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Perfect Pitch
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Slightly OT: 'perfect pitch' history

Tom Dent wrote (July 18, 2007):
One of the young Mozart's tricks was to name any note instantly by hearing alone - what we now call 'perfect pitch'. More scientifically 'absolute pitch' (AP). But is there any evidence of any other musician before 1800 possessing this ability?

I have seen claims that Bach, Handel, Beethoven and other Famous Composers had AP (eg in an article of Diana Deutsch) - but no credible sources for it.

Of course it would be rather more complicated in Bach's case - and probably for almost all Baroque musicians - since substantially different pitches were in use, even within the same city...

Nessie Russell wrote (July 19, 2007):
[To Tom Dent] Excellelnt question Tom. I have often wondered about this every time someone mentions the historical tunings. A at concert pitch means something to me. It will not mean the same to a person who plays on an instrument which is not tuned at concert pitch. I always want to gag when a parent of a student wants to know if the child has perfect pitch and I know the poor kid is playing on a piano which has not been tuned in years.

Ed Myskowski wrote (July 19, 2007):
[To Nessie Russell] The kid's pitch could be 'perfect' for that piano, no? Or is that absolute relative pitch?

I once heard a snippet of an interview with the late, great jazz vibes player, Milt 'Bags' Jackson. The interviewer noted that Bags was reputed to have perfect pitch, and asked if that was an asset.

Without hesitation, Bags responded (paraphrase): <Not really. If I'm sitting around listening to music with a bunch of cats, and the turntable is a bit off, everybody else is enjoying the music, and I'm just noticing that the turntable isn't quite right.>

Bags was more noted for his modesty, his humanity, his generosity of spirit, than for his 'perfect pitch'. Music unites us, or not. It is up to us.

Hendrick Oesterlin wrote (July 19, 2007):
[To Tom Dent]
I often heard about this faculty of recognising notes in an absolute manner. But there is no absolute manner to tune instruments and the a is not necessarily 440 Hz. The are differences from 415 to 442 Hz. This is equivalent of approx. one half-tone.

In addition, the intervals between the notes are not always equal. Think at the "Wolf interval" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_interval

Wikipedia, especially in the french and german version is quite informative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_tuning

I think that the "absolute pitch" is more an good faculty to remember notes heard previously for some time.

Am I wrong?

Nessie Russell wrote (July 19, 2007):
[To Ed myskowski] Relative pitch can be learnt. Most musicians have relative pitch. If someone plays a note and tells me what it is I can figure out the next note by listening to the interval or distance from the original note.

People are born with absolute or perfect pitch. You don't have to tell them what the first note is. They know it.

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 19, 2007):
[To Nessie Russell] This discussion reminds me of a funny time when I was in college. One of my roommates was a very good pianist, but her vibrato went anywhere from 25 to 35 cents in either direction--possibly more. Yet she claimed she was born with perfect pitch. However, vocally she could not produce anything but relative pitch. This of course just adds one more curve to the discussion. If a person has relatively good pitch that's a blessing. If a person has no sense of pitch that a shame, and musical performance is unlikely to be a strong suit. Having occasionally worked with children and pitch issues there can be many complications beginning with stress. For me, having trained for a few years under George Umberson in the ASU Choral Union, Concert A at 440, I think is home plate. Since many pieces for flute are written in D major, D is at least first base. But an ear infection, sinus infection or a cold can produce fluctuations in pitches produced in even the best of singers. So, in the end bless all those who can stay within whatever tuning is being used. That's my last thought for the day, I submit with a smile for all.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (July 19, 2007):
[To Hendrik Oesterlin] Not exactly. Obviously it does have that element. But it is indeed more complicated than that. Because at least in our day, where there is not such a great range of 'acceptable A's', a musician with perfect pitch will develop a concept of 'A' that represents a range of 'acceptable' frequencies.

Back in Bach's time, it was even more complicated, because of the tuning issues. Then the ability to, for example, sing all the different A's in force in different places, be able to tune one's harpsichord without using any kind of tuning device, and be sure it will come out at the standard pitch for that particular locale, would come in to play (because perfect pitch does involve being able to do that, too).

