everyone can whistle, unless theyre tone-deaf. The perfect test :-)

August 21, 2004 at 04:38 AM · Thats how my teacher in high school selected who would play the string instruments, since we didnt have enough for everyone in the whole school. I cant sing in tune at all, but somehow I was able to sing back an A, it was funny thought because I took a choir class and the first thing he had us do is sing back the notes he played in the piano, I got only 4 right out of 10 :-(, I guess I felt I could do it since I did it before with my Orchestra teacher once. Yeah it is an unfair method.

August 22, 2004 at 06:53 AM · Well, I can't whistle.

Could there be a physiological handicap, since we all have different voice ranges? The voice could be viewed as an instrument, and some voices are more able to hit certain pitches than others. However, I wonder if all of us took voice lessons if we couldn't eventually improve our ability to hit the pitches just like we do on the violin, especially if we really do have a good sense of pitch. If the voice is an instrument, then it must be trained to hit pitches, just like you learn when you play the violin. Most people consider it easier to hit notes with the voice simply because it is a built-in instrument that we use every day, and we don't have to put fingers down a certain way or pull a bow across it to make a note. It just comes out. It can be difficult for the same reason in that you can't see what you are doing to make the note happen. For some people, this could be the problem in finding the note with their voice. I don't know. This is just an idea that I had just now.

August 22, 2004 at 07:00 AM · Another thing, when you aren't singing the correct note, are you aware of it? I think the problem occurs when people can't tell that they are off. Can you tell when you are singing too high or too low?

August 22, 2004 at 07:34 PM · I think this is a acquired skill like anything else. Most of my beginners who have no previous musical training really can't distinguish between one pitch and the next in the beginning. But they'll go on to develop sharp/flat distinction.

August 22, 2004 at 07:40 PM · I have a question: Is someone born with perfect pitch? Because at my piano lesson, my teacher was testing my skills on that. But every key he hit, I always guessed wrong and when I said that I could just practice it, he said I couldn't because that's something you're born with. Is that true? Or can I just practice a lot and name the right notes?

August 22, 2004 at 09:27 PM · Typically people are born with perfect pitch. Some say one can learn it; others do not.

August 22, 2004 at 10:50 PM · I find it a harder issue when you have a student (or it be yourself) who can sing on pitch perfectly (not perfect pitch) but a very good sense of intonation and exactly where the note falls....but can't play in tune. There are so many technical reasons, but the fact remains, some of us...can sing right smack in the middle of the note, can hear in their head where it is supposed to go etc etc, but it doesn't come out on the violin that way. I had a teacher have me sing a note, then sing the note right above it and then place my finger on the note while still singing it and match the two up. She said if I do that slowly for about two years, I'll start to play in tune. I don't believe that very much, but every few days I do it just in case....

August 23, 2004 at 01:41 AM · Jennifer, sounds like a superstition, doesn't it?;) It sounds as if we're talking about muscular memory as much as aural memory, because intonation is not as simple as knowing the pitch you intend to play, is it? On a fretless instrument, until we're so handy with the fingerboard we know how to space our fingers within a millimetre's accuracy, no degree of perfect pitch will help us. And of course it's a minefield as we move up into position and the 1-4 handspan diminishes. Whose crazy idea was the violin, anyway??

August 23, 2004 at 09:27 PM · People are born with the ability to talk...same as perfect pitch...

Some people have speach impediments...some people have pitch impediments...I believe it's the same ratio as well.


August 23, 2004 at 10:54 PM · I guess that depends on what you consider to be a speech impediment... round where I live, the native dialect is so ugly you could be forgiven for thinking most of us have one;) Seriously though, out of some forty students I've taught, I believe only two or three have had perfect pitch; that's roughly equal to that proportion of my acquaintances with moderate speech impediments, for example persistent stutters or lisps.

August 24, 2004 at 07:21 AM · Okay, so has anyone here developed perfect pitch when they didn't previously have it, or has anyone taught it to a student? For instance if a student couldn't remember where A 440 was off the top of their head, were they able to learn it later?

I think you have it or you don't. I think more people have it than they realise, and I think you can let it get rusty if you don't use it. On the other hand, it can be sharpened if you work with it. Even if one does not have an internal compass that dictates 440, I believe that anyone can develop their ability to make sense of pitches and where they are in relation to one another.

By the way, my 440A has been known to be flat. I think I could work on that, but I don't try. And I don't always remember note names anywhere at any time. I think that could be developed as well. I also remember the first time that I became aware of the fact that I knew the name of a note when I heard it. No one taught me, but it could have gone by unnoticed. If anyone puts me on the spot with a note name, I'm liable to get flustered and forget everything. So, some might say that I do not have perfect pitch, even though at nearly any given time I could at least hum you an A. Possibly a slightly flat A, but an A. And I know it's A in the same way that I would recall a specific shade of color.

August 24, 2004 at 04:53 PM · My entire sense of pitch is a bit sharp. So when I'm playing, my hand creeps up about a semitone. Makes those open strings sound out of place when they are called for. Working on it....I have given up on practicing with a tuner, though, because the damned thing changes pitch according to the bow pressure, which changes according to where I am at any given point during the stroke. Theory: it pulls the string when you bow and therefore alters pitch. So people with intonation problems could be bowing something feirce....just one of those random ideas that sound like an excuse and probably is one....


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