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Perfect Pitch or Relative Pitch or close enough to it?

March 26, 2015

What is perfect pitch?

Absolute pitch (AP), widely referred to as perfect pitch, is a rare auditory phenomenon characterized by the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of a reference tone.

 

What is Relative Pitch?

Relative Pitch tells you how pitches relate to one another to create the language of music. Another way to explain this would be to say that you understand and can follow the distance between two or more pitches to understand how chords and melodies and harmonies are made.

 

 

While not every body is capable of developing Perfect pitch, 99% of a healthy population is capable of developing reliable Relative pitch. 

 

As a vocal coach. I often work with beginner and intermediate level singers, that experience noticeable difficulty in-regards to been able to sing in tune and stay on pitch.  These students have often been referred to incorrectly as tone deaf.

 

If you've read my previous blog's you will already be familiar with my unique approach to developing a students voice . If the student is serious about fast tracking there vocal development. I always recommend that our first session spent together includes a full vocal diagnostic. This, Vocal Diagnostic Session includes a series of special exercises to determine which muscle co-ordinations are assisting there vocal production and serves to identify any unhealthy muscle behaviours or bad techniques that are preventing the voice from performing freely.  

 

Pitch problems are a serious issue for many singers, regardless of what's causing it. No audience in there right mind will enjoy a performance where the artist repeatedly sings sharp or flat.

 

There can be many different reasons why students struggle to sing in key or correctly match pitch. This can include a variety of hearing disorders, and or  bad vocal technique, but more often than not the most common cause of pitch problems boils down to the singer simply not been familiar with the interval distance between the various notes of the scale or chord. 

 

Problems with pitch are very easy to diagnose, in fact any difficulties singing on pitch or maintaining correct pitch (especially in the most comfortable register closest to your natural speaking voice), immediately provides a good vocal coach, with a whole bunch of useful data and cues about what's going on internally within the mechanics of the singer.

 

If you've ever played guitar you will know how challenging it can be to tune the guitar by ear (especially when you are tired). Most guitar players who tune there guitar by ear, would use a method like the one iam describing below.

 

Starting at the fifth fret on the sixth string (biggest E string assuming this string is in tune) they would fret the note which results in creating a reference or guide tone  to help them tune up the next open string below (A string). With a little bit of patience and gentle turning of the tuning pegs the goal is to match up the picked sound created on the fifth fret of the E string with the sound of the open A string.  The preceding string is in tune when the guide tone and the open A string vibrate in harmony creating the same frequency  or pitch. The correctly tuned A string is pleasing to the ear and resonates at a 110Hz. (since this blog is not about how to tune your  guitar but how to develop a better sense of vocal pitch for your voice lets get back on topic).

 

In my experience singers can become over reliant on using there ears to identify and follow along with guide tones.

 

What?

That's right you understood me correctly. Put simply too many singers out there rely solely on there ears to determine if they are on singing on pitch. That's not good for any singer because our ears can play tricks on us and the result is often a note that is sung flat or sharp and is instantly recognisable as been out of tune with the songs melody!

 

Singers who place an over reliance solely on there ears to determine pitch will find it especially difficult to sing in tune or on key in a noisy environment. As for example when there  on stage and panic will quickly set in when they realise they cant hear themselves properly to begin with!

 

How we hear and perceive our own voice requires its own full length blog. Watch this space.

 

Now the singer faces a real dilemma they are nervous to sing because they cant hear if there in tune with the band, this often results in singers experiencing stage fright, or over compensating by singing louder than there voice can maintain for the duration of the show in order to make themselves heard above the mix and this last scenario is a sure fire recipe for inducing  a bad case of excessive vocal strain. 

 

What's the solution I hear you say? How do I develop perfect pitch or at least improve my sense of pitch to enable me to make it easier to sing in key in a noisy environment?

 

The answer is resonance. When you sing your body produces sympathetic resonance frequencies. 

IE. Low chesty notes when sung correctly will produce resonance which are felt as additional vibrations in the chest, (Thoracic cavity) your body functions very much the same way as a speaker cabinet dose. The initial sound of a speaker is made at the voice coil, the sound then gets amplified again over the surface of the cone, but the real amplification (extra volume is produced from the sound bouncing around inside the cabinet). Its a very simplified explanation of the similarities between the human voice and  the audio speaker, but you should get the general idea. 

 

Experienced singers understand how to tune in there awareness to recognise the resonant sounds the body produces when they are singing. The extra resonance that can be produced by the body is responsible for adding richness and warmth to every note you sing.

 

Since each note you sing is generated at its own unique frequency measured by the number of times per second the vocal chords or folds are required to vibrate to create a desired pitch ( Frequency of sound is measured in hertz).

 

Experienced singers learn to recognise the unique resonant vibration associated with each new pitch and create a library of basic resonant pitches they can use in a performance to help them as internal guide tones.

 

Now here's the no BS part of today's blog. Its not necessary to memorise every pitch and its unique resonating frequency that's too hard and most singers personalities are way too easy going for that kind of hard work. 

 

The easier approach to developing Relative pitch is to memorise octave pitches and there corresponding resonating frequencies. Do this by singing a pitch and then tune in to the corresponding vibration (body resonance). Make a mental snap shot of what the resonant vibration feels like. Start at your lowest note in your speaking voice make an ahh sound and tune in to the vibrations you feel in your chest. Repeatedly sing this note over and over again until you learn to recognise correct pitch of the note by matching the desired note with the body's resonating vibration. Then simply work your way up your range comfortably until you can sing the same note eight notes higher (that's the octave). Once again tune into the sensation of the vibration your body makes when you sing this higher pitch on an ahh sound. Practice sliding between the two pitches ie C3 to C4 and learn to use the body resonance vibration as a back up to assist your ear in determining correct pitch.

 

Skip to the tip to improve pitch recongnition:

Here's a great tip to help reduce the time it takes to tune into your bodies resonating frequencies. Grab a pair of ear muffs or ear plugs, or even cotton wool, or simply place a finger gently in each ear and sing or speak in your lowest comfortable chest voice. Notice how your body will produce vibrations across your chest starting at your lowest notes usually super low notes will produce a vibration in the pit of your stomach mid range chest notes are felt across the top of the chest. Higher notes whether sung or spoken will produce pleasent vibrations at the base of the neck, and behind the cheek bones.

 

The higher you sing the more the body resonance will be felt in the face, particulary behind the cheek bones, and moving into the forehead, really high notes produce vibrations at the top of our head (the crown) and even out the back of the head. Have fun experimenting with body resonance and using your bodys in built vocal tuner. 

 

Better singing everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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