For that matter, even people with relative pitch who have spent years tuning their instruments develop some concept of A. It may be a relatively general concept, and this may be responsible for the variety of standard A's to be found in the Europe of Bach's time - that there were few who had perfect pitch, and no tuning devices, so people were left to their somewhat vague memory of what an A sounds like.

I wonder if there was a 'standard frequency' for each locale at all, or whether that concept was superimposed later by people from an era where there was a measurable universal standard frequency, on the basis of what they found at a given place - how a given organ was tuned, most likely. It may be that the 'standard frequency' back in the old days in fact changed somewhat every time the organ was tuned.

My, umm, two cents

Tom Dent wrote (July 22, 2007):
Jean Laaninen wrote:
< This discussion reminds me of a funny time when I was in college. One of my roommates was a very good pianist, but her vibrato went anywhere from 25 to 35 cents in either direction--possibly more. >
That's a remarkable achievement for a pianist!

To be more serious, you couldn't develop any accuracy of absolute pitch with an out-of-tune piano - most of the notes have several strings which, it being out of tune, will have slightly different pitches. If the octaves are out of tune too, which is likely, heaven knows what might happen.

It can't be true that people are 'born' with perfect pitch, since the ability as we usually understand it requires you to be able to name pitches immediately. Perhaps it would be better to say that people are (may be) born with the ability to recognise pitches, and some later learn what certain pitches are called.

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 22, 2007):
[To Tom Dent] Thanks for this clarification. As to the pianist mentioned below, I don't think she could help the vibrato, and perhaps I exaggerate, but it was exceedingly difficult to sing next to her and keep a straight face, and any hope of a blend was out of the question. So perfect pitch must be a recognition ability rather than the gift of being able to produce an on target pitch as she intended others to believe. Another mystery solved...

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (July 23, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] Not exactly. Perfect pitch exists in both forms: 1) being able to recognize pitches (and there are people who can recognize any note when they hear it, but can't for the life of them sing any note asked for - you could call this 'passive perfect pitch' - there was a boy in my ear-training class in college who had this variant), and 2) being able to reproduce pitches (it is NOT necessary to know the names of the pitches - I once knew a gentleman who was not a musician (but rather a computer geek), who had no idea of the names of notes, but was able to remember perfectly and reproduce at will the exact pitches that are produced by pressing the keys on a touch-tone phone, which ability he used to procure touch-tone service for himself wihaving to pay for it...). And then there are people who can do both things (this is probably the vast majority of people who are said to have 'perfect pitch' - including yours truly). So no, perfect pitch is NOT just a recognition ability.

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 23, 2007):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] Thanks, Cara. I bit my tongue all through college and did not say anything to this person, but I was indeed mystified by her claims. Then again, to put the best slant on things she probably understood her ability in the terms she used to describe herself, and since she was a very good pianist, to be respected for what she was able to do. To be honest here, I don't think I ever heard her correct the singing pitch of another person, and I guess this is a good place to leave off for me. I now have a broader outlook on this topic.

Cara Emily Thornton wrote (July 23, 2007):
[To Jean Laaninen] Was re-reading this thread, and I must say, you are a better woman than I, biting your tongue while singing next to a sound source that oscillates 25-30 cents on each note? I would have gone out my blinking mind!!!

Jean Laaninen wrote (July 23, 2007):
[To Cara Emily Thornton] Thanks, Cara. It was pretty hard to manage singing next to this girl, but my mother was a gracious woman and a good musician, and she taught all four of us to try to be considerate of the feelings of others. I have to chuckle when I think back because mother loved the beatitudes. I never really understood the verse, Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth, until my late fifties. Mother, music and peace were and are about survival, but I did feel a little out of my mind under the circumstances, and never really spoke to anyone about it until this topic came up. Your insight helps me to have insight. And I also have to laugh a little because my luck usually has been in choirs to either wind up next to someone with too much vibrato or someone who is having pitch problems. How funny. Now that I am retired and work on my own recordings I have discovered that I hit A, G and D dead center virtually all the time, and if I am off it is ordinarily three to five cents...occasionally a little more if I punch a note or something. So my awareness and the ear training from mixing and mastering has increased my observations. I have to remind myself however to listen for the message so I don't turn every listening experience into a tuning assignment. But, I do have to say that people with good pitch perception really appreciate it when the soloist can stay with the orchestra--and I am sure it goes both ways.

