Use your iPod to learn music theory
March 2, 2007 1:23 PM   Subscribe

iTheory is a unique, free program designed by a music student that turns your iPod into a portable learning tool for ear training of music theory. Quiz yourself on intervals, chords, or scales, or train yourself to have perfect pitch.
posted by hydropsyche (17 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds cool, though I can't get the page to load at the moment.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go steal my son's Nano.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:35 PM on March 2, 2007

posted by empath at 2:00 PM on March 2, 2007

This is something I've been waiting for. I doubt I can be trained to have perfect pitch (I'd always been taught that was an innate gift), but I can certainly learn intervals.

Great link!
posted by winna at 2:09 PM on March 2, 2007

The only states I missed were three where my ex-boyfriends were from. Selective memory!
posted by Zosia Blue at 2:28 PM on March 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Most people have perfict hearing pitch.
posted by delmoi at 3:04 PM on March 2, 2007

Selective memory of which thread to post in, too...
posted by emelenjr at 3:25 PM on March 2, 2007

delmoi, do you mean relative pitch? 'Perfect pitch' usually refers to being able to name not just an interval but an actual tone (e.g. "a sharp") presented out of other musical context.
posted by cortex at 4:22 PM on March 2, 2007

Actually, cortex, I've heard that when they've had random, average people sing well-known songs, they are almost always within a half-tone of the right pitch. So even when they aren't trained, people do inherently seem to be able to mimic and remember tones pretty accurately. Of course, it's a far cry from that, and being Mozart. :)

Wish I could remember the sourcing for that...
posted by hincandenza at 4:28 PM on March 2, 2007

Most people can tell you when something is off key, for example, two notes a semi-tone apart played simultaneously. That is not perfect hearing pitch.

Perfect hearing pitch means you can hear a note, played by itself, and say: "That is a C#" Which very, very, very few people can do.
posted by empath at 4:38 PM on March 2, 2007

That would be an interesting read, hincandenza. But to be really pedantic about it, I think there's a difference of significant degree if not fundamental skillset between an untutored tendency to sing something in near the same key as you've heard it (and sung along with it) and a natural or trained fluency in tone names. It could be that the results you recall correlate strongly to quick training in pitch identification, but it could just as well be otherwise.

Singing is not a pitch-agnostic activity—while a synthesizer may perform a transposed piece effortlessly, your average human uses significantly different techniques—breath, vocal tension, etc—to sing something five steps up or down from some reference key.

So I'm wondering if part of that tone reproduction is unconcious audio feedback and muscle memory: singing a song in (approximately) the key they learned it in from hearing it on the radio feels right, and the timber of their voice sounds right, even if they couldn't tell you what key it is or reproduce an individual tone by name nearly so consistently. But that's pure speculation on my part.
posted by cortex at 4:39 PM on March 2, 2007

You can't train yourself to have perfect pitch - you either have it (about 1 in 10,000 people) or you don't. The proportion is greater in certain groups, such as Vietnamese - there's a theory that populations with tonal languages have a greater incidence of it. But you can practice till you're blue in the face and you won't acquire it, any more than you'll acquire brown eyes. People with perfect pitch (my wife is one) sometimes say that different keys "look" or "feel" different. They can recognize a key the way we recognize a face.
posted by QuietDesperation at 4:49 PM on March 2, 2007

empath said: Perfect hearing pitch means you can hear a note, played by itself, and say: "That is a C#" Which very, very, very few people can do.

... and QD above just said:
You can't train yourself to have perfect pitch - you either have it (about 1 in 10,000 people) or you don't.

My grandmother was a professional violinist, and she had perfect pitch - eg someone plays or sings a note and she'd say "that's A, except that you're a teeny bit flat".

I'm not a musician, but I 'm a fairly intense listener, and I was in the recording and broadcast field for a while. I can usually pull out a familiar CD, and while thinking about the first song, and the starting note of the first song, I can usually whistle or hum that first note, and when I then play the CD, I find that I've nailed it. ( try this yourself with your favourite CD). So I _can_ recall a note from memory, but I can't name it.

OK, the ear itself: the cochlea is filled with tiny hairs of different lengths which respond to different frequencies. That means that the same note is going to agitate the same set of hairs every time.

So my experience, and the structure of the cochlea lead me to conclude that perfect pitch is within the capability of many, if not most people, IF they were properly trained and practiced the ability over a long period.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:16 PM on March 2, 2007

I'm glad other people like this link. Anyone can learn to sight-sing if they understand keys and intervals and develop a sense of relative pitch. I think that's the most useful part of this tool.

And as a lifelong choral singer, I've definitely found that with training I've gotten closer to perfect pitch--being able to sing an A or a C on demand comes with practice to those of us who were not born with it. And even those who were born with the ability had to practice to learn the names of the notes.

Unfortunately, I only have an iPod Shuffle, so I don't get to use this regularly.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:06 AM on March 3, 2007

If you're okay with a larger machine to learn on, don't miss Solfege.
posted by SteelyDuran at 10:05 AM on March 3, 2007

Actually, the perfect pitch is much much more common among people who speak tonal languages. Music and language podcast.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:23 AM on March 3, 2007

To what cortex has said, I'll add: You can be everyone's pitch-picking hero, if you'll figure out your own average speaking pitch. Of course, your instantaneous speaking pitch will change depending on your mood, oral intake, and circadian rhythm, but rarely so much as a minor third. From that base pitch, you can sing intervals out to whatever note you need.

And no, you wouldn't want to tune an orchestra to it, but for starting a Christmas carol or something, it's hugely better than letting someone pull a note out of their hat. Even better if you quickly check the high and low extremes of the song, relative to the pitch you're proposing.

/me evangelizes this approach vigorously, being at present surrounded by people whose talent for picking the wrong key for hymns; i.e., almost always a fourth or fifth off. And ironically, these people are Chinese.
posted by eritain at 3:21 AM on March 7, 2007

That's an excellent practical application, eritain. I do the range-checking exercise myself, when I'm writing. Huh.

(And handy trivia for fixed-key orientation in the wilds—you can always calibrate (in the US, at least) to a telephone dialtone—it's a major third in F. Pick up the phone, hum along with the dialtone, and, bam: you're in F now.
posted by cortex at 7:08 AM on March 7, 2007

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