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Perfect pitch, hearing color, and synthesia

Messages
123
Well I figure this stuff deserves it's own thread... and just in time for the weekend!

Lets discuss what we know about perfect pitch, does it really exist and is it what we think it is? Hearing color, many musicians over the years have said that they hear colors in music do you? Synesthesia, how it relates to everything.

Wikipedia definition of Synesthesia
 

rob2001

Member
Messages
16,929
Hmmmm.... I don't see colors from certain notes or tones but I get the connection. I often apply colors to chords or notes as they connect to emotion...

Example....red>angry>heavy, distorted,aggressive,minors

Yellows and oranges= happy,exuberant, content, majors,etc...


This may not be quite what you are talking about but I definitely think in terms of elements.


Water, sky and wind movements, earth textures , heat, and cold, and how those things affect the human condition from an emotional standpoint. It's pretty hard to type this out, if I had a guitar while sitting down with someone I could explain my thoughts much better!
 

countandduke

Member
Messages
1,268
My son has perfect pitch. I should have known when he first started playing the guitar because even when he was a very early beginner, the guitar was pretty much ALWAYS in tune!!! Later on, we would discover that he has perfect pitch. I've tested him several times and he indeed DOES have it. He says that he "sorta" sees/hears it as a color but it's actually easier for him to think of songs that are in the same key. I think for C he hears "Imagine" by John Lennon. F# he hears "The Immigrant Song".

My step-son is also ADHD which makes me wonder if he is hearing things on a different level. He is VERY good at guitar and only been playing 3 years this summer.

I happen to have both the "Relative Pitch" AND the "Perfect Pitch" course by David Lucas Birge and unfortunately, just can't find the time I would like to finish either of those courses. BUT, David DOES ask that you (the listener) right down ALL 12 notes and decide on a particular color for each note. They don't need to be the same as others but just a color that YOU can identify with. Then, as the course progresses, the idea is that when you hear a particular note, you might also see that particular color in your mind's eye. Makes sense to me, although like I said, I never finished the course.

Chris

PS, just to be clear. I have tested my son several times and made sure that he had no way of using relative pitch. I would test him first thing upon waking up in the morning so that he would have no pitch to use as a reference. He has it and it's amazing. He can tell what key songs are in within 2-3 seconds, he can figure out things on piano that would take others a really long time, it's gonna be fun watching him grow up.
 

jhumber

Member
Messages
1,432
He says that he "sorta" sees/hears it as a color but it's actually easier for him to think of songs that are in the same key. I think for C he hears "Imagine" by John Lennon. F# he hears "The Immigrant Song".
This is interesting, because I believe that to be something different, not relative or perfect pitch, but "reference pitch" (well, that's what I call it). In the same way, I have a collection of pitches in my head that are taken from songs I well know enough to reference internally.

I've confused people before who've watched me re-string a guitar. I can take the strings off, apply a new set, and tune it up to 440 without the use of a tuner. I've checked it a few times with a tuner and it's bang on 9 times out of 10. However, in no way do I think I have perfect pitch. It's simply that I play guitar so much, I know what an open D string sounds like etc....However if you asked me to tune a piano to a perfect C, E, A, or whatever, I very much doubt I could do it.

This is how people can pick up tunes off the radio so quickly - especially those played on a guitar....after a while you just *know* when you hear an open G chord.

Relative pitch is something I treat entirely differently again. I can hear a I-vi movement instantly, but I bet most guitarists who've played enough songs can do this too. Again, I class this as entirely 'learnable' - just by playing your instrument enough - although relative pitch detection tranfers across instruments better for me than 'reference pitch'.

This is a really interesting topic to me - I'm keen to hear other responses. I'm in no doubt that perfect pitch exists, I just know I don't have it, and I'm not sure how useful it would be as a musician. To me, relative pitch seems more useful....

Cheers
Jordan
 

willhutch

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,907
I read a detailed report about perfect pitch. One of the few specific stats I recall is that Asians asians have perfect pitch at a higher rate, per capita, than other ethnic groups. It also seems that perfect pitch is as much of a curse as it is a blessing. Apparently, it can be very irritating to have perfect pitch in an out-of-tune world.

Synesthesia is cool. I saw an interview with a man with autism who was also a savant. He could tell you what day of the week any date in history was. He could do complex math in his head. If you recited any four digits of Pi, he could recite the next four, etc. etc. He said that numbers to him were colored 3D shapes.
 

derekd

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
43,483
I used to study with Tony DeCaprio, who is one of the best jazz players on the planet. He played with everyone on the planet when he worked the pits in Vegas with guys like Jimmy Bruno.

