The Musical Intervals Tutor
September 8, 2007 11:41 AM   Subscribe

The Musical Intervals Tutor. I have always had a bitch of a time hearing the minor sixth. I'm not so sure having perfect pitch is a good thing, so I guess that I'm lucky that my pitch is relative [wiki]. There is a lot to be said for ear training if you want to be a musician, but sometimes maybe it is better to wing it.
posted by St Urbain's Horseman (37 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
The minor sixth is the first inversion of the major third. That's how I remember it...
posted by sporb at 11:45 AM on September 8, 2007

posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:49 AM on September 8, 2007

I'll assume that is a strategy.
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 11:51 AM on September 8, 2007

I spent some time with Earope (commercial product for Windows, downloadable demo) a few years ago, it seemed to work pretty well but of course I forgot everything after I stopped practising with it. It covers chord types, scales and modes, chord progressions, etc. as well as intervals, all things that it's really useful to be able to recognize by ear.
posted by tomcooke at 11:53 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

I always have to remember the major sixth and then go down a half step.
posted by dismas at 11:53 AM on September 8, 2007

I'm confused. Why are you not so sure that having perfect pitch is a good thing?

I attended a boarding school in high school for gifted musicians, and of the 215 of us living there, 3 of us had perfect pitch.

I am insanely jealous of people gifted with that ability.

Why would you not want to have it? I am genuinely curious.

Also, something I did not know but found interesting from the second link:

There's one other curious thing Gitschier uncovered in her study.

"Our results clearly show that as people get older, they are perceiving things sharper than when they are younger," Gitschier says.

So a C sounds like a C sharp.

It's nice to know something gets sharper as we age.

posted by lazaruslong at 11:57 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Go listen to the opening riff of Crazy Train until you know what a minor sixth sounds like.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:59 AM on September 8, 2007

Potential problems with absolute pitch:

Persons who have absolute pitch may feel irritated when a piece is transposed to a different key or played at a nonstandard pitch. They may fail to develop strong relative pitch when following standard curricula, despite the fact that maintaining absolute strategies can make simple relative tasks more difficult. For instance, transposition of music from one key to another may prove more difficult for an individual who interprets music as a fixed sequence of absolute tones rather than relative patterns of notes. Absolute pitch possessors have been known to find it difficult to play with an orchestra that is not tuned to standard concert pitch A4 = 440 hertz (442 Hz in some countries); this may be due to a perception of pitch which is categorical rather than freely adjustable.

It would be interesting if someone with AP could comment on how bad these things actually are.
posted by tomcooke at 12:00 PM on September 8, 2007

Did anyone ever use those cds that claimed to be able to teach you perfect and relative pitch? I used to see them advertised all the time in music magazines, and I was curious but never wanted to spend the money to try.
posted by papakwanz at 12:06 PM on September 8, 2007

Also: Black Sabbath or Frayed Ends of Sanity for the tritone; Man in the Box for a flat 7th; Temples of Syrinx for a perfect 4th (ascending and descending); and Rime of the Ancient Mariner for the sound of an augmented triad, and Hangar 18 for a quick lesson in inversions.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:07 PM on September 8, 2007

It always comes back to metal.
posted by quin at 12:11 PM on September 8, 2007

"The Simp-sons" for the tri-tone. "Oh Canada" for the major sixth. Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik for the perfect fourth. I suspect it this that kind of thinking that made Schoenberg do his thing.
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 12:13 PM on September 8, 2007

Well, my reference point for the major 6th is still It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, although you can hear a pretty clear example of it in the fast melody of Fear of the Dark, which sounds suspciously — distractingly — like Mama's little baby loves shortnin' bread.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:14 PM on September 8, 2007

I don't have perfect pitch, but I've noticed, and heard a lot of people corroborate, that when you're really familiar with an instrument (for me, it's flute), the timbral cues are enough to nearly let you pin down the pitch. They really do seem to have different "colors" to them.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:21 PM on September 8, 2007

I don't know what good perfect pitch is. Music comes from the relationship of tones to each other, not the tones themselves.
posted by empath at 12:22 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Any time I feel even a little bit cocky or pleased with whatever ability I have to figure out music by ear, I think of a story about Walter Piston: E. Power Biggs wanted to perform an organ concerto - for one of his CBS broadcasts, I think - which he had no manuscript for, only a recording. He asked Piston to make a transcription from the recording, and received it within a day.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:28 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

