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Thread: How long does it take to develop Perfect Pitch?

  1. #1
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    How long does it take to develop Perfect Pitch?

    How long does it take to develop Perfect Pitch?

  2. #2
    Registered User Color of Music's Avatar
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    Though it isn't something you should strive for, it isn't something that happens overnight. I can't put a window on it. However, I think the question you mean to ask is "How long does it take to train your ear?" The same answer doesn't happen overnight. You must aurally study music and have mental ear exercises. This could be playing on an instrument. It's akin to practicing a song before a show or anything and everything before a particular event.

    And the correct term is absolute pitch. Again, it is not necessary to develop this at least not in a "I have to have this" manner. I really am glad you asked the question because a very commin misconception is that - Absolute (Perfect) Pitch is something magical. It is not! (ie: She called out every note - the enharmonic ones) Those who do have it (as do I and people I know), have trained their ears until they fell off! (facetious and hyperbolic statement). Yet, it is not necessary - except for singers, perhaps.

    However, what is necessary is a very good sense of relative pitch! Yet, this is also something that isn't/can't be obtained overnight. Any an every accompanist has to know the distance from one note to the next if they don't know the key right off hand - especially, if the singer, doesn't tell them, they'll hunt until they find the right one.

    Perfect Pitch is - Singer says: "Tomorrow in Eb," Accompanist nails it right off the bat because he knows what the pitch sounds like.

    Relative Pitch is - Singer doesn't say Jingle Bells in G, so the accompanist will play in its vicinity until he finds the right one. (ie: Plays an E. No. F? No. Ab? No. A? No. G? Yes!!) Of course, this is also where knowing the layout of the instrument helps, too.

    Piano for instance. Black notes are group in two and threes. The note to the left of two black is always C. The white note in-between the two black notes is always D. The note to the right of the two black notes is always E (not F!)

    Sets of three: The note to the left is always F. The note to the right is always B.

    Next, I will get into potential problems - specifically, another misconception: "The ear is always right!" While this is not 100% false, it's also not 100% true; therefore, this is false.

    Let's look at the piano again and that set of three notes. Those black notes have two names:

    F#, G# and A# is also Gb, Ab and Bb. Therefore, we need some kind of context. The popular consensus is: "If you go up, the black notes are sharps. If you go down, they are flats!" While this is very much the case most often, when you throw in other things - more context - key signatures, chord symbols - this consensus becomes debunked (not totally, but the truth of this statement does begin to dissipate)

    For instance: D7 = D-F#-A-C. Notice, it's not D-Gb-A-C (This spelling is reserved for another instrument, but I won't get into what, how and why) And Ab7 = Ab-C-Eb-Gb. Notice, it is not Ab-C-Eb-F# (I won't get into the what, how and why of this spelling either) nor is it, Ab-C-D#-F# or G#-C-Eb-Gb. However, it can also be: G#-B#-D#-F# = G#7. Likewise, the "alternate" spellings are reserved for another instrument.

    The other reason behind the Absolute (Perfect) Pitch misconception is that while it's perceived to be magical, it's also something that can't be taught or if it could be (in the conventional sense), there's no "confirmed" method. IOW, Absolute Pitch is for the most part self-taught! Relative Pitch can be formally, self-taught or both! This is perhaps RP's biggest advantage! However, one should strive for pretty good relative pitch - unless you're a singer, but even they hunt for the right note, too. (There's a big problem if the singer and accompanist are doing that though) If this is the case, I doubt it's that they don't have a proficient sense of relative pitch or no absolute pitch. It's a case of very little to no practice! Both are entirely different things.

    Again, though a decent sense of relative pitch is what you really need to be striving for (and don't knock Absolute Pitch or anyone who has it. Most certainly, do not believe its misconceptions!), remember that it's not gonna just fall into your lap.

    Let me bring this up, too since I forgot to mention it! Relative pitch taught by what are called intervals - the distance from one note to the next. It's not necessary to know what these distances are; however, knowing helps one figure out what note you should be going towards.

