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Author Topic: Why is perfect pitch desired?  (Read 8116 times)
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love2teach
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« on: September 28, 2012, 01:57:14 PM »

I see lots of posts mentioning the perfect pitch that children are acquiring, but I'm wondering why that is a goal?  I've heard that having perfect pitch can sometimes be more of a curse than a blessing - every time an instrument (or person) is out of tune, which of course happens often, it drives them crazy.  I'm posting this a little sheepishly since everyone seems so set on this being a great thing, but would love to hear why you all are desiring this for your children.


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Tamsyn
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« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2012, 06:07:35 PM »

I think perfect pitch is a great thing-- for parties.  I have a few friends who have perfect pitch, and while it did help them sometimes in our dictation tests, they weren't better sight-singers than the rest of us.  My one friend even struggled with theory and harmony.  She could instantly recognize what pitch was being played, but she would often "spell" it incorrectly, such as a "G#" instead of an "Ab".  She did better on portions of the theory tests that were in "C", and struggled with some of the other keys.  I'm not saying that perfect pitch is bad by any means, but it isn't something that I'm striving to teach my children.  I know a lot of amazing musicians who don't have it.  I sort of relate it to when Einstein was asked how many feet there are in a mile, and he asked why he should he fill his brain up with dry facts that can be looked up quickly in any reference book?  (quote not verified, it may just be some kind of urban legend).  Having a good short-term pitch memory is very important- it's not good for an a cappella choir to go flat during a song, and perfect pitch can certainly help with that.

It is also very important to have an absolute pitch system, and for instruments to be tuned to it- I just don't know how important it is for people to be able to be "tuned" to that system. We aren't machines.  Perfect pitch is certainly a worthy endeavor, and I tip my hat to those of you who have accomplished that with your kids.  I'm focusing more on relative pitch, pitch matching, and the ability to sing in tune.

Many piano tuners have perfect pitch, and I'm positive that it helps them a lot.

But here's something to think about- not every country has the same tuning system, in other words "A 440" is not an international standard.  Not all music calls for a well-tempered system.  "A 440" is a relatively new development in music history.  There are also many instruments that are in other keys, for example, someone on the Bb clarinet needs to play a "D" when a "Concert C" is called for.  Then they pull out their "Eb" clarinet for another song, and now play an "A" for that "Concert C".  Then there are horns in "F", and the list goes on. Having a good sense of relative pitch will serve these musicians far better than perfect pitch will.  Likewise, the pianist who can instantly transpose music for a singer will always be in high demand.

I think the big push for perfect pitch in this group is because of the "critical period of language development" that many speak of.  There are proportionally more people with perfect pitch in Asian countries that use a tonal language, and I don't think it's a coincidence.  So if we can give our children perfect pitch for life, this "critical period" is a great time to do it.  Why not develop that skill?  (shrugs shoulders)  As an adult, I developed perfect pitch in college while I was in my ear-training class, but I have since lost it, and I don't miss it much.  I know it is something that can be learned.  The truth is that most people have a pretty good pitch memory.  Wikipedia mentions a test where the average person off the street could tell when popular TV show theme songs were transposed.

If my kids develop perfect pitch from all of their exposure to music, great, but it is not at all a priority to me.  Building a strong foundation in how music is built, of tonality, is much more important.

Whether perfect pitch is desirable or not is a very controversial question, among musicians and others.  Some music teachers even tell their students, "That's great that you have perfect pitch.  Please leave it at the door."  Musicians with perfect pitch score better on some tests, and worse on others, so there is no proof supporting either side.

My husband had a piano teacher, and she told him a story about how she was a superb musician, but when she took an entrance exam, she did great until she got to the dictation portion.  She failed it miserably.  She knew that she could do better, so she thought a lot about the test.  She told the teacher that the computer music was flat and asked if he would play the notes for her on the piano.  The second time she took the test, she passed with flying colors.

I don't know what the moral of that story is, but take it for what its worth.

I'm not trying to hinder any of the excitement that parents here are having because their child is developing perfect pitch- that's great.  I'm loving Little Musician, and I'm not surprised that this is happening.  Perfect pitch just isn't a priority for me and my kids.  That's just my two cents.

