Monday, May 05, 2008

Everything you ever wanted to know about Perfect Pitch !

Hi there, it's been a long time !

You may remember one of my firsts articles when I said I didn't even have Perfect Pitch. Well, it may be about to change.
But first, let's talk about Perfect Pitch.

Every time you look for the words "perfect pitch", it's associated with another word : "myth". Hence "the myth of perfect pitch".
Well, let's make a clear statement here :

1) Perfect pitch itself is not a myth. Some "real" people have it, on planet Earth, so it's a FACT. And by definition, FACTS are not MYTHS.

2) What is regarded as a myth, however, is the ability to obtain perfect pitch if you weren't born with it.
So while people usually don't argue that perfect pitch does exist, they use to argue about the possibility to obtain it. Some say you have to be born with it, some say you have to get it before you're 5 year-old, some say before 20. Some say "bullshit !".

3) Perfect pitch is not a fixed ability. It's not simple like "you have it or you don't". Even people who have it don't have it at the same degree.
Pefect pitch is the ability to sing or recognize a tone without previous reference, like, you're at a party and a beautiful girl comes to you :

Beautiful girl : Hi !
You : Hi ! What's you name ?
Beautiful girl : I'll tell you if you can sing me some G#.
You : WTF ?!

Therefore you can say you've got perfect pitch to some extent if you're capable of singing or recognizing a single tone (let's say A, for instance). But that's obviously not what musicians are looking for. They don't want the maid room, they want the royal suite.
So further into the ability, some people can recognize and sing all the tones. Then clusters of tones (like chords, for instance), those clusters may be of 2, 3 or 10 notes.
At the end of the spectrum, we may have people capable of identifying the frequency of the tone :

Mr Freak : can you give me a 440 A ?
You :*playing the piano* AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
Mr Freak : What kind of A is this ?! This piano sounds horribly flat, that was a 439 A !
You : WTF ?!

Okay, so let's make it simple : it's usually OK to say you've GOT perfect pitch if you can sing in tune or recognize the 12 tones.

That was the definition part. Now to the news.

I thought it would be cool to be able to write on my blog that though I'm about to be 35 I've managed to GET perfect pitch at my ripe old age. Just to piss off the guys who say you can't.
The good news is : it seems to work, slowly but surely.

And in case you're thinking I'm gifted, or that I had it without knowing it, here is a real story that, though shameful, proves that I DIDN'T have it :

Some years ago I tried to enter the American School of Modern Music in Paris, France. There were several tests, first some writing exam, then the oral exam where you had to play some stuff, recognize chords and sing some music sheet.
I failed miserably at the second part. Here is how it went :

Teacher : *playing various chords on a piano*
Me : *failing at telling what kind of chords they are*
Teacher, thinking "at least he'll get this one" : *Major 7 chord face*
Me : "Major 7th ?"
Teacher : "yes"
Me : "YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAHH !" *running everywhere, high-fiving everyone in the room*

I was that bad.

So lately I really wanted to improve my ear and I looked on the net and all, and there was one guy who gave a simple hint : just listen to the tone of your phone every hour.
The thing is, I have the kind of job where you're on the phone several times per hour. Not only that, but since we have an internal line, the tone I get when I pick up the phone is E. Then I dial 0 and get the national A. So every time I pick up the phone I get to memorize 2 tones instead of one.
Not only that, but A is a perfect fourth above E and, as you may know, France's national anthem "La Marseillaise" starts with a perfect fourth interval. Lucky me.

I've started 2 weeks ago. Before picking up the phone I sing an E, pick up and check, readjust my E, then sing an A, dial 0 and check again.
Thanks to the Marseillaise, my A were always in tune from the start, but my E were flat (more like D, actually). Now I'm just a little flat with my E, but I can sing A without hearing the E first.

So my advice is : there are tons of "methods" to get perfect pitch, but before buying anything, try the telephone trick, it DOES work. At least you'll get a perfect A.

The other "trick" I use is a Nintendo DS software in Japanese called "Tenohira Gakushuu - Zettai Onkan Training". Please, DO NOT mistake it for another game with the words "zettai onkan" (wich means "perfect pitch"), "Zettai Onkan Otoda Master", which has nothing to do with perfect pitch training !
I'm using that soft every night before sleeping, it starts with chords recognition (it says it works better when starting with chords instead of single tones).

I can't say I've become Mr P.P. yet, but the music I hear in my head is a lot clearer. I've read that some people were able to get the 12 tones in 1 week, but I'm not in a hurry.
I've had many readers coming here thanks to the DragonForce articles, let's see how many will come for the Perfect Pitch...;-D.

This blog is also well known for its ranting tone, so here is the ranting part :

How is it that most people talking about perfect pitch on discussion fora are orchestra musicians ?
I mean, I can understand the quest for perfect pitch when you're a jazz musician improvising on chords thrown at you without warning, but what is the frigging purpose of getting perfect pitch when your job is about READING MUSIC ?!!! WTF ?!


Blogger OJ said...

Nox, tu déchires.
Je me suis encore pété les abdos.
Les petits dialogues sont du tonnerre. Quant au m'arrive de penser que tu as oublié l'existece même de David Gavurin, Robert Smith, Joey Santiago et ce genre, tu vois? On peut pas t'en vouloir. Sauf qu'on voudrait bien voir des vidéos de TOI qui joue comme un vieux taré. On y croit. Please. Youtube n'est pas réservé à la jeunesse...

8:51 PM  
Blogger Nox said...


You probably won't SEE me playing this year. First because I don't have a video camera (webcam, etc.). And because I've been very busy lately with a (professional) Japanese translation that will make me unable to focus on the music at least until september.

I DO spend some time recording music, though, so maybe I'll put some .mp3 next year.
And maybe I'll even open a new website about the band where you will be able to download the music, NIN-style...

David Gavurin ? Yeah, I like his wife !

12:21 PM  

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