Julian Mincham wrote (July 30, 2007):
I haven't been able to read all of the recent postings or respond recently, but I came across a couple on the notion of perfect pitch which is an interesting subject.

I think someone mentioned that it wouldn't be an inherited gift as people would have to learn the names of the notes. However there's no reason why the ability to recall exact pitches should not be inherited ( personally I think that it is) and we learn what to call them later, within our own cultural settings.

It's a complicated business though and I think that there are different kinds and levels of perfect pitch. Some years ago I studied with an organist who could not name individual notes but could tell you in a few bars what key you were playing in. It was not a matter of association with known pieces as it also worked with improvisations.

I read some years ago in the BBC accompanist Gerald Moore's book the Unashamed Accompanist that he deliberately set about detroying his own sense of perfect pitch because it got in the way so much when he was transposing. I think that the English pianist Cyril Smith (another very readable biog called Duet for Three Hands) wrote of a tour in Russia in the 1950s when the pianos were up to a semitome out of pitch and the considerable intellectual feat he underwent of having to transpose everything mentally in his head as he played.

The problem of Bach and Cantata BWV 18 composers is very interesting. I find it difficult to believe that Bach did not have a keen sense of perfect pitch--but then how did he related this to the different fundamental pitches he was required to work with in his professional career? Perhaps he applied a sense or 'relativism' to the different circumstances--i.e. he recalled accurately the pitches of the notes of any scales given the different environments from which they originated. I'm not aware of any research done on this but would be interested if anyone has come across any.

Incidentally I read some years ago (can't recall where) that Schoenberg was one of the few great composers not to have had a sense of perfect pitch!

Some people may not be surprised at that!

 

Perfect Pitch

Continue of discussion from: Sinfonia in D major BWV 1045 - Discussions Part 2

Neil Mason (July 28, 2013):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Absolute Pitch is something people are born with and can't be taught. Some singers complain that the "gift" is a real headache. Thought I'd add my two bits worth to this subject. >
The first of the above sentences is one I cannot agree with. The second is 100% correct.

Of course it used to be thought that absolute pitch could not be taught. But Suzuki in Japan (after whom the Suzuki method is named) found that if kids were young enough they could indeed be taught absolute pitch. I can't remember exactly where the threshhold lies, but it was certainly under six years old.

(Off the topic, language acquisition is much the same. Young kids can be effortlessly multi-lingual, never confusing the separate languages with each other).

Yes, the "gift" can be a real headache, but not always. I have just been handed my part for a piece just composed for vocal quartet with small instrumental ensemble. My score has 40 bars rest, after which I have to sing an E. The other three singers have perfect pitch but I don't, so I will have to sing from a full score.

Douglas Cowling (July 30, 2013):
Neil Mason wrote:
< But Suzuki in Japan (after whom the Suzuki method is named) found that if kids were young enough they could indeed be taught absolute pitch. I can't remember exactly where the threshhold lies, but it was certainly under six years old. >
Here's the relevant Suzuki rationale: http://www.perfectpitch.com/suzuki.htm

I simply don't believe it.

Neil Mason (July 30, 2013):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Here's the relevant Suzuki rationale: http://www.perfectpitch.com/suzuki.htm
I simply don't believe it. >
I don't blame you, I think the stated theory of how it's achieved is BS.

However they do seem to have achieved results over several decades.

