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    Perfect/ absolute pitch

    Anyone here with perfect or absolute pitch?

    I don't have it, but I can recognize pitches when I am very familiar with a certain piece of music, and I can tell if one plays that piece in a different key than I'm used to play in, in a relative kind of pitch perception.

    I can imagine some difficulties for people with perfect pitch playing a pipe organ with a'=480 or something like that!

    My electric tooth brush (Philips Sonicare) vibrates at exactly the pitch of C (a'=440).

    If you mean hearing a single note out of context and being able to recognize what note it is, I used to be able to do that. Over time my pitch went flat - so what I think is a C is really a B - if that makes any sense... the best I can do now is to lock into a known pitch as a reference (I can hear songs in my head so if I know a song is in the key of G for instance I can work my way up or down from there) - kind of like what you can do now. And yes I immediately know if a song has been transposed!
    Jimmy Williams
    Hobbyist (organist/technician)
    Gulbransen Model D with Leslie 204


      I have a good enough ear I've left bars and clubs because the guitar or singer was out of tune or off key enough it is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
      1956 M3, 51 Leslie Young Chang spinet, Korg Krome and Kronos


        I can spot pitches and keys straight off. If that's perfect pitch, then I've got it.

        However, I have no problems playing a pipe organ (or piano) that's sharp or flat and have no problems using transposers, though I did have to acclimatise myself to using them when they first arrived on the scene.
        It's not what you play. It's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

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          I guess some kind of "perfect" pitch perception is essential for people that play instruments without keys or other means to perfectly key a certain note.

          My girlfriend plays the oboe - she says that every other reed responds differently and every other reed has to be blown with a different embouchure to make sharp or flat sounding notes become straight again. One can imagine the effort involved making oneself adjusted to that each time around!

          Violinists or other players of fretless string instruments have reference points along the neck of their instruments to guess where a certain note sits. Our (double) bass player said that the fifth of every string is about opposite of the heel of the neck. This is just a mere indication: the player has to listen to the sound and adjust the fingering position to make it sound in tune.

          That said, I find there is a certain beauty of playing a pipe organ with let's say Werckmeister III tuning in a key with some (not too many) sharps. The tart sounding harmonics just add a tad more emotion in the salvation when the melody is resolved to its tonic somehow...


            I have known a few people who could apparently identify any given note played without any reference to a prior note. (i.e. - I sit at piano, his back is turned, I play a note and he knows what it is instantly.) I tried this with one guy, and tried to throw him off by playing weird chords, random unrelated notes all over the keyboard, then stopping on a note, which he still identified correctly every time! So I'm reluctancty admitting that such a gift exists, though it's beyond me how a person's brain could have a frequency detector and a lookup table to give a note name to any pitch heard!

            Doesn't make sense technically or biologically, since note names and their pitches are a modern constuct, and because "A" has not always been 440, nor temperament always equal, and the modern scale would have had no meaning for our evolutionary ancestors! If this is truly a biological phenomenon, then what would such a person do with a piano that was tuned a 1/4 step flat -- that is, all the notes are halfway between the real pitches? Would it drive him crazy to hear a piano like that? (or an organ built at a non-standard pitch?)

            "Relative pitch" is something that almost anyone with some musical knowledge can learn, though. After hearing "C" a good vocalist can then sing or identify any other note by mentally comparing it with the given "C" as a reference. But that is another thing altogether, a skill that is taught and that any trained chorister or music major in college can do.

            All that aside, I find that when sitting in church, whether at the organ or not, I almost always correctly "hear" the first note of the next hymn in my head as soon as I look at the page, before the organ sounds it. It must be that after 50+ years of hearing many of the same hymns my brain has indeed "recorded" them in some way. For example, when I go Christmas caroling with an a capella group, I can always get the group started in the correct key without using a pitch pipe or other reference, and this happens without my giving any conscious thought. I just start to sing and it comes out in the right key.

            But what I do is certainly a "learned" response and not a built-in strobotuner device. Does this correspond to anyone else's experience?
            *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!



              Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
              But what I do is certainly a "learned" response and not a built-in strobotuner device. Does this correspond to anyone else's experience?
              When one is exposed many years to the same material over and over again, one obtains a certain memory of the correct pitch. I don't know if this qualifies as "perfect pitch", in which case someone should be able to point out which note is being played without any external reference. That's quite a remarkable phenomenon!

              I don't know how this works physically - maybe there have been scientific studies to this subject...

              Here's something interesting:

              Influence by music experience

              Absolute pitch sense appears to be influenced by cultural exposure to music, especially in the familiarization of the equal-tempered C-major scale. Most of the absolute listeners that were tested in this respect identified the C-major tones more reliably and, except for B, more quickly than the five "black key" tones,[18] which corresponds to the higher prevalence of these tones in ordinary musical experience. One study of Dutch non-musicians also demonstrated a bias toward using C-major tones in ordinary speech, especially on syllables related to emphasis.[19]
              [edit] Linguistics

              Absolute pitch is more common among speakers of tonal languages such as most dialects of Chinese or Vietnamese, which depend heavily on pitch variation across single words for lexical meaning (ex. Mandarin with four possible pitch variations, Cantonese with six or seven, Minnan with seven or eight (depending on dialect), and Vietnamese with six.)[20][21] Speakers of Sino-Tibetan languages have been reported to speak a word in the same absolute pitch (within a quarter-tone) on different days; it has therefore been suggested that absolute pitch may be acquired by infants when they learn to speak in a tonal language[22] (and possibly also by infants when they learn to speak in a pitch stress language).Further, speakers of European languages have been found to make use of an absolute, though subconscious, pitch memory when speaking.[28]

              ---From wikipedia.

              Seems like many people already utilize their "perfect pitch" during speech subconsciously.

              Perhaps this is why Chinese is so difficult to learn as a down home hill-billy boy: these guys tend to have same words for something heavenly and something foul - it is only pronounced, or should I say "sung" differently!


                I worked with an audio engineer/ opera singer who did freelance audio to support his singing career doing live shows. When I was mixing monitors, he would go out to each location and listen to the wedges, and tell me what changes sounded best to him. I would listen to my cue wedge to help identify what frequencies were jumping out at him...During one of our first gigs together, I would suggest a band on a 1/3 octave equalizer, say, 630 hz. ...he would say "it's actually 642"...I was amazed to say the least..after a couple shows, I brought along a parametric equalizer to test him...when he gave me an exact frequency to adjust, I went after it with the parametric..I had to admit, his hearing was spot on. He said he had perfect pitch....not only perfect, but calibrated in Hz!
                1963 C-3 147 Leslie
                1972 X-77GT 2 - 77P Leslie
                Kurzweil K 2000


                  I can name some pitches very reliably, but others not so much. I'm both an organist and a singer, and I can sing most pitches on command (I find that easier than naming the pitches I hear), though I sometimes miss b, b-flat, and c-sharp. I primarily use relative pitch for sight singing, but I still have a very hard time singing pieces that have been transposed, even if I've never sung them before. If the score has also been transposed, then it's not too bad, but sometimes we sing unaccompanied pieces up or down a bit from what's on the page and that's a struggle for me.



                    Lemme test....


                      Years ago my wife played random notes on the Gulbransen (set to a pure 8' tibia sine-wave stop) to see how many I could still identify. For the most part I got them right - except for some times where I was half-step off because my internal pitch perception was starting to go "off". She was very surprised that I picked up one particular note - Ab maybe?? - that she said was known as the most difficult one to pick out. Don't know where she heard of that. While I was able to identify them farily well, it wasn't always "instantaneous". So I am thinking it is something that is learned based on experience.

                      I don't know what has happened that made my pitch perception go flat - could be the moderate hearing loss in one ear and the tinnitus in both - maybe?? Sometimes at choir practice I will ask the director to turn the transposer off so I can sing to the music as it is written - but the transposer is not turned on. I just doesn't sound right to me any more. I will have to re-train my hearing I guess. Since I sing to written music in the choir, I want to make sure I can sing the right note without having to rely on the accompanying music - especially where there is a large jump which makes it much harder to do that relative modulation of the pitch.