    Intervals range from Unison to the Octave. They are grouped as follows:

    Major Intervals:

    2nds: C-D, E-F#, G-A; Ab-Bb, Db-Eb; G#-A#, A#-B#, etc
    3rds: C-E, E-G#, G-B; Ab-C; Db-F, G#-B#, A#-Cx(Double Sharp), etc.
    6ths: C-A, E-C#, G-E, Ab-F; Db-Bb, G#-E#, A#-Fx^
    7ths: - These tones are found a semitone below the root: C-B, G-F#, F-E; Bb-A, Ab-G, A-G# ...

    Minor intervals: Same as above - except these are are semitone below and/or a wholetone/two halfsteps away from the root:

    2nds: C-Db, E-F, G-Ab; Ab-A(Bbb), Db-D(Ebb); G#-A, A#-B, etc
    3rds: C-Eb, E-G, G-Bb; Ab-Cb (not B); Db-Fb (not E), G#-B, A#-C#, etc.
    6ths: C-Ab, E-C, G-E, Ab-Fb (Not E); Db-Bbb (Not A), G#-E, A#-F#, etc.
    7ths: C-Bb, G-F, F-Eb; Bb-Ab, Ab-Gb, A-G ...

    Augmented Intervals:

    Unisions - C-C# (Not Db)
    2nds (Found in the Harmonic Minor scale) Bb-C# (Not Db; D HM = D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C#-D) - Note this is NOT a minor third (Bb-C# =/= Bb-Db) despite what your hear.
    3rds: C-E# - Not F (as C-F is something else I'll get to later)
    4ths: C-F# - Think, The Simpsons Theme (This is also an enharmonic interval and a "special one")
    5ths: C-G#, F-C#, A-E# (not F)
    6ths: C-A#, Db-B (natural), Bb-G#, etc.
    7ths (?) C-B#, E-Dx(Double Sharp), Bb-A# (No practical use since they sound like the same note an octave higher)

    Diminished intervals (They do exist):

    3rds: C-Ebb (sound like M2s; C-D)
    4ths: C-Fb (sounds like M3s; C-E)
    5ths: C-Gb (sounds like and = Augmented Fourth C-F#; the special name is called the "tritone." (Three wholetones (three pairs of M3s) or six halfsteps away from the again, think, The Simpsons Theme)
    7ths: C-Bbb (not A) - they sound like Major sixths, but they are not. Helpful hint: Diminished Intervals are below minor intervals as double-flats are lower than single flats. C-Bbb < C-Bb
    Octave: the opposite of Augmented Unison (C-C#): C-Cb (sounds like M7; C-B)

    Lastly, you have your Perfect Intervals. These intervals are very hollow!

    Unison (aforementioned) The same note C-C
    Fourth: C-F
    Fifth: C-G
    Octave (C-*C)

    Again, to learn this stuff aurally to develop sense of relative pitch takes a good amount of time as well as patience! Visual aid will not do any harm either, but it is your aural sense you are trying to develop.

    I hope I have helped! If so, I am more than happy to have offered!

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    I believe Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch can be developed because no two tones sound the same. Same goes with the harmonic intervals and harmonic chords. Both a D and C # and a C and B make up a major seventh, but they have a different quality or flavor to it. Same goes with chords; let's say a C Major and an Eb Major. Although both chords are built on a major 3rd and a perfect 5th, there is a subtle difference between C Major and Eb Major that I can't quite put a finger on it but the quality and characteristic sound different. Training your ear to identify the exact notes on Harmonic Intervals and Harmonic Chords is a broad study, which I believe can be developed overtime.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blanche_Minim View Post
    I believe Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch can be developed because no two tones sound the same. Same goes with the harmonic intervals and harmonic chords. Both a D and C # and a C and B make up a major seventh, but they have a different quality or flavor to it. Same goes with chords; let's say a C Major and an Eb Major. Although both chords are built on a major 3rd and a perfect 5th, there is a subtle difference between C Major and Eb Major that I can't quite put a finger on it but the quality and characteristic sound different. Training your ear to identify the exact notes on Harmonic Intervals and Harmonic Chords is a broad study, which I believe can be developed overtime.
    Of course, enharmonic pitches don't sound the same; however, given what is called "equal temprement." (ie: that's how the piano is tuned. This is why you hear when some say: "Playing in Db is different than C#." It is, but most even those with Absolute Pitch, go get into it that deep even if they understand the concept. And I didn't once ever say that Absolute Pitch can not be developed (I have it), what I said was that it takes years or a considerable amount of time and I also said that most musicians evoke relative pitch. Btw, RP is the first thing one develops. This pitch went up down and/or stayed the same (Usually, long before you're taught intervals and their relationship which is also RP). Also, note that because you have Absolute Pitch, it doesn't mean that Relative Pitch goes away. In fact, RP is much more useful as it has more applications. Absolute Pitch, for the most part is used to only find the key/root (either of a song/scale), but that is it!