Julian Mincham (July 30, 2013):
Pitch issues

Julian Mincham wrote:
<< Another possible solution occurred to me too. Could it be that the very thorough musical education that the boy undoubtedly had included developing a sense of absolute pitch from an early age? This too, would solve the problem of finding the first note. >>
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< Many good singers have a very reliable Relative Pitch in which they can intellectually find the pitch from a larger context. For instance, an attentive choir singing the Mass in B Minor can listen to the orchestra tuning and has no problem singing the opening B minor chord without "getting their note."
Absolute Pitch is something people are born with and can't be taught. Some singers complain that the "gift" is a real headache. Most singers do not mind if "Modern Pitch" (A = 440) or "Baroque Pitch" (A = 415) is used. Those with Absolute Pitch have to intellectually adjust when reading the music. And of course, if the choir is singing unaccompanied and the collective piich begins to sag, it is agony for those with absolute pitch. I remember once singing the Sanctus of the Bruckner "Mass in E Minor" which begins with two pages of unaccompanied singing after which a full wind and brass ensemble enters. the pitch slipped in the unaccompanied opening. One singer with absolute pitch said it was like being tied to a railway track, knowing that a polytonal collision was approaching.
Bach made notes that he would normally "preludize" before all cantatas, even those with an orchestral introduction, so it would appear that he saw those improvisations as part of a practical continuum that stretched from the time of Gabrieli in the late 16th century to Mozart in the late 18th century. Bach's singers were trained to take their pitch from these "intonazione", and McCreesh and Leaver suggest that the players were trained to tune discreetly during these preludes. Staying in tune for three hours in a cold German church starting at 7 am on a wintry Christmas Day must have been a logistical challenge. We don't know what the contemporary tolerance was for extraneous talking and tuning in Bach's time, but it is unlikely that the "Bayreuth Hush" of the modern concert hall after the high-formalized tuning was the expected norm. >
Another possibility is that Bach looked for a sense of PP when auditioning the student. We know from later documentary evidence how keen he was that the boys be accepted on their musical rather than their general abilities.

I think that the term absolute pitch is often used too narrowly. There are all sorts of gradations. I had a lecturer, an organist, who could not tell what a single note was when played, but could always tell you what key the music was being played in. Violinists lacking a solid sense of PP can often accurately pitch their A by placing their fingers in the right position--a link between physicality and the mental image.Perfect pitch can also be destroyed. The great british accompanist Gerald Moore relates in one of his books of autobiography that his acute sense of pitch became a real hindrance when transposing accompaniments so he set out to eradicate it.

I read somewhere that Schoenberg, unlike most composers, did not have PP. Might explain a lot!

Douglas Cowling (July 30, 2013):
Bach & Audiions

Julian Mincham wrote:
< Another possibility is that Bach looked for a sense of PP when auditioning the student. We know from later documentary evidence how keen he was that the boys be accepted on their musical rather than their general abilities. >
Given that so many listers have prejudices against the use of boys' voices in Bach's music (not you, Julian), it might be useful to speculate on his approach to young people at their auditions.

The major question is whether Bach was looking for the well-trained older boy who could immediately step into a performance of "Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen", or was looking for natural talent that could be developed. Probably a mixture of both. The audition was apparently a grading event: each boy would be placed in one of the four choirs depending on their musical abilities. Choir 1 sang the concerted music like cantatas and missae; Choir 4 sang only unison chorales. The school functioned essentially as an apprentice system with boys moving up as their abilities developed.

It is unlikely that Bach ever turned away an accomplished boy. As a connoisseur of voices, he would have known instantly if a voice was exceptional -- his mind probably raced ahead to possible compositions. However, the older experienced boy of, say, 10 or 11 years was a short-term gain: Bach would only have him for 2 or 3 years before hormonal destiny called. The auditions had to be part of a long-term training program that might have an 7 to 8-year trajectory for an individual boy.

I would guess that the auditions took place in the school with Bach at a keyboard. The four prefects may have been invited to observe. They would have to oversee a similar process in their own future careers. We don't know how collegial Bach was. Did he ask them afterwards to share their "notes" on individual boys before announcing his decisions?

What was Bach looking for?

* Natural beauty of the voice. Great voices have a unique quality that immediately presents itself and has a compelling presence. But the Great Voice may not be backed up with well-trained technique.

* Security of intonation and pitch. The singer is able to sing without variation in sound quality or pitch. Although Absolute Pitch might be a factor, secure intonation and evenness of tone is invariably a consequence of good breathing technique.

* Sense of Rhythm. Given a particular tempo, the singer can perform without slowing down or speeding up. Singers unconsciously speed up in "easy" passages and slow down at the ends of phrases when they breathe.

