As someone who sings for fun, how do you guys tell what note someone is singing? The reason I'm asking this is because with an instrument, you can easily tell as long as you memorize that note; however, in singing, each voice has a distinct color. So how can we tell? I can tell the relative position of notes to each other but that's it.
The "what note" question has at least two different dimensions to it: absolute and relative pitch. For simply singing the same notes you're hearing, you don't need to know either of these.
What absolute note am I hearing
You need to know the absolute named pitch in the following situations:
- If you need to play the exact same note or accompanying notes on an instrument.
- If you need to write a transcription of the notes.
And that's about it. I can't think of other reasons why you'd need to know the absolute pitch. For singing you don't need to know it, because most people can sing the same note they hear - perhaps in a different octave - and for the few who can't, knowing the absolute note name won't help their inability in any way.
How to identify the absolute pitch?
- (A) You have perfect pitch,
- (B) you play a reference tone on an instrument with known pitches and compare the note you hear to the known reference tone, or
- (C) you use a tuner device that has a pitch display.
Playing a reference tone is like calibrating a tuner. People who have perfect pitch have a fixed factory A=440Hz reference built in the "tuner" in their head so they don't need to calibrate. But for everyone else, they have to first calibrate their tuner to a known fixed reference tone. If the reference tone is wrong, their pitch identification will be wrong too.
What relative note am I hearing
Relative pitch means, what is the heard note relative to a pitch (or chord) or scale, real or imagined. For me, this is much more useful for singing, because I can imagine the notes I hear on an instrument and "play" the notes as I'm singing. Maybe someone likes to see the notes on a music staff in their minds, but I don't do that. But anyway, knowing the relative pitch I can sing backing vocals by imagining intervals relative to the melody I'm hearing, and it doesn't matter if my imagined key is absolutely correct or not. And I can accompany the melody on instruments, floating in the stream of incoming notes, even if the instrument is randomly transposed or if a guitar has a capo somewhere.
If you have perfect pitch you "just know". This is a skill partly inherent, partly trained.
If you don't have perfect pitch, then you find an instrument & play notes until you find the matching one, then you know because you know the name of that note on the instrument.
If you're just singing along & don't need to actually name the note, then it often doesn't matter what it's called, so long as you can hear it & reproduce it accurately…. 'playing by ear'.
How do you 'memorise a note' played by an instrument? You mean 'it's this fingering, so it's this note'? Well yes, that works, to a point!
You listen. You'll need a reference pitch - 'perfect pitch' is a rare skill, not something you can reasonably expect to develop. A tuner or a keyboard instrument will let you put a name to a pitch, but that isn't all that important. What you probably need is not the knowledge 'That's an A' but the technique to imitate it with your own voice.
If you have the notated music to a song and it starts on (say) A, use an instrument or a tuner to show you an A.
Often times the main melody notes of a song are chord tones (roots, 3rd's and 5th's) of the underlying chord progression. So if you play a piano or guitar along with the song as you sing it and are trying to figure out what note you're singing, if you start by just checking the chord tones of the current chord you're playing you're going to find it very quickly most of the time. I do this all the time with new songs I'm learning from chord charts online. I've been playing music most of my life, but only started singing 2 years ago, and this was a big ah-ha moment for me when I realized it. I mean I guess it seems obvious when you think about it, but it seemed like magic to me when I figured it out, and it still does :)