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I think a high majority of people are capable of singing songs in the original key and singing the correct notes. Taking it a step further, wouldn’t paying attention to the name of notes that we remember be almost similar to having absolute pitch?

I am not currently capable of hearing a note and naming what pitch it is, but I am capable of remembering the correct notes of many songs. I haven’t personally taken the time to start paying attention to what the names of the notes are but I am going to now. That is what pitch memorization is correct?

I really want to be able to recall certain pitches, mainly to aid in tuning instruments by ear.

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  • So you’re asking, “Can I develop absolute pitch if I start be memorizing pitch names of songs”?
    – Aaron
    Nov 24, 2023 at 22:32
  • @Aaron eh no not exactly, because perfect pitch is hearing a note and being able to differentiate them correct? I’m only able to memorize songs. So what I mean is, if I start attaching the note names to the pitches, won’t I be able to recall an E whenever for example, or other notes?
    – Lecifer
    Nov 24, 2023 at 22:54
  • That would be the equivalent, more or less, of absolute pitch
    – Aaron
    Nov 24, 2023 at 23:08
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    devils advocate: who says absolute pitches worthwhile? ;) but seriously, many people make far too much of it, as if it has anything to do with talent or even intonational ability. And most who have it don’t have it to the degree that you could tune accurately with it. I can identify A, but can’t tell you whether it’s 338 or 440. Nov 24, 2023 at 23:58
  • You would only benefit for the first string you tune. The others you tune by consonance with the first string. (When the wobbly sounds flatten out they are consonant.). Unless you need a specific dissonance I guess.... but that is probably identifiable by the wobble sound as well... (the wobbling is like a mini sine riding on top of the general sine shape I think, it is because the sum of two sines can be written as the product of two sines)
    – Emil
    Nov 25, 2023 at 5:14

4 Answers 4

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If you can consistently sing a song in the original key, you have something very akin to absolute pitch. But maybe you have it at a physical level rather than an intellectual one. You have physical memory of what it feels like to sing those notes rather than aural memory.

This isn't uncommon. When I used to play keyboard for talent contests - now a dead art, EVERYONE brings backing tracks - I would often play a song introduction as printed only for the singer to set off in the (different) 'key of the record'. In fact, part of my craft was knowing what keys many popular numbers were recorded in so that I could immediately adjust when required!

Unfortunately, this type of absolute pitch generally came along with an un-tutored approach to music in which reading notation and even knowing note names had no part. It can be difficult to transfer the skill across to a more structured way of looking at music.

Absolute pitch comes in many forms. I'm a pretty well-trained musician. I don't consider myself as having absolute pitch. But play me A on a piano, I can usually tell if it's 'out'. To some degree, I 'know A'. But I wouldn't rely on it if tuning the piano (another skill that I've never developed).

I can't offer any definite answer to your question. Maybe you can 'learn' E, A, D etc. and so be able to tune a guitar without any reference. Maybe this will never be reliable. But what you CAN do is work on your Relative Pitch. 'This note is C, so sing me F♯?' A very useful musical skill, and completely learnable.

And, heck, who needs absolute pitch when it's so easy to load a tuning app onto your phone?

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"Pitch memorisation" would more or less be the equivalent of "absolute pitch".

Note, however, that "absolute pitch" is mostly a fallacy anyways, since most people with this "ability" have only been exposed to music played in A = 440 Hz and 12-tone equal temperament. "Absolute pitch" is actually a great benefit if you define it as the ability to recall frequencies, but not if you think of it as the ability to recall notes, since music where A is significantly different from 440 Hz or music that uses alternative or historical tunings can easily throw you off.

It's a one-trick pony—something that allows someone to function very well under very specific conditions, while preventing them from being able to function well outside those conditions

I know this from experience, since I have been told that I have "perfect pitch", and when I didn't know any better I even used to brag about it. But since I was only ever taught 12-TET, the early age at which I started my musical training and gained the ability to identify notes led to me thinking of notes as absolute frequencies and intervals as fixed mathematical constants. In late 2022, I re-gained interest in classical music again and discovered alternative and historical tunings on my own. I'm glad that I finally broke out of the 12-TET walled garden, but by absolutely no means whatsoever should this have taken 18 years.

Nowadays, my favourite alternative tunings for Western music that doesn't require 12-TET's enharmonic equivalences are 31-TET and 43-TET, and I already know of many Western non-classical songs that I think would sound much more expressive in 31 and 43 than in 12. Additionally, I absolutely hate the term "perfect pitch" and have since grown increasingly disdainful towards the heavily stripped-down nature of the current state of Western music education (at least in the US).

