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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all,

I'm having a few problems with hearing notes in various contexts and I would like to know if anybody has ever had similar experiences. So here we go, I'll try to explain this as clearly as possible. If there is any confusion, please do not hesitate to ask questions.

1) When I hear a tenor saxophone, I know which notes are being played simply by hearing the different tones of the saxophone (example: A C2 sounds very ''open'' because almost all the toneholes are open as opposed to a D2 where they are almost all closed). I do not need a harmonic context, it could just be an acapella tenor sax and I could transcribe every note just by hearing the different tones.

2) I'm pretty sure I have perfect pitch. At any given time of the day (even when I've just woken up), I can sing any note (in concert pitch) and get it right. I can also hear the pitch of various objects, such as microwaves, planes, and sometimes a jackhammer if the pitch is clear. When I do this I DO NOT think of of a tenor sax tone as a reference. This perfect pitch (or whatever you want to call it) doesn't work in complex harmonic situations, but that could also be my lack of experience.

3) When I practice my solfège, I will hear the tones of a tenor sax in my head to make my life easier. When I practice with movable do, it becomes much harder and I have to change my way of hearing (I start thinking of relative pitch and have to depend on a harmonic context and/or go with intervals such as semitones and wholetones). Nevertheless, I can do it, it's just different and less instinctual.

4) When I hear a piano, I guess I hear both ways. I definitely hear the first few notes with perfect pitch, and if it's a simple melody my relative pitch will help me too.

Here's the problem. I have a lot of trouble hearing the bassline while playing tenor sax because I get confused. While I'm playing, I hear the different tones (and pitches) of the notes in my head. So the sax part is no problem. But since I can't be using my perfect pitch and my ''tenor pitch'' at the same time, I get confused with the bass. Even when I'm transcribing a bassline, it will take a significantly longer amount of time than if it was a tenor sax.

I will do the same thing for an alto sax as a tenor sax. I don't play alto anymore, but when I transcribe it, I ALWAYS transcribe in Eb. Whether it's an alto or a tenor, I am practically incapable of transcribing in concert pitch because I use the tones of the sax instead of it's harmonic context.

That being said, I hate playing a melody of a tune with an alto sax because I hear the tones of the alto sax and know the chords in Bb and it drives me absolutely mad.

I guess my question is: Should I keep hearing the tones because it works or should I work on my relative ear? How do I work on my relative ear if my instinct of hearing the tones always takes over the harmonic context?

I know it's an unusual problem, but I hope some of you will have had some similar issues and could help me out.

If ever you wanted to know what is my level of playing, please check out my band's tunes at https://soundcloud.com/ . In ''Pink and Purple'', I take a solo at 1:16

Thanks!!

Livejazz
 

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Must be nice ;) ...Just keep transcribing bass, you'll get better at hearing it and faster at it and eventually your skill set will translate to it. Just keep working on it, Bass is harder to hear for me too; it's lower and creates more overtones. Practicing over a drone can also be helpful...
 

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It sound like you're right about having perfect pitch. Just don't neglect practicing your relative pitch. The fact that you don't hear well in harmonic situations could be related to your relative pitch. Just do normal ear training exercises with chords
 

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Be aware that many musicians that have perfect pitch have problems with switching between C-,Eb- and Bb-instruments as also with their transposition.
For them it also is much more difficult to get relative pitch to work.
Try to find others with perfect pitch, their advice could help you really much more than any advice regarding eartraining and relative pitch given by someone without perfect pitch. It is a complete different construction area because the ear of someone with perfect pitch and their perception of music and notes is working differently than with others that don't have perfect pitch. Therefore you need another training than others. There are some players here on SOTW with perfect pitch if i remember it right, try to find them using the search function and look for the perfect pitch threads.
 

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nice problem to have.
 

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I definitely don't have perfect pitch and I always thought it would be a great advantage to have. But after reading some posts on here from those with perfect pitch it may be there are some downsides to it also. If you get stuck hearing the notes only, without reference to the harmony, that could present a problem.

I would say relative pitch (hearing intervals and harmonic relationships) is essential for improvising, so to answer one of your questions, yes you do need to work on developing relative pitch. That will also help in transposing where it's more important to hear the relative pitches in a melodic line, than to actually name all the notes.

