How to Develop Your Sense of Pitch (Perfect vs. Relative)?


While listening to a song, have you wondered what makes the song sound so good? Is it the instruments? Artists? Or the music director? In fact, yes. Including the three points, many other factors play a huge role in creating a beautiful song. But one fundamental substance that paves the way for making music is its pitch. 

Before delving into ‘how you can develop your sense of pitch,’ let’s understand what a ‘pitch’ actually is. 

If you’re new to music theory or thinking about learning music in general, the concept of ‘pitch’ may be challenging to grasp. To simplify matters, when you sing a specific note or play a string instrument, you create a sound wave, which is nothing more than air molecules bouncing back and forth in their surroundings.

When you hear and comprehend this specific frequency of vibration, it becomes a pitch. As a result, when the frequency is high, so is the pitch, and vice versa.

The Difference Between a Perfect and a Relative Pitch

What is relative pitch and perfect pitch? And what difference do these two have? 

A perfect pitch, also known as absolute pitch, is a person’s ability to recognize and sing any single musical note upon hearing it. On the other hand, a relative pitch is when a person identifies or sings a note by comparing it to another reference note and recognizing the intervals between them.

Still, perplexed? Don’t worry; we’ll rid your mind of the fog. Assume you have two people, X and Y. Person X is an expert, whereas Person Y knows a bit or two about music, having perfect pitch and relative pitch, respectively.

If a note or a chord, say, the D major chord, is played on a piano, X with absolute pitch can identify the individual notes in the chord, namely D, F, and A. Y, on the other hand, will be able to detect and sing the three notes without knowing what they are. The same holds for a minor chord.

You might wonder, “relative pitch vs perfect pitch, which one is more important?” Let us get into it next.

Reasons Why You Should Use Perfect Pitch

The issue with perfect pitch is that it is not something you can learn. Based on studies, only one out of every ten thousand people is born with this skill. The list becomes significantly shorter when the demography is reduced to musicians only. Maestros like Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Lorin Maazel, and others are among the many artists that have perfect pitch.

If you’re a person with this skill, then here are some reasons you should take full advantage of it:

  • It helps you to improvise music easily compared to others;
  • Music composition will be a cakewalk for you;
  • You already know the key of the music played;
  • Performing in tune without any mistakes;
  • You can see the notes that are playing;

Improving Your Relative Pitch

You may have read earlier that perfect pitch is something people are born with. Is this to say that you can’t become a brilliant artist or musician if you don’t have this ability? Obviously, the answer is no. If you list the top 100 songs of all time, regardless of genre, most pieces will be made by performers with a relative pitch.

You’ll notice the difference once you begin to build a relative pitch. This ability will consistently benefit in the long term, regardless of the form of vocal or instrumental music. Relative pitch is equally as vital as perfect pitch because the former is required to make sense of what you’re hearing.

You’ll be free of the restraints of asking fellow players questions like “What is that chord?” or “Hold on, which key are we now in?” once you’ve mastered this pitching technique. 

Practice and Instruction

Now that you understand the sorts of pitches and their significance, consider how you might improve and perfect this skill.

The first step is to ‘listen.’ Keep in mind that this is not the same as hearing, which suggests that you heard anything by coincidence. When you listen, you focus your attention on something you want to learn more about. To begin with, you need to know something called relative pitch ear training.

If you play a guitar, violin, piano, or even sing, relative pitch training is an integral part of the process. As part of learning, here are the steps you need to follow:

  • On a piano, select a scale that you are comfortable with. Let’s take ‘C’ for now;
  • Play the seven notes to the following top scale, that is, C-D-E-F-G-A-B = Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti;
  • Sing these notes aloud while you are playing and repeat until you can memorize them;
  • Now, play the note from C (Do) and try to sing what the note 5 degrees above C would sound like;
  • Five degrees above C would be the note G or ‘So.’ Did it match what you sang? If yes, great job!;
  • Now practice this every day in different keys and slowly progress to understanding the notes in chords. 

Note: Learning the basics of music theory will also be an added advantage in your journey of learning music.

Converging Theory and Practice

Understanding the theoretical side is critical. And applying what you’ve learned in theory in the real world is even more critical because that’s where you’ll be performing. The more you practice, the quicker you’ll grasp the relationship between notes and keys to varying degrees. Patience and repetition are essential for developing this skill. Set a timer for this exercise session and stick to it, even if you’ve become a pro. 

Final thoughts

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People have different viewpoints on the subject you’re reading right now. Some argue that perfect pitch is a nightmare because you may be unable to tolerate others who sing out of tune, while others say that relative pitch is not essential to learn music. In reality, each of these varieties has advantages and disadvantages.

You need to focus on how acquiring this ability will benefit you on your journey. If you don’t have an absolute pitch, your goal should be to improve your relative pitch to the level where it is indistinguishable from perfect pitching. The purpose of the perfect-relative pitch is to get to the point where you know precisely what key and note you’re playing without thinking about it.

If you’ve had the opportunity to practice relative pitch or ear training, how difficult or easy was it for you to grasp the concept? Tell us what you think in the comments!