* Sight-Reading. The ability to read music and sing it without hearing it before. This is a prized ability for conductors because it reduces rehearsal time and rote-learning.

* Reading Ability. The ability to read and know how to pronounce complex texts in several languages is a high-level skill that is essential.

So how did Bach's audition proceed?

Bach probably first asked the boy to sing a familiar chorale - say "Nun Danket Alle Gott" -- from memory and unaccompanied.

Many boys may have been thanked at this point and assigned to Choir 4. It wasn't that they were necessarily bad singers, but their age, musical experience or temperment indicated that they needed to start with the basic program.

With other boys, Bach might ask them to sing the same verse while he improvised an elaborate accompaniment. That would demonstrate confidence in a polyphonic texture.

They might then be asked to step to a music desk and sing a verse of an unfamiliar hymn from a hymn book.

Then turning to the motet book, Bach might ask for a familiar motet such as Handl's "Ecce Quomodo" which was a choral staple at funerals and Good Friday. Bach may or may not have played the other voices on the keyboard.

He would then ask them to sing something unfamiliar, perhaps the soprano part for that Sunday's cantata.

He might then play or sing notes and ask the boy to match the pitches.

Then perhaps to read passages from the German Bible and a Latin psalm.

Applicants may have been asked to come with a prepared song or aria. Bach had probably made his decision much earlier in the process, but an exceptional boy might have had the privilege of singing his audition piece with Johann Sebastian Bach as his accompanist.

The process would have been modified for each boy as Bach assessed present abilities and future possibilities.

It's hard to judge how Bach presented himself to his young applicants. Handel was famous for his jocular style with young singers which relaxed them and motivated them to sing their best. Although Bach is often presented as stern and overly-serious, he certainly understood children and there is no suggestion from CPE that he was a frightening martinet.

The major point in all of this is that Bach's performing forces were part of an extensive apprentice system more like the modern Royal School of Music or an English choir school than a professional choir and orchestra.

Linda Gingrich (July 30, 2013):
I think that the term absolute pitch is often used too narrowly. There are all sorts of gradations.

As a conductor I have long noticed that although I don't have perfect pitch, after a week or two of mental rehearsal within my auditory brain, and actual rehearsals on various pieces with my chorus, I can usually deliver at least the melody pitch to the chorus (or to myself, I've checked it on the piano), often other pitches as well. This applies to sections within the piece as well as the opening measure. And my conducting teacher, Abraham Kaplan, who spent many years working with perfect-pitch Leonard Bernstein, agrees that there are gradations, and it could fluctuate from day-to-day within an individual. He once told me that Bernstein somewhat uncertainly hummed a pitch during a rehearsal, than asked to have it confirmed and was quite pleased when it was confirmed. Apparently at that partmoment even he wasn't sure he had hummed the correct pitch!

David Herzstein Cough (July 31, 2013):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< I read somewhere that Schoenberg, unlike most composers, did not have PP. Might explain a lot! >.
I know Julian was merely making a joke at Schoenberg's expense, but still here are some (other) composers who probably lacked perfect pitch (according to some reasonably respected sources - NY Times, BBC
Music Magazine, Nicholas Slominsky) :

Wagner, Ravel, Stravinsky, Haydn, Schumann...

.... and perhaps Leonard Bernstein: Linda Gingrich just passed on to us an anecdote about "perfect-pitch Leonard Bernstein" on a bad day -- he was pleased that he got a pitch correct in a rehearsal. But several sources say he did NOT have PP. (A somewhat entertaining example is at: Notes On Absolute Pitch by Edward Gold).

Considering the difficulty of "hearing" a 12-tone score without extraordinary relative pitch abilities or a piano at hand, I would think that Schoenberg would have greatly benefited from having PP -- but now it sounds like I am agreeing with Julian: "It might have been better for us all if Schoenberg had possessed PP!"

Douglas Cowling (July 31, 2013):
Schoenberg and his singers ...