I bet you can learn relative pitch relatively easily (pun intended). Maybe at first your perfect pitch will get in the way, but overall it should help you. Having both would be a real advantage, I would think. Maybe try sticking to one key center at first and learn to hear all the intervals, then move to another key center and do it again. Eventually you'll have it down. But I don't have perfect pitch so my advice should be taken with that in mind.
 

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If you can name notes (perfect pitch), learning relative pitch is a theory exercise. In other words, when you hear a C in the key of G to know that it's FA or 4 is just a matter of studying the arithmetic. Like JL said, That's easy. It sounds like you're having more a difficulty with staying organized as to what key you're listening in. Bass (Concert) vs. Tenor (Bb)
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks for all the great responses! The SOTW community always impresses me, I think it's fantastic that so many sax players are exchanging information.

You guys are all right and I am taking everything into consideration. I've been doing some interesting exercices such as doing solfège in A=435 on an electronic keyboard, just to throw me off. I've also been listening to some basic blues tunes with tenor sax in it and telling myself that it's in a different key while doing ''movable do'' solfège over the sax part . It's just another way of hearing and it's a great experience.

Thanks again for all your help! If anyone wants to chime in please do, I will keep reading your advice!
 

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one thing you could do is always think/speak in concert pitch. i.e. when you play a c on a tenor just call it a Bb. An old sax prof of mine used to do that. He would read charts in C whether he was playing tenor or alto.
 

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I've known I had perfect pitch since the late 70's. I only played C instruments until I got my Bari 10 years ago. What happens to me is I forget about the pitch as it would sound on a piano and just play the correct fingering on the Bari (and now Tenor) and my relative pitch starts to kick in so I know when I'm playing a wrong note.

At this point I can only listen in C pitch for transcribing and such. I would think over time I will get a sense of what note the Bari or Tenor player is playing but it will take some thought and time. Keep in mind that I haven't played my Bari that much in the decade I've owned it, just now getting back to it.

Sounds to me like your experimenting with movable do can only benefit you so keep at it and I'm sure something will come of it. :bass:
 

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If you can name notes (perfect pitch), learning relative pitch is a theory exercise. In other words, when you hear a C in the key of G to know that it's FA or 4 is just a matter of studying the arithmetic.
True. Except I think you need to take this one important step further. What's really important is to be able to hear and identify by ear each of the intervals. So you not only know that the 4th relative to G is a C, but you hear the actual sound of a perfect 4th (as in the first two notes of "Here Comes the Bride"). Once you can do that with all the intervals, it won't matter so much what key you're in; you'll be able to use the sound of any given interval when you want.

Of course you'll have to know how to play those intervals and have them under your fingers in any given key. That's where knowing the notes comes in. A bit of chicken / egg thing. I think you need to know the notes, but also know the SOUND. i have some favorite intervals I like to use to achieve certain effects. The tritone of course is a very powerful sound ("Salt Peanuts"), for one example, but every interval has its own characteristic. Leading and neighbor tones work well with a min 2nd (chromatic), the min 3rd vs maj 3rd is utilized a lot in the blues. There is a cool tritone sound between the min3rd and the 6th that I also like to use in the blues. So knowing where certain intervals lie within the key is useful.

One nice thing about intervals is you can learn to HEAR all of them in one key. Then when you transpose them to the other 11 keys, the actual intervals will sound the same. In other words a min 3rd sounds the same, whether it's C to Eb, D to F, G to Bb, etc.
 

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Ah, but then the ugly part of "perfect pitch" can rear it's head. I don't have perfect pitch (thankfully) but some of my friends do and one of the "irritations" that plagued one of them who was also an instrumentalist was that orchestral wind instruments didn't always play in tune and that drove her crazy!! I'm wondering that, if we take it a step further and use the sax as a reference, will the inherent intonation problems of the individual notes of various saxophones cause problems for those with perfect pitch? For my friend's part, it would seem to be so.
As for learning relative pitches, it is possible but it takes almost as much effort for someone with "perfect pitch" as it does for those of us without it to learn what my sight singing professor termed, "pefect memory of pitch!" (Yes, I have through much practice, managed to achieve what to some seems like perfect pitch but is really nothing more than relative pitch gleaned from memory. As I understand it, people with perfect pitch "see" individual "colors" of tones. They do it without thinking. I used to envy them.)
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I have both perfect and relative pitch so it helps me a lot fig rung things out and trying new ideas too
That's interesting, dogster! Are you using your perfect pitch to hear the bassline and your relative pitch to play the sax? I would really like to know how you deal with it!
 