He has the whole Synthesia thing, and has done lectures/presentations both here and abroad for musos and neurologists. Here is his site;

www.tonydecaprio.com

Look at the left and click on the supersymmetry link.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,062
I read a detailed report about perfect pitch. One of the few specific stats I recall is that Asians asians have perfect pitch at a higher rate, per capita, than other ethnic groups. It also seems that perfect pitch is as much of a curse as it is a blessing. Apparently, it can be very irritating to have perfect pitch in an out-of-tune world.
To some, it is. But it depends on being able to sideline it when necessary. AFAIK, most who have PP feel it gives them an advantage - tho not a big one.
Some who have it can't imagine how the rest of us enjoy music! :rolleyes:

There have been several threads on this in the not too distant past (including connections with synaesthesia). Good to read up on those (which contain various source links) first.
Here's just a few:
https://www.thegearpage.net/board/index.php?threads/477059&highlight=perfect+pitch
https://www.thegearpage.net/board/index.php?threads/390798&highlight=perfect+pitch
https://www.thegearpage.net/board/index.php?threads/339978&highlight=perfect+pitch
https://www.thegearpage.net/board/index.php?threads/46236&highlight=perfect+pitch
https://www.thegearpage.net/board/index.php?threads/333898&highlight=perfect+pitch
https://www.thegearpage.net/board/index.php?threads/46355&highlight=perfect+pitch
I suggest all interested read through those to see if anything useful can be added to this conversation... ;) (The same comments and viewpoints get recycled regularly.)
 

ben_allison

Member
Messages
3,044
Synesthesia has fascinated me for years... since childhood. I had no idea it was a "phenomenon" until a few years ago! So, yes, I experience it, at some times more than others. I'm certainly not as "strong" a synesthete as some others are.

I also "see" images during certain physical sensations. I want to explore more direct ways of taking, say, a photograph or painting, and "translate it" into music, in a way that people who are truly synesthetic could hear the music, and see the image... kind of encoding/decoding exercise.
 

Austinrocks

Member
Messages
7,020
countandduke makes a great point about keys, I play key based, thought it was because I played piano, for me the keys are really easy to get, and changing the key is something that I notice imediately,


CD really screw me up, with the records I could change the speed to get every thing into standard tuning, speed up hendrix or SRV no problem, gets them into E, CDs don't do that arrrrrgggggggghhhhhhhh

there is a perfect pitch test

http://perfectpitch.ucsf.edu/study/

for those interested.
 
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bleomonkey

Member
Messages
388
As I have come to accept from JonR on IbreatheMusic, perfect pitch isn't much of an advantage. It is merely a different way to think about the music. I have okay relative pitch and okay perfect pitch (if that is possible!). If somebody plays a random note on any instrument, I can name it, and I can identify many notes in a song by perfect pitch, but not all. Mentally, when I am trying to use relative pitch, I think to myself to listen to the intervals and read between the lines. When I try to use perfect pitch, I think of the way each note sounds. Oddly enough, I am better at identifying full chords in songs than individual notes.

I think that synesthesia and perfect pitch are closely tied together. Perfect Pitch gives you a sense of the feeling of the note, which you can than associate with a color. I view synesthesia as your brain just skipping the middle step and automatically associating it with a color.
 

Austinrocks

Member
Messages
7,020
Well I figure this stuff deserves it's own thread... and just in time for the weekend!

Lets discuss what we know about perfect pitch, does it really exist and is it what we think it is? Hearing color, many musicians over the years have said that they hear colors in music do you? Synesthesia, how it relates to everything.

Wikipedia definition of Synesthesia

Since you brought it up could explain WTF it has to do with PP,

I think this guy has it exactly right.


 

Austinrocks

Member
Messages
7,020
with the key discussion, E or F easy to hear same with Eb and E, the 5ths will give me trouble, but its normal for us all, mixolydian or Ionian major, or the keys of C, G, F, so many shared notes, the F or F#, B or Bb. Dorian or Aeolian minor. Its the same with all the keys, though some tend to be used more than others, E and B on a piano are a bitch, so many accidentals, guitar not a big deal.
 

russ6100

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
4,561
My "bouts" with Synesthesia have largely disappeared, probably due to curtailing the consumption of the below:

 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,062
Perfect pitch is developed at an early age, i.e. 2-3 y.o.

My mother says that when I was a baby and then a toddler she used to make me sleep listening to National Classical Radio (sort of BBC with Classical programmes). She's a psycologist and was in all that early stimulus school when she had just graduated and, as usual with psycologist's children, I was her lab Guinea pig.

She recorded me singing (actually all of my younger brethens too) since I was a toddler until I entered elementary school. Listening back to those recordings I sounded naturally in tune, the singing technique is not that of an adult professional with vibrato and support, but all the same the notes are right in tune. Then, for some reason I stopped playing music, then at 10 guitar and rock came into my life.