    AP: This is an A.

    Okay, and ...

    RP: It's a Major seventh above Bb and a Minor second below the same note.

    This song just changed keys. It went from A (Major) to C (Major).
    Okay. What are the chords while the song's in C Major?
    I don't know!

    The distance from A-C is a minor third (adversely, it's a major sixth; however, shifting everything up the latter interval will make every sound too high). So, what's a minor third below each of the previous chords?

    *Works it out* Oh, okay!

    I gave and the person received more information when RP was talked about though it referred to the same note! Now, you can get into frequencies (A440 = standard) cents (340 = 100 cents below) overtones (and sympathetic resonance) and all that stuff, but that stuff will certainly go in one ear and out the other unless you're of the appropriate occupation: Sound Technician/Sound + Audio Engineer and/or if you build, repair, tune musical instruments (this included non-pitched ones, too) etc.

    Again, it's nice to know, but we're only discussing musicians, here. Also, be careful that you don't find yourself over-thinking things. I do agree that it takes awhile to grasp the concept of enharmonics, but most people only want to go as far as "This is a sharp. This is a flat. This note is/can be a flat and sharp." Likewise, when it comes to keys, er, key signatures: most rather play in what looks the most concise (though there is one notable exception and there are reasons for it).

    However, some go even further and bring "feelings," into it. Flat keys feel this way," while "Sharp keys feel that way." And/or "Every single key (and there're 19 of them) feels different."

    Again, I never said AP couldn't be developed and stated repeatedly that I have it (and know other people that do); however, there's very little use for it - except when singing and tuning (and relative pitch is loosely used when tuning as well), but that's about as far as AP will take you unless you venture into the technical side. (Acoustics, etc)

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    Is it suffice to say that Mozart mostly used Relative Pitch than Absolute Pitch?

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    Even if there is a common belief that Mozart had PP (and I have no idea if there is any such common belief about Mozart), I don’t think anyone here (or anywhere else) would really know whether Mozart truly did have PP or not. Because he lived far too long ago, at a time when people may easily have confused PP with good RP recognition (people still make that confusion all the time even today).

    But whether Mozart did or did not have PP ("AP", ie absolute pitch), I think almost everyone agrees that we are mostly if not entirely using RP (rather than any PP/AP) when listening to music and when learning to play an instrument.

    On the wider question of whether it’s worth you or anyone spending practice time trying to develop PP … many classical musicians who do have PP, say that in fact it’s mainly a hindrance to them. Because they can be continually distracted if they think that various notes are slightly out of tune, eg notes played by other musicians in the orchestra.

    If you are a guitarist playing contemporary electric guitar (as most people here are), then if you are practicing enough, and practicing the right things, then you are inevitably spending almost all your practice time listening carefully to what your playing sounds like and comparing it to the recordings of what you are trying to sound like.

    That means any sort of sensible practice time is automatically giving you loads of practice in RP recognition, and especially so if you are trying to transcribe music by ear where you need to listen particularly intently over and over again to short complex sounding pieces.