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Tamsyn
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« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2012, 08:00:43 PM »

Your question made me curious, and I found this article:  http://www.jackgrassel.com/pages/perfect_pitch.html

After reading that, I feel I need to specify what I mean when I say I had perfect pitch in college, because I suppose I didn't.  I could hear a pitch isolated, and with a bit of thought say what the pitch was, but it wasn't an instant thing for me.  Rather, I consistently know exactly where middle "C" is, because I remember how to sing "Happy Birthday".  From that "C", I can figure out what any given pitch is.  I was always right then, now I'm only usually right.  In choir, we were told to sing a "C major" chord at the beginning of class, and we were almost always right.  But I guess that's not perfect pitch as much as it is pitch memory.  My friend I mentioned really did have perfect pitch.  She didn't have to think about what any given note was, she just knew.  I still can tune my violin correctly- I always compare and it's right.  But I can't (and never could) tell you if an orchestra is tuned to "A 440" instead of "A 438" like the man in that article can.

So I guess I never did have perfect pitch- but I still have a good overall pitch memory!

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Mandabplus3
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« Reply #3 on: September 28, 2012, 09:57:13 PM »

Interesting read Tamsyn.
So from your comments we could conclude that you had relative pitch in school. You based all your pitch on middle C. I can do that now for most but not al notes, the problem I have now is that the further away from C the notes are the less consistently I get them right.
I also do not believe for one second that perfect pitch is not a trainable skill in an adult. I am completely convinced that adults can obtain perfect pitch but it is a lot of work. Brain imaging shows that people with perfect pitch use different areas of the brain in different proportions to determine a note. The brain is an entirely plastic and malleable muscle so there for it can be changed to learn new skills. It is quite logical that it could be trained to learn perfect pitch. Perhaps it is true that those " mail order perfect pitch courses" don't work but that doesn't mean nothing will.
I have also decided that relative pitch is most likely the step needed before perfect pitch is obtained in ADULTS In the same way that children need to learn phonemic awareness and then phonics before they can automate their reading to a level of fluency, I believe learning perfect pitch as an adult may just start with learning relative pitch and then developing fluency to the point that you no longer need the baseline note. Or you develop pitch fluency. Anyway just my thoughts, but I would say children could learn perfect pitch without relative pitch training in the same way they learn whole words without learning phonics.
So why do we want our kids to develop it? Personally I encourage my kids to develop good ears in order to easily hear mistakes and transpose songs on the fly. It's a skill I always wished I had had while learning an instrument. I can hear mistakes easily but could never transpose music. It frustrated me as I can't sing in every key....I can hear when I am wrong but can't fix it!  >Sad
I don't believe perfect pitch is such a curse as some say. With training many musicians learn to turn it off or tone it down when not in use. If you have it you learn to live with it just like a blind person learns to live with a lack of sight or a chef learns to enjoy food that is not seasoned to their liking. Just because you can spot a flaw doesnt mean you can't enjoy the results. I make better coffee than any of my local coffee shops but I still enjoy going out for a coffee. ( which apparently isn't good for my perfect pitch training! No caffeine! Never!)
And how cool would it be to know how hot the shower is before you get in because you can tell by the pitch of the falling water! 

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Tamsyn
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« Reply #4 on: September 28, 2012, 10:31:43 PM »

My ability to name a note played (back then) was more akin to perfect pitch than relative pitch.  I was on my way to developing perfect pitch, but I didn't quite get there.  I don't think that you either have it or you don't, it's a question of "how well" you have it- the man in the article had a very keen sense of pitch memory, me, not so much.  My "Happy Birthday" starting on "C" was only an example- I can also relate notes to the "D" and "A" of the violin, and I know the pitches that a few other songs start on- so I didn't necessarily relate everything to middle "C" or the key of "C". 

I guess you could say I used a combination of both- I picked a pitch I knew (perfect pitch), and then "added" or "subtracted" the given pitch to my pitch memory. (relative pitch).

Relative pitch is more like the ability to be able to identify the tonic note of a given piece, and/or to name intervals.  For example, a "perfect fifth" sounds like the first two pitches of "Twinkle twinkle", a "Perfect fourth" sounds like the first two in "Bridal chorus" from Lohengrin, and an octave is "Somewhere over the rainbow".  It doesn't matter which key the songs are in, the distance between them, ie, their relation to each other, is what makes them relative.  On the piano, C-F is a perfect 4th, and so is a D-G.  Give me any starting note, and I'll sing you any song I know beginning there.  I don't have to stop and think about what that note is, I just build on it.  Sing me "Humpty Dumpty", and I'll sing you the tonic note.  If it happens to be in "C", I'll sing you a "C", if you sing it in "G", I'll sing you a "G".  I may not give you the letter name, but I have, all the same, identified the tonic by singing it to you.  That's relative pitch.

