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What is the smallest pitch difference you can hear?

  • +/- 1 Cent (or smaller)

    Votes: 5 21.7%
  • +/- 2 Cent

    Votes: 4 17.4%
  • +/- 5 Cent

    Votes: 8 34.8%
  • +/- 10 Cent

    Votes: 6 26.1%
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I started again on concentrating on my intonation some time ago. And it was very frustrating. To do this, I started to work with tuners. What I realise is, that there are pitch deviations (?) which my tuner shows, but which I don't hear. The area of plus/minus 10 Cents I am not able to hear. I orientate myself "optically" by using the two red lights (Flat and sharp) of my tuner, until only the green light is on. Is this something I can train? And how would I do that?

PS: I am convinced, that is best, not to depend on using a tuner too often. But as long as I am not able to detect the pitch accurately enough, I think there is no way around...
 

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There's a lot of classic work in psychoacoustics on the limits of pitch perception. The general rule of thumb is that a change in frequency needs to be about 5 cents in order for it to be detected by a human listener.
 

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It depends on the situation. If you play two tones together that are slightly out of tune and listen for beat frequencies, you can make a finer definition.

It also depends on the frequency range of the original pitch. If it's in the midrange it's easier to tell than if it's a high frequency or a low tone.

Harmonic content and loudness also has an effect.

Conclusion: there's no simple question or simple answer in this world. The answer is always 'It's different in different situations'.
 

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Not sure, I haven't really tested it. Like hak said, with two at the same time, I can usually tell if they're at the same time. At different times, if lts's test is accurate, I can tell at 1.5Hz but not .75, if that means anything.
 

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Conclusion: there's no simple question or simple answer in this world. The answer is always 'It's different in different situations'.
Totally.

There's situations in which I could hear + or - 1 cent, other times maybe not even a quarter tone!
 

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Not sure, I haven't really tested it. Like hak said, with two at the same time, I can usually tell if they're at the same time. At different times, if lts's test is accurate, I can tell at 1.5Hz but not .75, if that means anything.
It doesn't. Here's why. written music is a log scale, frequency (Hz) is a linear scale.

Consider this:

The difference between the octave between 60 and 120 Hz is 60 Hz. The difference between the octave at 440 Hz and 880 Hz is 440 Hz. So, the higher the frequency, the more Hz. per octave.

So a measurement in Hz makes no sense.
 

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I started again on concentrating on my intonation some time ago. And it was very frustrating. To do this, I started to work with tuners. What I realise is, that there are pitch deviations (?) which my tuner shows, but which I don't hear. The area of plus/minus 10 Cents I am not able to hear. I orientate myself "optically" by using the two red lights (Flat and sharp) of my tuner, until only the green light is on. Is this something I can train? And how would I do that?

PS: I am convinced, that is best, not to depend on using a tuner too often. But as long as I am not able to detect the pitch accurately enough, I think there is no way around...
From you original post, it sounds as if you're "trying" to train to discern "perfect pitch" which if other posts I've read are true, you either have it or don't and those who have it have it prior to their (3rd or 5th?) birthday.

To me (IMHO) that says you probably can't "train" to it. Relative pitch is what we all seem to be talking about when we talk about playing "in tune". "In tune" being our ability to match pitch to another instrument or reference tone. I can't answer your question as to how close I can match up relatively unless you use a tuner to ascertain each tone separately and compute the difference between the two tones AFTER you have matched the intonation by ear to the best of your ability.

Best I can hear is "close enough for government work" as I've never tested to find the true delta (which would only speak to my acuity) and would be of limited use in almost any case where I have to tune to an "out of tune" piano or (pick one) trombone player, accordian player, etc.

If you are tuning to a tuner and trying to nail "green" lights, the answer to your poll becomes dependent upon the quality/threshold values of the tuner, and whether or not you might be red/green color-blind... not necessarily on what your hearing acuity delta really is.

