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Thread: I've developed decent relative pitch, but I'm not at all satisfied with my abilities.

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2009

    I've developed decent relative pitch, but I'm not at all satisfied with my abilities.

    It has taken me a long while, probably 3 years in all (I learn slow), but I finally feel that I've got some good relative pitch going on. I can now anticipate what a note is going to sound like before i play it (within an octave).

    My only problem now is this: I feel like this new skill hasn't helped me with my actual playing. I still feel like I can't string together any coherent melodies longer than a few notes. I feel like it hasn't helped me at all with figuring out chord progressions. I feel like, though I can anticipate what a note is going to sound like, I still manage to get lost when trying to string together many notes and actually make some music.

    I guess I'm writing this because for quite a while I've felt that getting some relative pitch was the gold standard--something that was going to take my playing to another level. But I'm finding that while I'm getting better and better with notes, my actual playing is basically the same. I'm scared. I still suck with creativity, and I can't make any interesting melodies. A prototypical guitar melody for me is, picking up the guitar, playing a few notes, then thinking, "I have no idea where to go from here."

    I know things like creativity and melody are pretty abstract ideas, and there is no concrete advice you guys can give me, but I feel like there has got to be something I can do to get better, and to use this new relative pitch skill I've got to enhance my "actual playing!"

    Also, oddly enough, although I can anticipate pitch while I'm playing my guitar, I've realized that this has pretty much no effect on how I hear music when I'm not playing my guitar.

    Last edited by AGreatPair; 05-01-2010 at 07:11 AM.

  2. #2
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    One thing I would consider (maybe you already do this) is working on the relation not from note to note, but note to chord. The way each note in the scale (diatonic or chromatic) sounds against a chord can really help with melody creation. When you know what each note sounds like in relation to the underlying harmony, hearly melodies becomes much easier as you can instantly pick out any of those sounds you've learned, no matter what those 2 notes are.

    For example, over C major, you would have a much easier time playing from D up to B if you know the sound of the 2nd and the 7th of the chord than if you're trying to recall the sound of a Maj6 interval from D.

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    I know the exact situation you are in AGreatPair(*wonders what that name is inferring)... anyway..

    I say this alot. The answer to your woes lies in two practices. Learning tunes(including transcribing solos) and literally composing your own melodies.

    Now, considering you feel like you are in a creative rut. I would emphasize the former suggestion for the meantime.

    Learning melodies and licks and entire solos will inevitably open your ears up to new rhythmic and melodic posibilities. Listening to music all the time is great but actually learning and playing that same music is 10x more valuable.

    So as you are realizing right now. Having relative, or even perfect, pitch is of little to no value if you cant imagine something worth playing. So if you have some kind of practice routine set for your ear training, stick with it, but start making more of an effort to learn lots of tunes.

    Be warned though. This will not change overnight or even within a few weeks.

    Pick half a dozen tunes and learn all the melodies and some of the solos if you can. Try to sing everything as you play it. Or sing it then play it or some variation on that. The voice is a powerfull creative tool, so use it.

    Good luck

  4. #4
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Twickenham, UK
    I fully agree with JazzMick. You can't invent your own melodies until you've absorbed as many existing melodies as you can, to build up your mental database.
    Listen to your favourite music, and steal any phrase you like - any little hook that catches your ear. Pay particular attention to:
    1. its melodic shape - its succession of intervals;
    2. its relation to the chord - which chord tones or extensions it echoes;
    3. its rhythmic shape - relative note duration, and how it sits in the bar.

    You don't always have to use the phrase in exactly the same form (or only over the chord it was made for); try stretching or shrinking it, or changing its rhythm.

    Another good strategy, when you hit that "where do I go from here?" moment in practice, is to hum or sing something.
    Imagine that every melodic phrase - even a random 2 or 3 notes - contains a phrase that could logically follow it, like a seed. Listen to what you just played and ask yourself "is the next note higher or lower? by how much?" Try to develop a feeling for what the tune is "trying to tell you". (Of course it isn't trying to tell you anything! The idea is to allow your subconscious - which is full of musical ideas! - to let some previously heard link come to the surface. You've heard everything before; you've definitely heard a tune that began something like what you just played: how did it continue? How might it have?)
    Humming or singing can help this process, because it makes a melody "organic" - your voice has certain limitations, which is a good thing for creativity. (Your guitar has too many options.)
    There are of course melodic rules that might be worth bearing in mind, but most of them are intuitive, or obvious if you think about it.
    Eg, if a phrase ends on a relatively high note, the following note should probably be lower - and vice versa.
    A jump (a large interval) is typically followed by a scale-wise step in the opposite direction.
    A long held note is often followed by a pause and a series of shorter notes.
    All these things derive from singing, and the natural way your voice wants to move.

    You can also try imaging a verbal phrase - even a nonsense one - which will give you a rhythm (one note per syllable), and maybe a rough melodic shape.

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