A good musician really needs to have both a sense of relative pitch, and absolute pitch, whether they have perfect pitch or not.  It's not a question of which is more important to develop, but rather a question of what is the most effective way to develop both.

« Last Edit: September 28, 2012, 10:39:31 PM by Tamsyn » Logged

Mandabplus3
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« Reply #5 on: September 28, 2012, 11:01:59 PM »

So Tamsyn, a little more work in school and I reckon you would have cracked the code  Wink 

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Tamsyn
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« Reply #6 on: September 28, 2012, 11:07:55 PM »

Yep!   big grin

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Korrale4kq
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« Reply #7 on: September 28, 2012, 11:44:50 PM »

I am not sure how I feel about perfect pitch. I spent a lot of time with music majors when I was college age and I only have ever known one person with perfect pitch. The rest of them had relative pitch or good pitch memory that was trained.
This guy with perfect pitch was an exceptional musician, but was a music major with the intent to be a music educator. As we're most of my other friends. They were envious because perfect pitch is a highly desirable trait for a music educator and ear training was hard work for them.
On the flipside this guy would be sent crazy, screaming in agony when certain things were off. Fire alarms are one of those.  Car alarms, the backing up beeps or trucks and other things set him off too.

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« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2012, 01:26:48 AM »

It will be great if my son can acquire perfect pitch, or at least be much more aware of pitch than I was/ am. Yes it's not the be all and end all,  but to have that musical confidence, I hope, will enable him to play by ear which I have always wanted to be able to do. Maybe it can be learned but after high school when I realised what I was missing I never quite had the time to devote to it. Right now, he'll soak up anything so I will capitalise on this period.

I can sight read very well (which my son will learn too of course), but always did dreadfully in the aural test section of exams; where for example, you sing back a short piece played by the examiner. I sing too, can sing probably hundreds of melodies in tune with very little thought but I wouldn't be able to tell you which note I started on. I can transpose them if you give me a different starting note (which sounds hard than it actually is smile , at least for me as a singer). I guess they are in my music memory or something but to hear a random sequence of notes just twice... I  would freeze. Play a note, tell me it's a C & I will find the F, that's straightforward, but if you don't tell me it's C though, I'll find F only by guesswork.

I would love my son to be able to have some way of recording that bit of music, (?colour coding the sounds) & be able to put it back out there. (Not necessarily for exams but for fun.) I'm always the one who can play the big pieces but kind of gets shunted off the piano stool when the family get together for an impromptu jamboree LOL "I caaaan't, I need sheet music"... and get the kind of "oh, you don't really play then do you" look.

So reading Jack Grassel's post.... maybe it's not perfect pitch that I want for my son, but I would love for him to know pitch inside out & backwards. I want him to be able to sit right down at his piano or pick up his fiddle & join in without a second thought to a group who are singing or playing. I hum a note & have to fumble about to find the note I just sang, that really irritates me - it's like I just come crashing up against this big black wall in the middle of the music room in my brain......    >Sad

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Mandabplus3
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« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2012, 03:14:23 AM »

Lois you need the softmozart games. That is the stumbling block they get you past.

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eschlem
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« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2012, 01:20:25 PM »

The Soft Mozart definitely looks interesting. 

I had what you had Tamsyn, I had memorized the first note of my audition piece in school and could find my notes relative to that pitch. 
Obtaining perfect pitch for my kids is not a priority with me either.  You can be an excellent performer without it. 

I do show Little Musician to my girls, and they love it.  I'm intrigued by the possibility that they could develop perfect pitch at a young age just by showing the program.  It's very little effort to do so. 

The only reason I'd make developing perfect pitch a priority is if I wanted a professional musical career for my kids, or the possibility of a musical career, it would definitely make it easier for them.  I noticed that the conductors and composers in school all seemed to have perfect pitch, not every musician had it however.


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Tamsyn
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« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2012, 04:05:46 PM »

Sorry to jump in again, I've been thinking a lot about this thread.    LOL

Here are a few stories about how perfect pitch can help:

My uncle was a professional organist, and there was an occasion where his music somehow got out of order and he gave the choir wrong pitches.  The pitches he gave were the same intervals as the song they were supposed to sing, the one that the choir had in front of them.  The conductor, who had perfect pitch, recognized the error.  He knew that if the choir would proceed, the organist and orchestra would come in in the wrong key, which would have been disastrous.  So the conductor held up the music to show the organist, and he quickly gave the choir the right pitches.  The audience laughed a little, but a little giggle over human mistake is much better than what would have happened otherwise.