First two bars of:

the NBC chime = perfect 6th

"Here comes the bride" = perfect 4th

Jaws theme = minor 2nd

Smoke on the water = minor 3rd

star wars theme = perfect 5th

somewhere over the rainbow - octave

Those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.
posted by chrisamiller at 12:31 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

He also had the best name ever. E. Power Biggs. I grew up on his Bach. That was high technology.
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 12:31 PM on September 8, 2007

For the curious: E. Power Biggs. Go listen to him. :-)
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 12:35 PM on September 8, 2007

disclosure: I used to be a Jazz guy, so alot of these examples come from that world:

min2 up - Jaws
min2 down - Stella by Starlight
maj2 up - doe a deer
maj 2 down - Mary Had a Little Lamb
min3 up - Smoke on the Water
min3 down - Hey jude
maj3 up - major triad
maj3 down - Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind (nice one, John Williams)
perfect4 up - Someday my prince will come
perfect4 down - Softly as in a morning sunrise
Tritone up - simpsons, or maria (west side story)
Tritone down - ??
perfect5 up - bass intro to Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
perfect4 down - ??
min6 up - Black Orpheus
min6 down - Take the A Train tag
maj6 up - Days of Wine and Roses
maj6 down - Take the A Train ("...must take...")
min7 down - ??
min7 up - Stone Free, by Jimi Hendrix; Star Trek
maj7down - ??
maj7 up - close to an octave - figure out an octave and then adjust

Relative pitch is completely learnable - it's SO possible to get VERY good at it, and it will concretely effect your experience with music, whether performing, writing, or just plain listening.

And Wolfdog, I can totally tell what key things are in based on the guitar - certain pitches and voicings are instantly recognizable to me, even without reference pitches.

Finally, don't forget that harmonic ear-training is only half the battle - rhythmic ear-training is important too!
posted by fingers_of_fire at 12:53 PM on September 8, 2007 [8 favorites]

I've had perfect pitch as long as I can remember. My piano teacher noticed it when I was about 8 years old - in a way I knew the pitches before I knew what they were. (Suzuki method...) I have two sisters that both are also musicians and one has the pp while the other has an annoyingly good relative ear.

PP is a mixed blessing. It has always been very easy for me to for example blend into jams etc., but on the other hand transposing on the fly, singing in choirs that drop pitches every other time and chord functions have been a pain in the ass. I've also noticed that my pp is strictly wohltemperierte. When singing in good choirs it was a interesting experience to notice how I had to take account of the natural major/minor scales... PP also helped me to develop harmonic skills beyond my rythmical level - a handicap I have to struggle with almost daily.

I wouldn't call my ear perfect pitch but "perfect" tone memory. I notice that my ability to sing exactly 442hz depends on the time I spend on my very widely tuned accordion compared to the time I spend with a well tuned piano. Give me one week to "fine-tune" my ear and I can spot very complex harmonies and subtle pitch changes without problems.

It is also a skill that can be learned. Mandarin Chinese speakers seem to have an advantage.
posted by hoskala at 12:57 PM on September 8, 2007

I just wish I could sing like Al Jarreau. Boop Bee Zee Dungawop Lop Phoo Yah Tah Ti Zot Do Foo GoDoNoLeet Zing Teen-ah-na-woggle-loop-lop-wop BAAY - YAAY - BEEEE!!
posted by ZachsMind at 1:00 PM on September 8, 2007

The ear trainers have maybe a little nicer interface than that thing in the original post.
posted by Wolfdog at 1:06 PM on September 8, 2007

Like hoskala, I have tonal memory/audiation skills that are pretty much indistinguishable from perfect pitch. In certain contexts it comes in handy (transcribing, playing by ear, error detection while conducting, giving accurate starting pitches to choirs without relying on a piano, impressing people), but there have been downsides specifically related to my career:

1. I never really had to learn how to sight-sing... I just kind of got it once I started singing in choirs. This actually was a benefit in a lot of ways (testing out of ear-training classes in music school, out-sightreading all but one of the choral conducting grad students at my university my junior year), but it became a serious disadvantage once I started teaching school. To this day I don't think I'm an effective teacher of melodic sight-singing, because I don't fully understand what most people have to go through to acquire the skill. On the other hand, rhythm was always more difficult for me and was something I had to actively work at... and I feel like I teach rhythmic reading very well as a result.

2. Transposing at sight is kind of a pain in the ass. It's possible, but I have to just not listen to what I (and the other musicians/singers if any) am doing and just read intervals.