    It may be a different matter if you are following a set classical music course where the tutors insist that you practice pitch recognition specifically. But otherwise, if you are just trying to play electric guitar to emulate well known modern guitarists, then personally I would not waste time on specific ear training (you’ll get masses of that just by learning songs, practicing scales and arps, transcribing favourite songs, etc.).

    Just as a comment on the original question of how long it takes anyone to learn to acquire PP - it seems from many threads here and elsewhere, that most musicians with PP acquire it at a very young age, eg before about 6 years, and that they almost always acquire that when being raised in a home where they are surrounded daily by classical musicians. Either their parents or other relatives are constantly around the house playing and discussing and practicing music.

    At an older age, say perhaps from 13 onwards (perhaps much earlier), it seems as if it becomes much harder for anyone to reliably gain PP skills. And it would not surprise me if many people could never reliably gain PP in older life, eg say if you were in your late 20’s and older. You might gain some ability at named pitch recognition, but perhaps not ever reliably or consistently so.

    And then we come back to the most important question of … “what use is it anyway”? It may actually be no use to you. It may even be an annoying hindrance.

    2:cents, and YMMV (as always).
    Last edited by Crossroads; 03-03-2013 at 10:20 AM.

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    Cool

    Learning Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch is like learning how to swim and learning a new instrument. I believe the teenage years and the 20's [me! ] is a good age to start learning Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch and you will still gain the same amount of aptitude with someone that is so called 'born' with perfect pitch. But I believe Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch can be taught because it is like learning to identify 'colors' through hearing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blanche_Minim View Post
    Learning Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch is like learning how to swim and learning a new instrument. I believe the teenage years and the 20's [me! ] is a good age to start learning Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch and you will still gain the same amount of aptitude with someone that is so called 'born' with perfect pitch. But I believe Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch can be taught because it is like learning to identify 'colors' through hearing.


    OK, well you are answering your own questions as if you were always completely certain and never had any need to ask or discuss it in the first place lol!

    I'm telling you that many people would not agree with you, and I tried to explain why. But if you don't want to hear that, then of course you can only ever stick with whatever you believed in the first place (right or wrong).

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    I started ear training three years ago in my college. I never did any sort of ear training prior to that. When it comes to relative pitch, I am very well - versed on the musical intervals from unison to octave. (I also know some Major 9ths and Major 14th, etc) Now I am working on three tones for melodic dictation and I am still working on complex jazz chords and its inversions. I'm also working on scales as well. I will be taking ear training lessons in the near future so I might learn more chord progressions. When it comes to Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch I am good at the individual tones. I had trouble with Ab, A and Bb but I am starting to recognize Bb and Ab (without guessing) and the A is getting better. I still need to open up my ears with the harmonic intervals and chords, but the fact that I am good at single notes shows that I am half - way there. Based on my experience, I can say my ear is growing everyday and I started just a few years ago.

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    OK that's fine. That that doesn't contradict anything I said above.

    You are saying that you are pleased with your progress towards PP. Good.

    All I’m pointing out to you (in case you don’t know it), is that it seems likely that as we get older (even beyond about age 12 or so) it becomes much harder for anyone to reliably acquire accurate PP, to the extent that I would not be surprised if many people could never reliably gain that complete PP accuracy. You are one individual person, and your own individual experience and your personal assessment of what you achieve may be quite different to the majority of people.

    But the other question must be - why are you spending time practicing PP?

    Is it because you are taking a formal music degree course, and the tutors insist that you must take PP lessons?

    As I said above - there is considerable evidence to show that PP is not really very much help for most musicians (if indeed for any musicians). So if you are spending more than a few min. per week on it, then you are probably wasting vital practice time on something which will be of little or no use to you.



    For the sake of others reading threads like this, and as a much more general comment on learning to play an instrument (eg electric guitar, which is what I’m really thinking of) - when you are learning, I think it’s a mistake to develop fixed views thinking that concentrating on one particular thing (such as PP) is definitely correct and certain to solve your musical problems and make you a good musician. In general I think that’s a mistake and will not work.

