Ear Training – Perfect Pitch & Relative Pitch

When it comes to ear training, there are two methods: Perfect Pitch and Relative Pitch. You’re probably familiar with the first – perfect pitch – where a musician can instantly recognize a note being played. Let’s say I sit down at the piano and play a C. If you have perfect pitch, you would be able to tell me instantly the note I just played was a C. For the trained ear, it’s as simple as discerning the colours in a box of crayons. It would be easy for you to say, “Red, Green and Purple” and just as simple for an individual with perfect pitch to declare, “C, D, and E.”

If you’re a musician, you’re probably familiar with the term ear training. If not, a quick explanation: Ear training is the process of equating notes, cords, scales, melodies and intervals to the music we hear and enjoy. Put another way; it’s creating a pathway from the language of music and the “sounds” that comprise the language. The more skilled we become at recognizing the connections, the better musicians we become. As our awareness of musical structures increases, and we begin to anticipate them, we get better at playing music.

You might consider perfect pitch as being the ultimate musical gift but consider this:  in the same way having perfect eyesight is no guarantee of an appreciation of colour or the vibrancy of nature, having perfect pitch is no guarantee of an understanding of the relationship between tones and the harmonies and melodies created when artfully combined together.  

Unlike perfect pitch, relative pitch is most common among musicians, especially those who learned to “play by ear.” You might be surprised to learn that most musicians do not have perfect pitch. Instead, they have a precise relative pitch, and this skill can be developed through ear training. With relative pitch, you might not be able to say, “C, D, and E,” but you would be able to recognize the difference between the two sounds. This difference is called an interval, and with relative pitch, you’ll be able to identify the intervals between the notes. Once you’ve learned relative pitch, recognizing intervals will be as easy as naming the crayon colours.

One of the biggest challenges with trying to master perfect pitch is that you’re likely to fail. This isn’t to dissuade you from trying, but research has shown that learning ideal pitch as an adult is nearly impossible. Most seasoned performers agree that learning perfect pitch is best suited to the developing mind of a child. That said, some musicians claim to have mastered the feat, but most artists will advise you, the effort is better spent learning relative pitch.  

If you’re serious about learning to play music and play it well, relative pitch is the right path for you with a reachable destination. Moreover, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 6 or 60 (or even older), learning relative pitch is a skill available to anyone willing to invest the time and effort. The exciting part is, you’ll begin to see results almost immediately. Once you have an understanding of how the system works, you’ll be amazed how, in just a few short weeks, how far you’ve progressed. Learning relative pitch will allow you to play most anything by ear.

Understanding how notes fit together and putting them together when you play is the gift of learning relative pitch. Let’s say you’re jamming and someone starts playing a familiar tune in a different key. You can effortlessly transition. Perhaps you have a variety of players and instruments all involved in a grand improvisation. You’ll be able to easily sing, play and phase back and forth in a fun and entertaining way. Music in an auditory art form that touches the soul. Developing a great ear will give you a natural command of the language of music.

Here at Musiculus, we love music – it’s that simple, and we want to share that love with you. Explore, discover and achieve your musical desires with help from Musiculus.

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