                      Transposing drives me nuts when I am reading from the printed music that is in the original key, and the instrument is in an obviously different key than written. I really can't do it. For that matter I can;t understand at all how players of certain band instruments can get around the whole "C really means a Bb" thing. I still can't wrap my head around that at all.

                      I also used to be able to identify chords and their keys (I have not tried that in a long time). As a child I heard a neighbor practicing an organ while I was outside - I went up to her later and said "I heard you practicing an f7 chord today." Someone I knew who had gone to music school said that there were these exercises where the isntructor would play a group of piano notes at the same time ("standard" chords or just random notes) and the student had to identify each note and octave just by listening to it with no visual cues. That sounds really intense!

                      Interesting thread.
                      - jim
                      Jimmy Williams
                      Hobbyist (organist/technician)
                      Gulbransen Model D with Leslie 204


                        It seems like most musicians should have some amount of 'relative pitch' abilities, but they probably do not all.

                        I have known one guy with true perfect pitch, and it was amazing. I could bang a handful of notes on a piano, and he could name them all before they decayed. Bang the same handful and leave one out, he would immediately just name the missing one.

                        He was a great musician, could play about anything. He took it for granted, and said that it annoyed him constantly, in that elevator motors, car horns, whatever were always off a little bit.
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                          Originally posted by picothinker View Post
                          He took it for granted, and said that it annoyed him constantly, in that elevator motors, car horns, whatever were always off a little bit.
                          I wouldn't consider it a problem, but I seem to hear tones in whatever noise is present: humming transformers, environmental noises, howling winds, motors running. Very often I keep my car at the right speed by just listening to the motor, knowing the motors "tones" at different speed limits.

                          It can be distracting during conversation in crowds though. I don't mingle in crowds that often anymore, but sometimes my mind just drifts off on the cacophony that gathered people generate. Then I can and will be startled when a sudden loud noise arises!

                          As for pitch hearing: I was at a concert yesterday, featuring two amateur orchestras which had some kind of kinship combined. The two conductors were there too but the first one didn't take his time to tune the orchestra for some reason during practise, ouch! The second one did, which sounded a lot better. Before the actual concert the musicians found their retreat in the dressing room, maybe dressing their instruments too, since as soon they came out the whole out-of-tune thing was present again, ouch! Maybe this is a bit of a cross-post relating to the "disasters in performance" thread here, but there was an unnecessary abundance of lighting hanging over the stage, giving off sufficient heat to warm up the horns and make the tuning even worse - one too eager to please struggling to find his tune trombonist was heard very prominently. It was a shame really. The orchestras played really well, just too bad they had to cope with a bad venue and bad external influences. In such situations I have the strong urge to leap from my seat and slap some people in the face you know, for screwing up a decent performance and literally letting people down for trying to do a good job and their hard work to get such a concert studied in and organized.


                            Originally posted by sarqoz View Post
                            I wouldn't consider it a problem, but I seem to hear tones in whatever noise is present: humming transformers, environmental noises, howling winds, motors running. Very often I keep my car at the right speed by just listening to the motor, knowing the motors "tones" at different speed limits.
                            I used to do the same thing--I discovered that my car sounded a nearly perfect F when going at 45mph in high gear. (I don't have perfect pitch--I had to use a piano to determine the note--but I could recognize it when it occurred.) My current car does not have that property.



                              One of my piano teachers said I had perfect pitch I don't think though that I could aspire to some of the feats which have been mentioned on this thread. Funny thing is that whilst old Mr. Samuels used to drum in the importance of sight-reading, I found that at an early age I was able to quite easily pick out tunes on the piano that I heard on the radio or a tape, in whatever key that tune was performed. So there must be something there!

                              I have a great little App on my ipod that some of you might be interested in - if you have an ipod / iphone of course!

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