3. I teach elementary general/vocal music and middle school chorus at the moment. I get very, very cranky when listening to out-of-tune singing for any length of time (which is imposible to avoid with middle schoolers, given the nature of the changing male voice).
posted by the_bone at 1:32 PM on September 8, 2007

I'm seconding It's an excellent resource.

The way I usually remember the ascending minor 6th is the main melodic line from the DJ Shadow song "Building Steam With A Grain of Salt." Once you hear that song, it'll be stuck in your head permanently. Those ethereal voices, going from the tonic to the submediant to the dominant! You'll never forget the minor 6th after that song.

Or just think of a major chord, take the third, and move up to the tonic, and there you go.

Personally, I have the most trouble getting the major 7th. That one part of the Superman theme is the only way I can remember it.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 2:50 PM on September 8, 2007

Also, what hoskala and the_bone mentioned: it's rare to find any choir that can perform a lengthy a cappella piece and stay in tune. Most will end up just slightly flat (and the bad ones can end up nearly a half-step down!). This was one of my conductor's pet peeves with our college choir.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 2:57 PM on September 8, 2007

My friend with perfect pitch is fairly tortured by it, when every squealing tire or creaking door is always out of tune, sharp or flat.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:44 PM on September 8, 2007

When she was two years old and humming to herself, a stranger approached her parents and said "that child has perfect pitch."
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:49 PM on September 8, 2007

Boop Wah-dah Schoom-dah Lop Phoo Yah Tah Ti Zot Do Foo Zing NooGooDoWapp Bapp a Loo Mop A Wop Bam Boodle Goodle Noodle Zhunk-Bee-Zha Goo Whunk Shunk Kunk A Loo-Wunk Skunee Wee Nee-ah-na-woggle-loop-lop-wop Foo Doo Zang Bang a Wally Phoo Yah Tzoo Bah Wung-a-Dung-a-Goot-Toot-Toot-Tooie Gonna Gitcha Gooey Swee-Bee-Shain't Nuthin' But a Thang Bop Dop A Loo-Wop Bee Zee Dung-a-wop Bop BOP BOPP! - - - TAKE FIVE!
posted by ZachsMind at 5:51 PM on September 8, 2007

Finally, don't forget that harmonic ear-training is only half the battle - rhythmic ear-training is important too!

Any tips or resources?
posted by callmejay at 6:34 PM on September 8, 2007

Here is the link to the webpage of the perfect pitch test mentioned in the NPR story. You have to fill out a survey first.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:47 PM on September 8, 2007

The Wiki has some good stuff, jay.
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 6:50 PM on September 8, 2007

Old joke: "Perfect pitch is when you toss an accordian into the dumpster, and it lands directly on the banjo!"
posted by Standeck at 7:50 PM on September 8, 2007

No resources off the top of my head, callmejay - as far as tips, I guess I'd just say that a lot of it is a matter of priority - don't equate learning music with learning scales and chords, 'cuz while that's important, it's not even half the battle. Don't figure that you've learned a tune when you know the chord changes - make sure that you know the time signature, the tempo, the feel, the drum patterns (snare on 2 and 4? or more complicated?). Swung 8th notes or straight? If it's an improvisation, is it 8th-note based, triplety, 16ths? How long are the phrases? How frequently do the chords change? How does the bass part interact with the drums? All of these questions depend on rhythmic awareness, as opposed to harmonic awareness - you could answer all of them without having any idea what actual notes are being played. And if you have trouble answering these questions, then you know where to start looking to develop your skills. (Of course, they all assume that you are looking at pop and/or Jazz music.)

I've always been of the mind that, in the hands of a great musician, one note is sufficient to make great music. Two examples - Antonio Carlos Jobim, "One Note Samba"; and Sonny Rollins, "John S.", from the Bridge (listen to how the solo starts - he spends a long time on one note, before elaborating). Take away harmony and you have to resort to rhythm to make your music interesting.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:30 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take away harmony and you have to resort to rhythm to make your music interesting.

And it's worth keeping in mind that a huge amount of the world's music doesn't employ harmony (as we generally define that term) at all. I applaud f_o_f's stressing of the importance of rhythm: all musicians (guitarists, violinists, whatever) should spend a lot more time and focus on rhythm than they generally do, IMO.

And, St Urbain's Horseman, thanks for the post.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:17 PM on September 8, 2007

I aced the test. What do I win?
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:22 AM on September 9, 2007

Woohoo, two perfect scores.
Glad that music degree came in handy for SOMETHING.
posted by rouftop at 7:22 PM on September 9, 2007

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