This isn't meant to be a scientific answer to a question which is couched in parametric terms, I'm just applying my own particular warped logic and biases to the question which leads to my succinct answer of: I truly have no idea.
 

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what helped my sense of pitch was when I used to play the violin, since there aren't keys to press nor frets, you have to be incredibly precise in finger placement. and you test intonation by playing adjacent strings. That trains the air to pick up the delicate differences frequency beats.

so i think string players naturally develop really accurate ears.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
i think string players naturally develop really accurate ears.
or they stop playing;-) the question remains: how do they develop their ears. For instance: everybody "can" sing, but most people don't have good intonation when singing. Myself included. I am Not sure if my ears would develop automatically if I sung more.
 

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i think string players naturally develop really accurate ears.
or they stop playing;-) the question remains: how do they develop their ears. For instance: everybody "can" sing, but most people don't have good intonation when singing. Myself included. I am Not sure if my ears would develop automatically if I sung more.
That's true, I guess the quesiton is whether string players have good ears becaues they trained themselves that way or whether only good ears players remain after bad ones drop out.

I always assumed the practice of playing the adjacent strng, and listening for the matching tone helped excersize the ear towards accuracy. On the violin, you can finger an E with a pinky on the A string and then play both the A string (with pinky) and the open E string next to it. If your pinky is accurate and the two vibrating strings should sound perfectly in unison. When that happens it's beautiful, and you can literally feel the physial pusle of the matching note. Similarly you can finger say a G on one stirng and a D on another, and play both strings, and feel the perfect 5th resonate. If you're off a little, you don't have the resonnating pulse feel. So the pratice of listening for that helps with sense of pitch accuracy.

But I guess you can't do that on a Sax.
 

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At the university I am studying at, they have a massive emphasis on aural work and singing, and even after only two years of it, I can assure you that it improves your ability to tune dramatically. The program involves learning and constantly singing everything in sol-fa (we use movable do system). We learn everything in sol-fa from Mozart to scales and modes, and do heaps of part work in groups between 1 and 5, as well as choral classes. It really does help you hear the pitch alterations, so my suggestion is that if you want to improve, learn (and practice) sol-fa!
Hope this helps!
 

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One test that a former director used for entrance to the Wind Ensemble was that he had a series of 5 tone bars, like a mini vibraphone, 438 hz, 439, 440, 441, and 442. At your audition, he would play a series of them and ask, for each pair, which was higher or lower. If you could discern 1 hz difference, it helped your chances of making the ensemble, as he was VERY picky about playing in tune. So, I know that I can pretty readily hear that 441 is higher than 440, when the two are played consecutively.

Not sure that it's a definitive test, by any means, but it provided him with one more data point on each auditionee.
 

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Is this something I can train? And how would I do that?
Yes, you can train for this. The simplist way is to play or sing along with root-fith-octave drone. You can make that with a synth, but much easier to simply buy the Tuning CD. Use it for a month and you will see a huge improvement. Also, it seems your tuner is not very accurate. Most tuners are made for guitarists and what you really want is a Peterson or similar. They are far more accurate.

I find as I get older my hearing of pitch gets better and better.
 

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"Static" pre-tuning is not the same as playing with intonation. B:cool:
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·

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One test that a former director used for entrance to the Wind Ensemble was that he had a series of 5 tone bars, like a mini vibraphone, 438 hz, 439, 440, 441, and 442. At your audition, he would play a series of them and ask, for each pair, which was higher or lower. If you could discern 1 hz difference, it helped your chances of making the ensemble, as he was VERY picky about playing in tune. So, I know that I can pretty readily hear that 441 is higher than 440, when the two are played consecutively.

Not sure that it's a definitive test, by any means, but it provided him with one more data point on each auditionee.
I don't think it can be at all definitive. It shows a skill at being able to tell when a tone bar is 1 cent sharp or flat, but IMO no indication whatsoever of whether somebody is qualified to play in an ensemble.

I wonder how many people can tell what is happening in this soundclip without using a tuner.
 
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