Relative Pitch vs Perfect Pitch

Remember at the beginning of this book, I explained that someone who knows the language of music can hear notes in their head, and then play them on their instrument? This involves a two-step process.

  1. Identify the notes you are hearing in your head
  2. Play the notes on your instrument

Step one involves figuring out what scale you are hearing, and then figuring out what notes within the scale you are hearing. The melody exercises in this book will help you identify the notes you are hearing in your head. These exercises will also help you identify notes you hear other musicians play, or notes you hear on a recording. This skill is called “ear training.”

There are two different ways to identify the notes you are hearing. One is called “perfect pitch,” and one is called “relative pitch.” Perfect pitch is rare, and it seems that people who have it are born with it or develop it at a very young age. This is the ability to just know what the note you are hearing is. It’s like seeing a colour. You see something that’s red, and you just know it’s red. I do not have perfect pitch, and this book is not about developing perfect pitch.

Relative pitch is the ability to identify distances between notes. If you hear two notes, you can tell how far apart they are. So if you know one of the notes, you can figure out the other. In this way, if you can figure out the first note of a song (perhaps by trial and error), you can easily figure out the whole song. In my opinion, relative pitch is much easier and much more practical to learn than perfect pitch.