When I was 20 I was in a Nat'l Conservatory class, and we were doing a melodic dictation and suddlenly I heard the piano was playing colours. It was very easy, as if I had always listened to music that way but, as I hadn't really been very consistent at studing music in my young years, I hadn't payed attention to it. Now, I usually tune guitars just by singing the string pitches, except that I don't trust my ear very much. Maybe it was because a year later, when I was at University, I had a teacher that was 80 y.o. and her perfect pitch had shifted half-tone down (?!).
I've read about this phenomenon before. Apparently it's quite common for perfect pitch to drift "off target" in later years, usually around a half-step flat or sharp.
One successful classical musician actually lost his entirely as an old man - and was rather grateful.
We had a talk about perfect pitch, its advantages and disadvantages to musicians. So, I don't trust my pitch in all settings. I cannot compose electroacousic music listening to pitches. I tried to develop the ear to listening to orchestral colours and frequency spectrum colours, which I find more useful in my profession.
When you say "colours", do you mean literal synaesthetic colours, or various timbral qualities (mostly relative pitch qualities)? (I suspect the latter, just want to be clear.)
The point is, if you are not into music playing or studing, I don't see what's the point of perfect pitch. Since not all of us know when we are toddlers we would like to be musicians when adult, then what's the point in trying to develop perfect pitch?
You're implying that PP can't be developed in later years (if not learned at 2-3)?
There is plenty of evidence it can - although it's difficult, time-consuming, and never seems to achieve quite the "naturalness" of PP gained in infancy.

Toddlers, of course, don't know anything about what they will want to be as adults. Doesn't necessarily mean it's pointless to try to give them the foundation for PP. (Even if PP is not much use in a musical career.)
Hothousing a child to (hopefully) develop its PP seems a pretty harmless, even enjoyable activity (surrounding with music, encouraging singing) - it's not like you're making them practice an instrument. (There is evidence, AFAIK, that musical experience enhances general intelligence anyway.)
If they go on to choose to become a musician, that's a free choice they make. It's not "oh my god, I've got PP, now I've got to be a musician! I wanted to be an accountant! Damn my parents..." :D
(However, I can see that the kind of parents that might use passive hot-housing in infancy - in the way yours seemed to - might go on to more active hot-housing in later years: eg making the kid learn violin or piano when they might rather be out playing with friends. That kind of thing can put a person off music for life...)

IOW, the choice of music as a career (as with any career?) IS largely determined by childhood experience and influence. But (IMO) that works best as passive influence (being in a musical environment); and whether or not PP is acquired as a result is a side issue (it's a peripheral and non-essential add-on for a musician).
What matters is parents instilling a general love for music - or at least the idea that music is a normal part of life, not the preserve of a "talented" few.
 

Austinrocks

Member
Messages
7,020
mine may come from my mother playing piano when I was a tottler, she played every day, I started playing when I was 6 mom taught me the bass and treble clef and where middle C, and the sharps and flats, took only a few minutes, my sisters started when they were 6 as well and studied for many years, I am the only one who plays and has perfect pitch, my uncle probably does, drives my mom nuts, she hates her brother and we are so much alike, left handed, play piano, perfect pitch, ect and so forth, my grandmother really loved it she bought me my first guitar. I find keyboards, grandma also bought an incredible church organ for my mom, who never played it, I loved playing it, got a wurliter electric piano and a synth, not sure what it was, analog synth with preset, 1975 or so.
 
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hacker

Member
Messages
1,172
Has there been any studies on the relationship between the wavelength and frequency of notes related to the frequency of the colors as they are seen by people with PP?

Maybe its all about the waves.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,062
Has there been any studies on the relationship between the wavelength and frequency of notes related to the frequency of the colors as they are seen by people with PP?

Maybe its all about the waves.
Apparently not. The subject has always fascinated some scientists - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_synesthesia_research
- but it seems synaesthetic people all see different colours. It's subjective, IOW, not objective. A pitch or key someone sees as blue will be red or green to someone else.
The associations probably come from subsconscious experience as a child. (I once had a strong synaesthetic association - almost taste and touch as well as colour - with a particular song, which I realised later derived from the colour of the 7 inch single sleeve it came in... ;) - orange and white candy stripes!)

Certain other associations may be more universal, such as martial music sounding "red" - because we associate red with aggression, danger, fear and blood. That would apply regardless of the key of the music.
Likewise, we may associate sad or reflective music with blue, which is the colour of distance and calm.
After all, we commonly describe minor key music, or phrygian mode, as "dark", which is a synaesthetic adjective.
But none of these associations are down to specific pitches. In a sense they are not true synaesthesia, because they are more like an intellectual decision to ascribe a metaphorical term, rather than an irresistible automatic association.
 

Austinrocks

Member
Messages
7,020
I do see an Eb or 1/2 down tuning on guitar as grey, but I think that is more from converting the records to E tuning and the Eb sounding sounding wrong, its the only one, pretty easy for me to tell if the records in Eb or E,
 




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