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    Ok, but but how many cents off does a frequency have to be for you to hear it as a different pitch? If you hear 352 Hz, do you think, "that's too high to be F4" because it's not 349.228 Hz?
    – phoog
    Nov 25, 2023 at 10:12
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    By any chance, is the piano your only instrument? (Alternately, are your only other instruments unpitched percussion ones, keyboard instruments, and/or ones in the xylophone family?) I would have thought the traumatic experience of needing to tune your instrument would teach you that notes are ranges instead of absolute frequencies, even with 12TET as your only true tuning system.
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 25, 2023 at 10:54
  • @phoog The difference, if I recall correctly, has at least 5-10 cents. I'm actually glad you asked because I've asked many people to see if they can hear the difference between an A major triad in 12-TET and an A major triad in 31-TET at A = 440 Hz, and half of the people think that the 31-TET triad sounded too flat. I used to think 352 Hz was too high to be F4, but now that I've broken out of the 12-TET hegemony I know better.
    – user59346
    Nov 25, 2023 at 11:45
  • @Dekkadeci I've played piano for most of my life, and cello for about 8 years, and I sing now. I don't know why the thought of notes being ranges of frequencies never came across to me for most of my life. I guess that's because I had only ever been exposed to 12-TET most of my life, and I discovered alternative tunings only recently and on my own (not in a classroom setting). This is why I think it is important to teach the harmonic series and just intonation BEFORE going into scales and chords.
    – user59346
    Nov 25, 2023 at 11:48
  • I suppose I was fortunate enough to be in an elementary school with a concert band and a great desire to tune the band and say my clarinet is "5 cents flat" and a sax is "7 cents sharp" before I started formal ear training. The part where I only found I sight-sing in Grade 7 and started gaining absolute pitch in Grade 8, thus giving me time to get used to transposing instruments (though never any tuning systems other than 12TET and arguably just intonation thanks to my school choir), also probably helped.
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 25, 2023 at 14:45
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I am not currently capable of hearing a note and naming what pitch it is, but I am capable of remembering the correct notes of many songs. I haven’t personally taken the time to start paying attention to what the names of the notes are but I am going to now. That is what pitch memorization is correct?

Maybe. The thing is, though, if you know that a certain song starts with "F," do you always actually hear it in your mind with a frequency of 349.228 Hz? Try an experiment: choose a recording you know well, identify the pitch of the opening by comparing it with a fixed pitch reference, and every morning, as soon as you wake up, think of that recording and check the pitch you're hearing in your mind against the pitch reference. That is what absolute pitch is really about; the names of the notes are just a mechanism of communication.

I really want to be able to recall certain pitches, mainly to aid in tuning instruments by ear.

I think most people with absolute pitch will tell you that they can only tune instruments approximately without a pitch reference. They too are only human. Their sense of pitch also fluctuates, just far less than it does for someone who doesn't have absolute pitch. And again, the names of the notes are not critical, just as you may (or may not) be able to tell whether a piece of paper someone hands you is larger or smaller than the bank cards in your wallet without knowing the size of a bank card in millimeters or inches and without knowing that this size is called "ID-1" in the ISO/IEC 7810 standard.

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  • I always hear the songs exactly as they are sung or the way that they were recorded. Like whatever those exact pitches were. The thing is I’ve never practiced remembering just a single pitch by itself, so I’m not sure if I can do that. I doubt it though. That’s why I don’t think what I’m describing is absolute pitch whatsoever. And by using the names of the notes, that would just be for me to be able to differentiate what I’m remembering from the songs. I can’t really tell the difference between pitches without them being in relation to another pitch (Relative pitch?).
    – Lecifer
    Nov 25, 2023 at 21:43
  • The way the instruments were recorded*
    – Lecifer
    Nov 25, 2023 at 21:50
  • @Lecifer "I always hear the songs exactly as they are sung or the way that they were recorded": are you saying this because you've actually measured? I find that I'm often but not always right on pitch, but sometimes I'm off by a third or more. Just now, for example, I tried with Blondie's Heart of Glass and I was a half step flat. At one point I tried to train myself by predicting the pitch of a tuning fork. I did improve, but I was never consistently correct. I did however develop a sightly pavlovian ability to be closer to 440 Hz if I pretended to strike the tuning fork before guessing.
    – phoog
    Nov 26, 2023 at 9:16
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Answer to the lead question - yes, probably more so. Absolute pitch is often seen as a curse, but recall of pitches is far more useful. That's if the recalls are spot-on for tuning, which I, and I guess most others, would be sceptical about.

So, unless you can be 100% certainly accurate, 100% of the time, don't even consider it. It may be a party trick, but as an accurate tuning mechanism, it most likely won't do the job. I've been practising just that for many years now, and my 90%-95% wouldn't be good enough.

If you can do an acid test for 100 times, with different notes, and be spot-on every time, then I'm wrong. But I doubt it. Other factors will come into play, like the key of the last tune that went through your mind (proved that!). I've been tuning guitars/basses by ear for 60 odd yrs, and whilst I get pretty close - sometimes spot-on, I wouldn't guarantee it.

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  • Pitch recall and detection is still very useful if you mainly use them to write music (compositions/arrangements/transcriptions). I agree absolute pitch doesn't help you completely nail tuning, though (clarinet ends up only within 15 cents of accurate, and that's because I assembled it correctly).
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 26, 2023 at 15:23

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