Ask Leon

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

Ask Leon: How does notation for transposing instruments work?

Burningwood asked,

Hi Leon, I wanted to know something about transposition. I understand intervals already but how do I know whether to transpose up or transpose down when writing music for transposing instruments like the english horn?

This is a great questions and one that stumps many composers even after they have learned how to figure it out.

The part you and many other people are getting confused on is written pitch (the pitch notated on the page) versus the sounding pitch (also known as concert pitch).

Every instrument that is a transposing instrument, has a sounding pitch that is different from its written pitch.

On the english horn the sounding pitch is a fifth below the written pitch, therefore the written pitch is a fifth above the sounding pitch.

The easy way to remember how to write for any of the transposing instruments is to think the sounding name of the instrument equals written C. Use the phrase: "I hear (insert name of transposition), when I see C"

For example: The english horn is an F transposing instrument. F sounding equals C written. Therefore: "I hear F, when I see C". So an english horn has a written C it sounds a fifth below as an F.

To go the other way or "I want to hear X, so I need to add (written pitch interval) to get the correct written note" you need to decide the pitch you want first.

Let's say you want to hear an E-flat as the sounding pitch. So "I want to hear Eb, so I need to add a perfect fifth up to get the correct written note".

The best tool you can get at this point is a good orchestration book, such as Samuel Adler's The Study of Orchestration or the equally good Alfred Blatter's Instrumentation and Orchestration which are great references for this exact type of question.

I hope this answers your question Burningwood. If you need any more help email me at

Do you have a burning music question you want Leon to answer? Send in your questions for Ask Leon to and your question could be answered on the next blog post or in the One Minute Music Lesson video.

Thanks for the question, and keep up the good practice,

Leon Harrell

Ask Leon: Is it a key change?

Wedgie from Yahoo Answers asks:

I was recording my GCSE composition today, and I asked my teacher what he thought of it. He said it was in the B to A grade region (in his opinion). I asked what I could do to up it to an A. He suggested a key change.

I pointed out that it changes from Eb Phrygian to Eb Locrian, which is a different scale. He said that it wasn't a key change, and my mind exploded.

How is this not a key change?

Let's start with defining what a key is. The word key refers to the major or minor key system. Your question also involves modes. Modes are rotations of the major scale (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian).

The real issue you are dealing with is that keys as well as modes both rely on the concept of a tonal center, or a main tonic pitch.

In the example you have stated, starting in Eb Phrygian and changing to Eb Locrian, the tonic pitch in both cases is Eb. This means that the tonic pitch has not changed. A change in tonic is required to change key, otherwise you have only changed the mode, thus creating a modal mixture instead of a modulation.

Also, you are mixing the words key and modes a bit. Indeed you have changed modes. But in order to change keys you will need to change from one major or minor key to another major or minor key.

However, you can absolutely change from a major key to a mode, or vice versa, or do just as you have and change from one mode to another. There are no rules to say what is not allowed in music composition, only conventional practices that composers in the past have used.

To answer your question about how to raise your grade on the assignment: Do just as the teacher has asked. Change the tonic pitch in the second part to incorporate a change of key or mode.

On a more philosophical level, you are the judge and jury of your own music. If to you the change you have composed from Eb Phyrgian to Eb Locrian sounds pleasing, then you have accomplished what you set out to create musically.

If you do decide to change the piece to fit the requirements of the assignment you might try Db natural minor, also known as Db Aeolian. This keep the all the same pitches from Eb Locrian.

Eb Locrian: Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab, Bbb, Cb, Db, Eb

Db Aeolian: Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab, Bbb, Cb, Db

This will not be a fool-proof change. You will have to be the judge as to if you like the musical results.

I hope this answers your question Wedgie. If you need any more help email me at

Do you have a burning music question you want Leon to answer? Send in your questions for Ask Leon to and your question could be answered on the next blog post or in the One Minute Music Lesson video.

Thanks for the question, and keep up the good practice,

Leon Harrell

Ask Leon: Diminished Scales and Chords

Anthony from Twitter asks:

Do you have anything that can help me with the diminished scale for guitar and also for diminish chords?

Let's start with defining what the diminished scale is. Jazz and blues musicians often refer to this scale as the diminished scale, but it's real name is the octatonic scale. An octatonic scale has 8 pitches in the scale, (the prefix octa means 8).

To get 8 pitches in a scale you need to divided the octave in a certain way. You must have a repeating pattern of halfsteps and whole steps to accomplish this.

There are 2 types of octatonic scales. The first begins with a half step, and the second begins with a whole step.

In total there are only three possible octatonic scales that can be created with the 12 pitches, but you can begin on any note of these scales to create 8 different modes of each of the scales.

Here are the three possible octatonic or diminished scales beginning with a half step:

  • C - C#/Db - D#/Eb - E - F#/Gb - G - A - A#/Bb
  • C#/Db - D - E - F - G - G#/Ab - A#/Bb - B
  • D - D#/Eb - F - F#/Gb - G#/Ab - A - B - C

Here are the same three possible octatonic scales beginning with a half step:

  • C#/Db - D#/Eb - E - F#/Gb - G - A - A#/Bb - C
  • D - E - F - G - G#/Ab - A#/Bb - B - C#/Db
  • D#/Eb - F - F#/Gb - G#/Ab - A - B - C  - D

Here are the same three scales in standard notation:

Diminished chords are also seen within these scales. If you look at every other note of any of these scales you will create a diminished chord, because another way of constructing these scales is by interlocking two diminished seventh chords that are separated by a half step or a wholestep.

Just as there are only three octatonic scales, there are only 3 diminished seventh chords. However these chords can be spelled in many ways and you can use any note in them as the root of the chord.

Here are the three possible diminished seventh chords:

  • C - D#/Eb - F#/Gb - A
  • C#/Db - E - G - A#/Bb
  • D - F - G#/Ab - B

I hope this answers your question Anthony. If you need any more help email me at

And for anyone else reading feel free to send in your questions for Ask Leon to and your question could be answered on the next blog post or One Minute Music Lesson video.

Thanks for the question, and keep up the good practice,

Leon Harrell