David Couch wrote:
< Considering the difficulty of "hearing" a 12-tone score without extraordinary relative pitch abilities or a piano at hand, I would think that Schoenberg would have greatly benefited from having PP -- but now it sounds like I am agreeing with Julian: "It might have been better for us all if Schoenberg had possessed PP!" >
Schoenberg's approach to vocal music is interesting. I once watched the BBC Singers perform a ferociously difficult unaccompanied piece by Schoenberg. Now that choir simply does not have any technical problems. They're frighteningly perfect. And yet for this piece, they all had tuning forks which they listened to at choreographed moments during the performance.

Schoenberg sometimes helped his singers who had all been trained in bel canto technique and were largely unable to sing with the focussed "white" sound without vibrato that is the norm today in all pre-Romantic and modern music. In his opera "Moses und Aron", the Voice of God in the Burning Bush is created by six singers who have fiendishly difficult music to sing. To assist them, Schoenberg directed that they sit in the orchestra pit beside instruments which played their parts. The effect combined with the offstage Sprechstimme chorus is quite electrifying: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4lQ_24UUg8

Julian Mincham (July 31, 2013):
[To David Couch] I read somewhere that Berlioz was another. I suspect whether a composer had PP or not may sometimes have influenced their methods of composition; Stravinsky famously composed at the piano which, presumably, limits the need to 'conceptualise' the score. Wagner and Schoenberg must have had a phenominally accurate sense of relative pitch since they both shut themselves away from the keyboard and committed directly to paper.

Douglas Cowling (July 31, 2013):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Wagner and Schoenberg must have had a phenominally accurate sense of relative pitch since they both shut themselves away from the keyboard and committed directly to paper. >
Wagner's compositional drafts are fascinating to study. He generally composed on 3 or 4 staffs on which showed the principal motivic material and harmonic progression, but the vast body of scoring was left until he began the full score.

Linda Gingrich (July 31, 2013):
and perhaps Leonard Bernstein: Linda Gingrich just passed on to us an anecdote about "perfect-pitch Leonard Bernstein" on a bad day -- he was pleased that he got a pitch correct in a rehearsal. But several sources say he did NOT have PP

That's interesting about Bernstein. Abe Kaplan apparently thought he had perfect pitch...but maybe Bernstein had enough ego that he liked letting some people think he had it! If he lacked PP, the story of his delight at singing the right pitch makes sense.

Claudio Di Veroli (July 31, 2013):
[To Linda Gingrich] Have read with attention this interchange about PP. I have failed to find some important facts about it.

I had PP as a young man and I have devoted to the matter some attention: here are some details about PP and myself that friends interested in the matter may find interesting:

1. PP is minimally affected by the quality of our hearing: it is mainly a brain memory property.

2. Regardless of the effectiveness of Suzuki's method, I believe it can indeed be acquired by training, but only as a child and not by everybody.

3. When I was 6 years old my piano teacher once paraded me in a theater as a sort of circus phenomenon: he showed, to everybody's amazement, that a child with only 2 years of piano training could tell one after the other, not looking at the piano, the notes of any chord or cluster up to 10 notes.

4. Although I know that some people are bothered by PP (their memory is so strong that bothers them if they do not follow it), many others (like myself) have never been bothered by it: my PP was something I "invoked" when I wanted to know, and it helped me a lot in playing chamber music. In my 20's I was a clarinet student of Jack Brymer in London, and he said that I played better in tune than most: I had not realised it until I was told.
Surely PP helped.

5. When decades later I started playing early music and was frequently switching between playing piano (including tuning pianos) and clarinet at A=440Hz, and on the other side playing harpsichord (tuning included) and transverse flute at A=415Hz, I soon lost my PP. Nowadays, once I have not been playing for about one hour, if I hear music I do not know I have that "semitone doubt" about pitch.

5. Just to check, a couple of years ago I performed an online PP self-test: to my utter humiliation, I no longer qualify for the "official" definition of PP!

Yours "ex-PP", :-(

Neil Mason (July 31, 2013):
Claudio Di Veroli wrote:
< Have read with attention this interchange about PP. I have failed to find some important facts about it.
I had PP as a young man and I have devoted to the matter some attention: here are some details about PP and myself that friends interested in the matter may find interesting: >
Thank you for sharing your personal experience with PP.

