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Perfect Pitch Problem

I've always considered ear-training for people with perfect pitch to be
quite a different matter than for those of us who have 'relative' pitch.

This year, in an advanced ear-training course, I have a student with
perfect pitch. The student has a refined ear and is able to name notes
inside complex piano, instrumental and vocal textures.

I have prepared a series of dictation tapes on cassette (from DAT with
sampled instrumental sounds), which the students do in the Media Center of
the Library. Since the cassette have passed through two cassette decks
(the dubbing process and the machines in the library), there is
frequently a shift of pitch by almost up (or down) to a semitone.

This is not a problem for 'relative pitch'ers, isolated intervals still
have the same 'identity' property, ie, a minor sixth sounds like a minor
sixth, but strangely, the 'perfect pitch'ers have some difficulty with
this, frequently identifying the interval as a perfect fifth, or a major

I can understand how this can come about, but wonder if anyone has worked
on the problem of helping people who have perfect pitch perception, to be
able to hear in relative terms. (The student apparently doesn't hear
'intervals', rather just two pitches.)

An analogy I present to my classes to try to explain this is that most
people have 'perfect color', ie, "That book is green.", but few people
have 'relative color', ie, "That green is as far from that blue, as this
red is from that brown." (Which is the same as saying, "That C is as far
from that E, as this F is from that A." -- intervals are relative,
pitches are absolute.)

Any pointers for me to follow up?

Many thanks



I take it that 'perfect pitch' is learned, potentialy with a strong
genetic bias, in early childhood. There are references in the Groves
Dictionary of Music to studies that perfect pitch can be taught to young
children. This may be a fundamental problem of early childhood music
education, where we say this is 'Twinkle', and begins with a fifth, but
would always 'name' the color being pointed out to a child.

Or it could be that western music benefits from only having a relative
scale of musical pitches. Without this relative perception (as is the
case with this student), harmony cannot 'function'. (When everyone is
someone, no-one is anyone G/S.)


cooler winds blowing in

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