By Vidas Pinkevicius (get free updates of new posts here)
Yesterday my 8th graders had a written part of the ear training exam in school. Among other things, they had to write a one-voice and a two-voice dictation, each 8 measures long. Both were in F major.
At the beginning I played treble A and the tonic chord of F major key. The students were supposed to discover the key from this A by themselves and write Bb next to the clef.
All of my students got the key right but one. He wrote G major with F# next to the clef.
So G major or F major? What's the difference?
Here's the thing: In F major tonic chord the note A is the middle note of the chord (FAC) whereas in G major tonic chord A is a whole tone apart from either G or B which are the chordal notes in this GBD chord.
Does it make sense?
Treble A: GBD vs FAC?
Try it on the piano and listen to the difference.
If you can't get it right, play A and then ANY major or minor tonic chord and practice for a while.
You will get better with time. Doesn't matter if you get it right on the first try. Doesn't matter if you have a perfect pitch or not.
Perfect pitch is a result of our memory: the more were are exposed to this treble A, the more likely it is you can remember how treble A sounds.
Is perfect pitch needed for an organist?
This is the question I hear asked a lot.
What is perfect pitch, by the way?
They say one has perfect pitch
when one can say
which note is being played exactly.
You can play in any octave with any instrument -
this person would tell you right away.
There's no question that this skill
is fun and helpful to have.
But it can be a blessing and a curse:
not every organ is tuned like a piano.
Some might sound half-step or more higher,
some - half-step or more lower.
An organist with perfect pitch
would hear a completely different key, right?
It's quite disturbing,
unless you play this instrument yourself -
the strange feeling disappears
and you adjust your hearing right away.
What is more important than perfect pitch
is the skill to tell the meaning of the notes -
the keys, the cadences, the modulations, or the sequences.
That's far more useful
than perfect pitch to any musician
because you can tell not only
what you are hearing but also
why these notes are there.
Nonetheless, I know quite a few of musicians
who brag about having perfect pitch
but are clueless about
how the piece is put together.
And frankly there isn't any useful way
of explaining to them
what they're missing either.
I guess if you were a gold fish
and you would be put in a round aquarium,
your entire world would be round, right?
Ausra's Harmony Exercise:
Chromatic Sequence in D Minor: i-V64-i6
Is perfect pitch a blessing or a curse?
Here's what I mean. Some people problems with perfect pitch. They hear what they see. It is a problem for them when playing instruments tuned to a much different pitch, but even more so when trying to play from memory on an instrument which is out of tune.
Having a perfect pitch and hearing instruments of another pitch level is usually a problem. Playing them is easier after a while (at least for me). It's strange when you hear C major prelude as Db major or B major.
But you can get used to a certain pitch level, if you just spend a couple of weeks with it (that's what happens when somebody has a piano tuned half step lower - then you will hear the note A always too low (G#), in comparison to the standard pitch). And other temperaments will start to bother you, by the way.
So people with perfect pitch normally can spell out any note which is being played high or low. That's how they are used to listen to music - by hearing individual pitches. When the instrument is tuned a half step higher or lower than A=440, they have a problem with following the music.
Here's the thing: instead of listening to the notes which may or may not be the same for the player and for the listener, try to hear the chords and key areas.
For example, try to hear the tonic, subdominant, dominant and other functions without spelling out the chords. Try to discover what key area this episode is written in in relationship to the tonic (not the precise key, but only the function, subdominant or dominant or mediant or submediant etc.).
This is far more useful than listening to the notes only. It's more challenging, though.
But we seek out challenges, don't we?
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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