Another guitarist says he loves having perfect pitch because sometimes someone will be singing a song a cappella, and he can recognize what key they are singing in and start to accompany them.  Everyone thinks it's pretty cool.

Perfect pitch is handy for a capella numbers, as the singer with perfect pitch can give the choir their notes.

Like I said, it's not a "you have it or you don't" kind of thing.  I can bowl.  I usually score around 80-100, but I can still do it.  Bowling professionals who always score above 250 can also bowl.  Their superior playing doesn't negate the fact that I still can bowl.

I struggled to play a piano piece that I have memorized the other day, and then I realized that my kids had transposed the clavinova down a half step.  No wonder.  My struggle came from my own small level of perfect pitch.  It's not something I have tried to develop, but it has come from constant exposure to music.  Those with a keen sense of perfect pitch learn to turn it off for their own sanity.  Others, like those of us who memorize a few different pitches, have to turn it on.  Perfect pitch, pitch memory, it's just a variation of the same thing.

For what it's worth, my closer friend who had perfect pitch was an Asian American.  It wasn't something she boasted about, I didn't find out until I had known her a couple of years.  There were a lot of pianists at my school who had it too.

If you want to be better at transposing and branching out from the key of "C", work on your relative pitch.  I thought you might be interested in the songs I used to better learn my intervals:

Minor 2nd-  "Jaws" for lower notes, "Fur Elise" for higher ones

Major 2nd- "Do, Re, Mi" from the Sound of Music.  Also "Here we come a caroling among the leaves so green".  I actually used "We thank Thee, Oh God, for a Prophet", but that's only a Mormon song.  Find one that works for you.

Minor 3rd- Brahms "Lullaby"

Major 3rd- "Oh when the Saints go marching in"

Perfect 4th- "Here comes the bride" (Bridal chorus from Lohengrin) (For a descending 4th, "Make new friends, but keep the old")

Augmented 4th (tritone)- "Maria" from West Side Story

Perfect 5th- "Twinkle, Twinkle".  In some cases, my mind started trying to make "Twinkle" work with a 4th or a 6th because of the context I was trying to add "Twinkle" to.  I never could go wrong when I thought of the Klingon theme song from Star trek, as it repeats a P5 several times. (For a descending 5th, "Popcorn popping on the apricot tree"  See video at the bottom)

Minor 6th- Shoot, I can't remember the name of the song.  It starts out with a descending interval; "A, C# C# A A---, C# C# A A C# D C# B B B G G..."

Major 6th- "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean"

Minor 7th- "Somewhere"  (There's A Place for Us)  Again, West Side Story.  Thank you Bernstein.

Major 7th-  "Bali Hai" from South Pacific.  It goes up an octave first, but the 1st and 3rd notes make a M7.  There's also a M7 in the climax of "Maria" from West Side Story

Octave- "Somewhere over the Rainbow".

You can use these songs, or find equivalents that work better for you, and learn to recognize these intervals.  We're a world-wide forum, and most of these songs are American, but there is probably a popular piece in your own country that will help you accomplish the same thing. 

The easiest way to learn them is to start with the "So-Mi" (minor 3rd), then add "La" (giving you a M2 and a P4).  These are the easiest intervals to hear.  Think "Ring-around-the rosies".  There are singing games everywhere in the world, sung by the smallest children, that only use "So-Mi-La" and the intervals made by them.  Then add "Do", then "Re" and you have a pentatonic scale (no minor seconds or 7ths, which are harder to hear and are more dissonant). Then add "Fa" and finally "Ti".  This the order the Kodaly method teaches them.

This has been a very interesting thread.  Thank you everyone for sharing your experiences!

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/WiRVaey_OCA&rel=1" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/v/WiRVaey_OCA&rel=1</a>

« Last Edit: September 29, 2012, 04:43:17 PM by Tamsyn » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: September 30, 2012, 02:02:33 AM »

Tamsyn, jump in repeatedly! You have lots to offer us!
Thank you thank you for the list of songs, I didn't know I wanted them yet  big grin But I can see just how useful they will be for me now/soon. I am doing Little musician with my kids but they are much better at it than me  tongue I also use softmozart as often as I can squeeze it into my day. I manage 3 or 4 practice sessions a week on average but sadly I can go a week doing it twice daily and then a week of nothing. Grrr our home never ran well on routine!  LOL (we do have one unbreakable routine, 6:00 dinner, 6:30ish story time 7:00 kids in bed!)
I know if I could be more consistent I would improve much faster and more reliably. On the weeks I am consistent I can hear pitches much more clearly.

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