    Instead, try to keep an open mind about what you should practice and how you should practice it. Certain practice elements are followed by almost everyone - scales, arps, learning songs, licks, riffs, picking and fretting techniques, timing, sight reading etc. But try not to put all your eggs in one basket. Eg, don’t spend every day thinking you should only practice various scales all day until they are all perfectly memorised. If you are not following advice from a personal teacher who you trust, and even if you do have a good teacher telling you what to practice, get a range of various books & dvd’s in the style that you want to play, and turn that material into your daily practice routine along with plenty of time spent learning your favourite songs and trying to play in time with other musicians.
    Last edited by Crossroads; 03-06-2013 at 08:52 AM.

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    Yes, I'm taking a formal music degree. After my Bachelors, I will be taking my Master of Fine Arts in University. Then I will be studying further abroad with my Doctorate in London, England. (see you there! ) And the reason I want to learn Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch is that Music is a hearing art. Your musical talents depends on how well you hear. Without Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch, You do not know the tones you are hearing, it's like hearing in 'black and white'. With Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch, You know the tones you hear - as easily as you see visual colors. Also without Relative Pitch, the ear hears only a blurred impression of the music; the details are lost. With Relative Pitch, you hear the clear musical picture. And besides Bach, Beethoven,Mozart and Handel have this virtuosic ability of Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch.
    Last edited by Blanche_Minim; 03-06-2013 at 12:21 AM.

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    Did I say that out loud ? joeyd929's Avatar
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    Relative pitch is probably more critical to know, and you can get very far with a solid ear for this. But it takes practice and ear training.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Blanche_Minim View Post
    Yes, I'm taking a formal music degree. After my Bachelors, I will be taking my Master of Fine Arts in University. Then I will be studying further abroad with my Doctorate in London, England. (see you there! ) And the reason I want to learn Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch is that Music is a hearing art. Your musical talents depends on how well you hear. Without Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch, You do not know the tones you are hearing, it's like hearing in 'black and white'. With Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch, You know the tones you hear - as easily as you see visual colors. Also without Relative Pitch, the ear hears only a blurred impression of the music; the details are lost. With Relative Pitch, you hear the clear musical picture. And besides Bach, Beethoven,Mozart and Handel have this virtuosic ability of Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch.
    But most great composers and musicians do not have AP.
    It's true that there is a higher incidence of AP among great musicians than among the population in general. But that's probably just a natural course of affairs. Whether or not one is born with AP, if one has ears unusually sensitive to music, it's quite likely one would choose a musical profession.

    But the basic point is that music (at least music in the west, and in other cultures as far as I know) works via relative pitch, not absolute pitch. Any piece of music ought to retain its essential qualities and meaning when transposed to different keys. If AP mattered, it could not do this. A piece in the key of C would sound essentially different (mean something different) when played in D or E or whatever.
    In addition, if a composer with AP were to write accordingly - eg, putting a piece in (say) Eb major because of the special quality he thought Eb major possessed - it would be lost on the vast majority of people, so he would be wasting his time. (Let alone the fact that any "Eb major" quality he perceived would be different from the Eb major quality someone else with AP would perceive, because those associations are subjective.)
    The parallel would be if an artist could train himself to see X-rays, or ultraviolet light (let's assume that's physically possible ). What would be the point? If he then used them in his art, who would know? Only anyone else who had the same rare skill.

    I'm not saying learn AP is a total waste of time. Obviously it will enable you to hear things in music that others can't. But that's good and bad of course. The things you will hear will be incidental things, not put there by the composer. Musically meaningless, IOW.
    The fundamental musical skill is relative pitch, because music is all about the relationships between pitches, not the pitches themselves. A Bb note means nothing on its own. It only becomes "music" when linked to other notes, to form intervals, melodies, harmonies.
    Last edited by JonR; 03-07-2013 at 05:42 PM.

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    I am now practicing 4 tones at Melodic Dictation.

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    I am now using DiamondEarII for Perfect Pitch or Absolute Pitch, hope it helps.

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