perfect pitch training

Irene said: Nov 3, 2010
Irene YeongViolin
160 posts

hi,

please advise what to do for perfect pitch training?
i have heard of using tuning forks, a bit expensive but anyone found that effective?
also, i tried out glockenspiels at my local music stores, the cheaper one did not have perfect pitch, the one more expensive has all in perfect pitch but very big and bulky.
i tested with metronome.

is it necessary to get for the # notes too?

thanks.

Irene said: Nov 3, 2010
Irene YeongViolin
160 posts

on second thought, i shoud also ask, which would best complement suzuki violin, perfect pitch or relative pitch training?

Jonathan said: Nov 4, 2010
 11 posts

People will have very different opinions on this, and mine might be in the minority, but here it is. There are advantages and disadvantages to having “perfect pitch”. Since it’s not really clear to me that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, I probably wouldn’t expend the effort to try to train a child to develop perfect pitch. There are plenty of other aspects of musicianship to work on without adding more! Other people might disagree, though.

Laura said: Nov 4, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

I have perfect pitch. I seem to have inherited it—I can’t imagine it being trained, any more than I can imagine mine being lost. I’ve heard of it being trainable, but I’ve just never heard of any successful stories myself. An old friend of mine with an amazing sense of relative pitch once tried to train himself to have perfect pitch, but it didn’t work.

Having experienced piano, choir, and violin, I can say that in all honesty, I think that a good sense of relative pitch (plus a bonus of good short-term pitch memory) is by far more useful than perfect pitch. The nice thing is that relative pitch CAN be trained. Relative pitch allows for better development of fine tuning, since one must truly discern how to listen to micro intervals and to adjust things to make them in tune—which is always required of musicians. Perfect pitch can make you lazy: “It’s an A—isn’t that good enough?” When going through ear training when I was young, I never learned to truly listen to intervals—I just calculated them by identifying and counting out the notes in my mind. So I always got the answers right, but for the wrong reasons. My ear was actually pretty lousy because of this!

I have found perfect pitch useful for being able to play something back in the same key after hearing it, without reference pitches. Also, it adds another dimension to what I’m hearing—for example, if I hear an unreferenced Bach cantata on the radio and want to look up the score, I can easily browse by key signature instead of going by rhythms. But honestly, the times in life when I’ve been truly grateful for such a convenience are so minimal.

If anything, I have found perfect pitch to be more often a hindrance. It’s much better to be able to adapt to the pitch context around you, than to be frustrated and constrained when what you’re hearing doesn’t match your idea of what the pitch should be. Christmas carols, church songs, and even popular songs are presented in all sorts of other keys all the time—if you’re used to only one key, you may find yourself transposing keys in your mind just to keep up.

Because I grew up with piano, I developed the frustrating habit of “hearing” things according to the associated piano keys. That meant it was easier for me to sing and hear things in easy keys like C major than trickier keys like G flat major. I have since learned to “turn off” my perfect pitch when necessary and to rely on relative pitch instead—but it took many, many years of other musical experience with other instruments such as violin and singing.

Whenever I hear of some amazing musical prodigy who has perfect pitch to boot, not only do I wonder what the hype is about the perfect pitch (because I don’t really consider it that valuable in general), but I even feel a bit sorry for them for having it!

Irene said: Nov 5, 2010
Irene YeongViolin
160 posts

then what is it you call it when you hear a note on violin and know what is being played? i thought suzuki violin involves play by hearing in the beginning. my daughter’s suzuki violin teacher is teaching her to recognise the A and E note, is she training perfect or relative pitch? i am not sure.

Jonathan said: Nov 5, 2010
 11 posts

Hey, thanks for those comments, purple_tulips. That was really interesting to read.

reei818, I’m not sure what your child’s teacher is working on—perhaps it’s just trying to get your child comfortable with the interval from A to E? This would be relative pitch, which helps the student develop good intonation, and thus is very important for any musician.

If the teacher is trying to teach your child to identify a note as “A” or “E” completely abstractly (that is, to be able to recognize a given pitch in isolation, without reference to other pitches) then she or he would be trying to develop perfect pitch. I don’t think most music teachers do that (Suzuki or otherwise). If it’s possible at all, it would only be for very young children, I think.

Deanna said: Nov 5, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
90 posts

Reei818:
I agree with other posters that perfect pitch is not necessary. However I do that same exercise of having kids sing all the open string notes and being able to identify what string is being played by sound. I do this on the violin. I don’t really think of it as perfect pitch training—just ear training. It shows me first of all, whether they can match pitch with their voice. I don’t have them just sing an A out of thin air. Then it shows me if they can tell the difference between high and low sounds. Especially if you’re just working with 2 strings—is this a high sound or a low sound? Gradually kids are able to hear the tone colour differences between strings, for example, E sounds bright, G sounds dark.
I think this exercise starts developing an awareness of how the violin works in terms of pitch i.e. strings get higher left to right, notes get higher as you add fingers. This is all basic information that is needed in order to play by ear. The first things I have them play by ear are twinkle rhythms on various strings. I play it they copy it back. Once they are proficient at this, I have them turn their back to me so that they are not relying on their eyes at all.

If you are unsure what the teacher is getting at… just ask. I’m sure he/she would be happy to explain it to you. Good luck!

Laura said: Nov 5, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Because I am a piano teacher and not a violin teacher, I can’t say for sure, except that what JWC and dbmus described seems consistent with my child’s Suzuki violin experience.

It’s true that all four strings have different “sound personalities” and when working during a lesson with all strings, it’s easy enough to discern which string is being played, without necessarily having perfect pitch. It’s important to know which direction the pitches are going, when to change strings and why, etc. Also, open strings sound different than notes with fingers. All of this is basic ear training for a string student, I believe.

In piano, we don’t have this situation. Lower notes are indeed more resonant and higher notes are thinner—but this range spreads out over 88 keys rather 5 notes, as it does on violins. So when working over a narrow range of notes such as in Book 1 Suzuki piano, all notes have more or less the same sound, with the ONLY difference being the pitch. There is no way I would ever expect a beginning piano student to identify middle C or any note out of thin air—it’s both impossible and unnecessary in my opinion. However, I would expect them to be able to copy a sequence of notes after they know what the first note is—in other words, knowing how the pitch goes higher and lower and by how much. Later on, after learning so many pieces in C major (all white piano keys), we start to transpose to other keys that need to use black keys just to get it to sound right, even though it “looks” and “feels” different. (There is no equivalent in violin, but it’s similar to teaching low 2s and high 3s for the first time.) This is training relative pitch.

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