Aural Skills

Ask Leon: What is the Difference Between Perfect Pitch and Relative Pitch?

Hi One Minute Music Lesson Fans,

This is a question I get a lot from beginning students that want to learn to play by ear,

"What is the Difference Between Perfect Pitch and Relative Pitch?"

Let's begin with Perfect Pitch. Perfect pitch is a skill that you are most likely born with and if not, you will most likely never develop it.

Think of perfect pitch as begin able to remember the exact sound of any pitch in the same manner that you remember and recognize what a color looks like.

When you see the color red, provided you are not colorblind, you will recognize it instantly. The same is true of a person who has perfect pitch. When they hear the note C played on a piano or guitar they know that the note is C just by the sound because they have the ability to just remember this pitch by its sound.

According to Wikipedia perfect pitch may related to certain genes, possibly an autosomal dominant genetic trait. In my personal experience, I never known a musician that developed perfect pitch if they were not born with it.

Relative pitch however is a completely different story. Relative pitch is the ability to hear a melody and know what it is and how to play it by listening to the intervals between each note and reproducing them on an instrument. Although you may not begin on the same note as the melody in question, you will reproduce the melody exactly but in another key.

With a high level of relative pitch recognition ability combined with understanding music theory fundamentals you will be able to quickly hear a melody and reproduce it on your instrument even if you begin playing in the wrong key.

By hearing the difference between where you start playing and the note that you should be matching you can determine the amount of the transposition between the melody you are playing and the music you are trying to play along with.

Relative pitch is a skill any one can learn and with guidance and enough practice you can become very skilled at it in a relatively short amount of of time. It greatly helps to have a high quality, interactive practice tool such as Ear Master 5 to train yourself when beginning to learn relative pitch skills.

If you are interested in learning how to use the power of relative pitch ear training in your instrument playing and music writing I encourage you to follow along with the announcements on my newsletter about my upcoming members-only music academy where I will be teaching students exactly how to acquire relative pitch in a very easy and direct manner.

I hope this clears up any confusion between the difference between perfect pitch and relative pitch. If you have any questions leave them in the comments below or email me directly. I am always looking for great questions to answer that will benefit you and rest of the fans of the One Minute Music Lesson.

Until next time: Practice Smart - Not Hard,

Leon Harrell

Top 10 Ear Training Tools

Top 10 Ear Training
Top 10 Ear Training

Here are a list of 10 of the best ear training tools software and websites that I have used in the past to teach students ear training. Most of these tools are free or cost very little. My two personal favorites are EarMaster 6 (Click here to get a free 7-day trial), a comprehensive ear training software and the ear training exercises at MusicTheory.net which has interactive flash-based ear training tools.

Here's the list:

If you have any favorite ear training software or site you like that you don't see in this list, let me know about them in the comments below.

Also, if you have struggled to learn ear training in the past you may be interested in learning about Leon Harrell's music theory and aural skills beta academy.

Until next time: Practice Smart, Not Hard.

Leon Harrell

What is Ear Training and Why is it Important?

Hi fans of the One Minute Music Lesson, Ear training is the process of learning to play your instrument by ear, how to write down music by ear, a skill also known as musical dictation, and how to identify mistakes in music and fix them by ear. It's one of the hardest skills in music to acquire. But it doesn't have to be.

Ear training is difficult to learn because there are many possibilities when it comes down to how to find notes on your instrument by ear. In fact moving from one note to the next on any given song on a piano and you have 3916 possible choices from the first note you play to the next note. That's a lot of possibilities between every single note, not to mention the possibility of more than one note at a time.

Ear training allows us to listen to music and decipher what is going on musically and recreate it either by playing it or writing it down. This is done by using your knowledge of musical sound including intervals, scales and chords in addition to what you know about the music theory behind these concepts.

Ear training is a skill that is developed over time and is frustrating for the beginner because it actually requires quite a bit of music theory knowledge to be able to do it well or alternatively a couple thousand hours of practicing to be able to do it without music theory.

To begin the process of ear training it is vital to understand how each interval sounds. Then you move on to how these intervals sound in context within scales and chords. To practice you need tools and a method that will work by teaching you how to listen properly and reproduce what you hear accurately.

This is the biggest problem with traditional ear training methods, especially ones taught at the university level. Many ear training classes and software teach by repetition and sheer volume of practice material. This approach does not work well or even come close to being efficient.

Over the past 5 years I have taught a course on ear training, also called aural skills in colleges, to graduate students who failed there entrance exams into the graduate music program at the University of Illinois. Often I have had students who were shocked at how simple the process of learning aural skills could be after taking my class. A common story among many students who take these types of courses in college goes like this:

As an incoming university music student you begin taking an ear training course with an instructor that teaches you solfege (a method used to teach ear training) and forces you to practice sight singing melodies and musical dictation by using recordings or horribly designed software in the hopes that you will absorb the material.

What actually happens is that about 10% of the class learns the material fairly well while the other 90% of the students never get past the most basic concepts because they have no idea how to practice these skills with their current level of abilities, therefore they just never develop any further.

Sure, they almost all pass the class, but they do not learn the material in a deep and meaningful way and promptly forget it after the course is over because they have not learned how to use it in a practical manner.

This is exactly why I am creating my new music theory and ear training academy. I have developed a system that works and is easy to learn and put into practice. And best of all it is practical. It teaches you how to use many elements from the traditional method of solfege but in an entirely different way that makes you use your inner ear without the crutch of the staff (more on this in another post).

Over the course of the next month I will be teaching introductory concepts of ear training and music theory, the flip-side of the ear training coin. Some of this material will be on my free video lesson series Understanding Music Theory on my free video lesson page. More of this material will be sent exclusively to subscribers of my free newsletter.

If you are interested in learning how to use the power of ear training in your instrument playing and music writing I encourage you to follow along with the announcements on my newsletter about my upcoming members-only music academy.

Until next time: Practice Smart - Not Hard,

Leon Harrell