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Hearing pitch

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by jtwang, Jan 17, 2008.

  1. jtwang

    jtwang Member

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    Yesterday I saw a live clip of Joe Bonamassa playing "I Woke Up Dreaming". A couple of seconds into the song I told my gf that this song reminded me of "Man of Constant Sorrow" for some reason, but it was not the rhythm, not the tempo, not the chord progression (blues in the key of F), not the tuning (standard but with capo at 1st). So today listened to MoCS and realized that that song too is in the (rather unusual for guitar) key of F.

    I have never played either of these songs, but I've seen "O Brother..." and heard that song a couple of times, last time I heard it was some 6 months ago. I heard the Bonamassa song for the first time yesterday.

    I figure the key of F is the reason I heard the similarities. Things like this have been happening to me more and more lately; I'm familiar with song A and I hear song B for the first time and immediately know what key it's in because it the same key as some Sinatra song from some record I have (or whatever I can relate the new song to). I've also noticed that I can tune up to pitch without a tuner when changing strings/doing guitar setup.

    I knew I have good relative pitch (intervals, chords) and just like many of us, I can usually recognize common chord forms for guitar, but I have never paid much attention to pitch.

    Anyone else with similar experiences? Is there any good reasons to try to develop this more or would that be a waste of time?
     
  2. Birddog

    Birddog Member

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    There's a similar thread out there to this one -- do a search and you'll find it. It's more about hearing songs, which I'll relate below.

    I never really tried to develop the ability, but it has come upon me after 30 years of playing.

    If I'm trying to hear a song's key, I can 'hear' the beginning of "Riding the Storm Out" by REO (lame, you say? how dare you!) which is a long, sustained A, and can compare that to almost anything I hear by walking the pitch from A up to whatever key is I'm listening to...It's a weird ability, but never fails to amaze....my wife.

    :D
     
  3. lhallam

    lhallam Member

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    I believe that some people have natural pitch discrimination that simply needs to be realized. You sound like a good candidate.
     
  4. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    I agree with lhallam. Most of us have perfect pitch ability buried down deep in us somewhere but it needs to be honed and refined. My first taste came when I realized every time I heard an isolated C natural it sounded like the first piano note of the Duke Ellington and John Coltrane recording of "in a sentimental mood."
     
  5. JonR

    JonR Member

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    I have something similar - but only after over 40 years of playing music!
    Personally I'd say - while you're lucky to have it - it's not worth focussing on developing it. In any situation where you need to know the precise pitch or key of a song, you will (or should) have an instrument handy to check.
    As I think most will say, it's relative pitch that is the essential musical skill, which develops naturally through experience, but can also be trained rather more easily than absolute pitch (although of course, you yourself wouldn't need a lot of training to develop the latter).
    Eg, it's more important to be able hear a chord sequence as (say) I-iv-IV-V, than to be able to hear that it's in (say) G.
    More important to know what the 9th of a chord sounds like than to know what (say) an A note sounds like.

    Obviously the two skills can support each other, but absolute pitch confers no important advantages in itself (IMO).
    As Birddog says, this has been discussed many times, here and elsewhere, and views differ.

    (In my case, btw, my "skill" is only partially (and vaguely) to do with recognising absolute pitch, and more to do with comparisons with my vocal range - IOW, it's more a relative pitch thing than an absolute pitch one. And it's only useful in the nature of a game; competing with my gf to guess keys of songs on the radio! She usually wins...)
     
  6. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    I absolutely could not disagree more, for what it's worth.

    Being able to recognize and discriminate pitch by ear is anything but perfunctory in music, which is a pursuit totally centered around sound and hearing.

    In my most humble opinion, what you said is sort of like saying "if a painter was color-blind he would be fine, because he can read the names on the tubes of paint and paint accordingly."

    There are so many advantages to being able to distinguish the finer colors of the tones, not just in music-making but in music-perceiving. But people who have not developed the ability shouldn't be discouraged because they can learn it.

    I truly believe that absolute pitch is something that most musically inclined people could learn, eventually. It just takes a little bit of time and daily dedication and someone to steer you on the path of what to do. Also the awareness that you can't learn it by rote or brute force like you can absolute pitch. It's more of a mind-opening ear-opening thing where you search for greater depth in what was once familiar.

    Have you ever looked at a word on the printed page so long that eventually the spelling looks weird to you and you start to question everything all over again as if you had never seen the word? You go back to an 'innocent' level of perception, for lack of a better word. If you take a single tone and listen to it on that level for awhile you will start to hear something in it. We take notes for granted because we have heard them so many times we think we know what they sound like, but there's more there.

    It's elusive because it seems that the harder you focus and 'try' to hear the differences between the tones the more it evaporates. It's a weird state of mind of focusing 'beyond' the tone. It can feel sort-of like the aural representation of that 'magic eye' thing sometimes.

    It's not just being able to distinguish one tone from another. It's a whole other level of perception, almost like hearing the notes in 3D.

    I agree that relative pitch is important, but I could not say it is more beneficial than absolute pitch or vice-versa.

    This is not to say that beautiful music has not and cannot be made by people without absolute pitch. But it certainly is an advantage. I also happen to think it can be developed and learned by anyone.
     

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