You are the first person I am aware of who has lost PP. I wonder if that is common, and to what extent it was related to working with two pitch levels.

Claudio Di Veroli (July 31, 2013):
[To Neil Mason] I have read online that, indeed it is common to lose the PP when you are (as I am now) past 60 years of age.

However, I lost my PP much earlier, and then kept that semitone of error: I can only attribute it to playing with different pitch levels which, in hindsight, were more than two:back in Buenos Aires I played with a chamber ensemble made up of members of the Orquesta Sinfonica Naciona. They tune to the oboe, and since they employ French oboes at A=447, that is the pitch of the orchestra. On the other side, some chamber ensembles and harpsichords used to play at A=440, while the few period instrument ensembles used A=415 and A=392 (the latter for French baroque). This goes a long way texplain the loss of PP, IMHO.

Linda Gingrich (July 31, 2013):
PP is minimally affected by the quality of our hearing: it is mainly a brain memory property.

That has been my impression, that is primarily a property of memory. And how interesting that it more or less faded away!

One more observation. I remember part way through my second-year music theory class the teacher handing out a page of exercises with a melody written at the top of the page. I idly gazed at the page, waiting for the entire class to receive the handout, when I suddenly realized that the melody was forming itself in my brain with no apparent effort on my part. It probably wasn't at the pitch on the page, but the correct melody was there, borne out a few minutes later as we began the exercises. And that seemed to be the most important thing. This was possible only because of several years of interval training, music dictation, sight singing, etc--which was a pain at the time, but for which I am most grateful now!

Julian Mincham (August 1, 2013):
[To Claudio Di Veroli] THis is fascinating because I think I may have lost the ability too. I grew up in remote areas with no piano and my formal musical education came late. But when I went to the places of people who had a piano I loved to sit down and pick out tunes I knew by ear and I remember having to play them at what sounded like the 'right' pitch i.e. in various keys (although I did not understand what that meant). My father was a self taught violinist and I have many memories of going to sleep as he played, by ear as he did not read music, operatic melodies, folk songs, Stephen Foster tunes etc. I sus pect that he tuned casually and not always to the same pitch and therefore I had no continuing standard by which to consolidate a sense of PP.

No way of proving it but I have often wondered if my need to reproduce tunes on the piano at the 'right' pitch indicated some sense of inborn PP which was lost over the years because of the lack of a norm or constant. As I have already remarked, Gerald Moore made a point of the fact that he set out to eradicate his very precise sense of PP because it hampered him professionally

Douglas Cowling (August 1, 2013):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< But when I went to the places of people who had a piano I loved to sit >down and pick out tunes I knew by ear and I remember having to play them >at what sounded like the 'right' pitch i.e. in various keys (although I did not understand what that meant). >
The question of musical memory is colouring this discussion. Well-known pieces have a strong claim on our memory. Think of the opening of the 5th Symphony and sing the opening. You will probably be within a quarter-tone of the correct pitch. The same for tempo, although Toscanni ALWAYS surprises.

William Rowland (Ludwig) (August 2, 2013):
Composition technique

[To Douglas Cowling] Wagner DID NOT have a phenominally accurate sense of relative pitch--well at least according to his grand kids et al. He used the piano. What is necessary in composing (and Wagner did it the hard way) is to memorize a pitch and everything from that is a few steps up or down. Now my information comes from the Wagner family. We all must check our writings against some sort of instrument no matter how accuruately we can write down things. These days computers are wonderful in helping us get down things just as they would be from the publisher press.

Ed Myskowski (August 5, 2013):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Gerald Moore made a point of the fact that he set out to eradicate his very precise sense of PP because it hampered him professionally >
Milt Jackson, legendary jazz vibraphone player (Modern Jazz Quartet and much more) made a similar point once in a radio interview. When asked if he thought PP gave him any performance benefits, he felt just the opposite, especially in social situations. The example I recall that he cited related to vinyl records on turntables: if the speed were a bit off, that was all he could think of, while everyone else would still be enjoying the music.

 

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Last update: żOctober 12, 2013 ż20:49:22