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A person with perfect or absolute pitch should be able to instantly recall any note of any frequency.

That means all of the microtone frequencies between notes as well.

Names of notes are just lables.

In the current western system A is defined at being at the frequency 440Hz and all other note frequency intervals are defined as being relative to A=440Hz but A has been defined at other frequencies in the past and can be somewhat variable.

If someone with perfect or absolute pitch grew up with say A=435Hz, then they would associate note names relative to A=435Hz and be able to recall those note frequencies by note names and if A was then switched to A=440Hz, then someone with perfect pitch would also be able to recall A=440Hz and also all the other note frequencies and just label the new note frequencies with the note names.

There is no perfect or absolute pitch that has to have the current A=440Hz involved.

An Indian Sitar player with perfect or absolute pitch obviously has different names for note frequencies that they use, then someone with perfect or absolute pitch involved in say European Classical music.

Perfect or Absolute pitch is just instant frequency recall of any frequency and if someone wants to name the frequency being recalled, then names can be used to ID the frequency.

A can be 440Hz or A can be 435Hz, and someone with perfect or absolute pitch would have instant recall of both the 440hz and 435hz frequencies and all of the other frequencies that end up as the other notes, relative to A=440Hz or A=435Hz, it wouldn't matter what frequency A was, someone with perfect or absolute pitch should be able to just lable any frequency with a name and from then on instantly recall it.

If someone with perfect or absolute pitch grew up and got used to A=435Hz then they might have got used to it and associated note names with certain frequencies and prefer it that way but they should also be able to ID and recall all of the A=440Hz note frequencies by name as well, after hearing them.
 

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My sense of relative pitch is pretty darn good after 30 years of engineering. I'm generally at most a half step off from guessing the key of a song for auto tuning. Once I start with a strong foundation of the tonal center, I can tune a melody without referring back to the song for the length of the tuning.

I have clients that have perfect pitch, and for vocal songs, they even let things "slide" for the performance.

Lately, I've enjoyed my enhanced level of relative pitch.

As far as bass lines, take a look at stretch tuning, and you'll see your ear wants to hear lower notes flatter.
 

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And then there's the whole "equal temparment" vs tuning by fifths. Part of that "flatness" your ear is hearing is the harmonal frequency of the fifth which isn't exactly equal !
 

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I had a similar problem before (but it never really stressed me out since I'm not a professional musician).

I always heard everything in concert pitch, except when I played the sax. When I had the tenor in my hand, it was as if the notes I hear were raised by a full tone. (hearing all the notes in Bb)

I guess my problem came when I was resting in between. My perception kept going back to concert pitch and whenever I was back to playing it was like hearing different notes from what they were supposed to be, I needed to transpose my perception again which normally took a few seconds. It was even harder to keep "faking" my perception in Bb when there are instruments I am very comfortable hearing in concert pitch - piano.

Also I felt like my perfect pitch kept getting blurred by faking it constantly on purpose. Even when I wasn't playing the tenor, I heard music in Bb once in a while, and it bothered me in a way that it could permanently harm my pitch perception.

So I decided to develop a new fingering myself on tenor sax so that I can always hear notes in concert pitch. (e.g. thinking of C fingering as Bb) It took me some time to get comfortable with it, and I feel good now that I can always trust my perception. I now just have to read piano score than Bb transposed ones.

You can try this too and it's up to you, but I guess if you are a pro than it might not be worth it, since it can take a much longer time than guys like me. Also it wouldn't work out if you play Eb sax as well, or play a lot of written music.

Good luck:bluewink:
 

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I would suggest practicing with only a bass line. You may want to just listen to bass lines without the sax and just feel the changes and how the sounds relate. I don't have perfect pitch, but I did a house gig for about a year with a sax/bass/drums trio and it changed the way I hear bass (in a good way I think...) forever. I use the ireal app on my ipod touch. It has a mixer that allows you to isolate and of the backup instruments. Crank the bass and turn off the drums and piano/guitar tracks. In any case where hearing is an issue (even with this rather interesting problem), I think more listening is the right direction to a solution.
 
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