As someone who doesn't have perfect pitch, I always need to have an instrument around to write sheet music for a song.

If I know the key already I can figure out melodies but not more complicated chords and key changes, without playing around on my instrument before.

Is there a way to learn perfect pitch because it seems it's something you either have or not. Or any other method so I don't need to constantly pitch-check? Hope I was clear enough :)

  • Why do you need perfect pitch to write sheet music? I've been doing OK for 50 years without it! All you need is to be able to imagine relative pitch. And choose whatever key you want to write in first, of course. Not being able to "hear in your head" chords, key changes, etc has nothing to do with perfect pitch - you just need to practice. Find an audio recording, write down what you hear without using anything except your ears, check what you wrote after you finished writing it, repeat. Start simple, just a melody and a bass line, add more details as you progress...
    – user19146
    Sep 10, 2017 at 0:35
  • ... Students at Juilliard and similar schools were expected to be able to make a note-accurate score from hearing a string quartet movement played just once - and the main barrier to learning to do that is "you think it's too difficult for you", not "it is too difficult for you."
    – user19146
    Sep 10, 2017 at 0:42
  • I've posted this quote by Kodaly (who was as famous as a teacher as well as a composer, in his own lifetime) before, but it's worth repeating: "The main purpose of music education is that the students learn to see with their ears, and hear with their eyes.
    – user19146
    Sep 10, 2017 at 0:45
  • @alephzero - of course what you say to do is possible. It's what most of us have to resort to, but wouldn't it save a lot of time and effort not to have to write stuff twice?
    – Tim
    Sep 10, 2017 at 6:05
  • What we need is a sort of NNS but for use with dots.
    – Tim
    Sep 10, 2017 at 6:26

3 Answers 3


You can try to train yourself into having perfect pitch. Make yourself lots of audio 'flash cards' and keep practicing. Or develop some other learning strategy.

But relative pitch is more important. No matter if you transcribe everything in C, it can easily be transposed later.

I warn you, after years of experience, I can still 'lose my bearings' when transcribing and have to refer to an instrument. I expect if I transcribed all day, every day, I'd need it less. But I doubt if many musicians could completely do without a reference. Luckily, a free 'virtual piano' downloaded to our phone or tablet will do perfectly well.


the question has a pretty simple answer, and both are related to developing and mastering your musicianship, namely within what concerns:

  • doing a solid work within hear training;
  • learning and developing skills within music theory;

regarding the first topic (hear training):

  • practice rhythm;
  • learn how to sing and make a lot of sight reading chanting musical scores;
  • transcribe music, by listening to it, and notating on sheet music;
  • learn how to play a second or even third instrument like piano or percussion, just for the sake of helping you to mastering aspects of music theory and hear training

regarding music theory:

  • analyze a lot of music (within aspects such as form, orchestration, counterpoint, rhythm, harmony, phrasing, etc.);
  • write chorals of basic polyphony just for the sake mastering the preceading aspects mentioned as a purpose for analyzing music;
  • make some orchestration of simple melodies (again, for the sake of mastering the predeceasing aspects mentioned as a purpose for analyzing music)
  • 1
    Predecease means to die before someone else. Not sure what you really mean. Preceding, maybe?
    – Tim
    Sep 10, 2017 at 12:12

An off-the-wall idea springs to mind. I guess you're asking from a hand-writing perspective.

Using a sort of movable alto clef sign, and maybe nine lines instead of the usual five, write in 'C'key, using a line in the centre as C. All notes would then be relative to each other. If it was then found that actually the piece was in, say, E, then those lines above and below could disappear to put the dots as they would appear in E, with the 'proper' stave, along with the 4# as key sig.

Obviously if the key needed a key such as F, where all the notes swapped lines for spaces, another problem is encountered.

For doing all this on a program, well, it's going to happen at the push of a button.

Just a Blue Peter idea... and I actually do have a Blue Peter badge!

  • If the piece is actually in F(/A/some C/F#/etc.), then swap that alto clef with a bass one and put on 8va/8vb as necessary.
    – Dekkadeci
    Sep 10, 2017 at 15:03

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