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I am teaching an child of 7 who has white key absolute pitch.

In particular, they can sing any notes of the C major scale without a reference tone and can name the pitch of any of the white notes without looking.

However, they cannot currently do either this for the black keys. I put most of this down to their music education so far in which most of the songs are in C, G, or F.

I am looking for suggestions of exercises for them to develop the same ability for the black keys.

  • I find the toned ear tests to be really helpful. Select the notes you want to train yourself in and practice for about 20 minutes a day. – Rick van Osta Jan 2 '18 at 9:34
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It's common for those with absolute pitch to have more trouble with "black keys" than "white keys."

One idea is to play them pieces in these keys. Something like Chopin's "Butterfly" etude, or "Raindrop," will provide them concrete examples of these keys/pitches.

If the child is already fluent on an instrument, having them play things in keys like D-flat and G-flat will certainly help develop that pitch memory.

If the child is learning an instrument and is only up to keys with, say, one or two accidentals, I recommend letting the learning process happen naturally. In other words, let them get to pieces in D-flat when they're ready; don't push them into D-flat too quickly just in the hopes it will improve their pitch memory.

  • That 1st statement surprised me. Unless it's really to do with most simpler, earlier learnt pieces being in C mainly. Could work for piano players - but what about players of transposing instruments? – Tim Jan 1 '18 at 13:13
  • In Gary Karpinski's "Aural Skills Acquisition," he cites three studies that claim that "AP listeners can identify white-key pitch classes more fluently than they can black-key pitch classes"; see page 59. – Richard Jan 1 '18 at 17:35
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Given my experience gaining absolute pitch (I found that I had pitch memory of Middle C in Grade 8 and could recognize C minor and E flat major music by ear by Grade 10--I'm fairly certain I figured out all 12 notes and 24 major/minor keys by Grade 12), I recommend training the child's relative pitch. Have him/her learn that both Db and C# are 1 semitone above C, both A# and Bb are a minor third above G and 1 semitone below B, and so on. With a strong enough sense of relative pitch, the gaps in absolute pitch can easily be filled in.

Besides, a basic sense of relative pitch is valuable for finding when a melody appears in a different key (this happens in pretty much every genre of music, from Christmas carols to heavy metal to video game music).

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    If I was really really pedantic, I'd pick up on A# being a m3 above G. Okay, then, I'm really really pedantic!! Happy New year!! – Tim Jan 1 '18 at 13:16
  • To be fair, A# is always an augmented second above G, but it's a minor third above G only whenever A# and Bb are enharmonic equivalents (e.g. 12TET). We can eventually break out the Very Advanced Course, present 19TET, and proceed to have a massive debate about the sizes of minor thirds vs. augmented seconds... – Dekkadeci Jan 1 '18 at 22:02
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Should be straightforward to establish that between E and F, and B and C, there's only a small gap - one semitone. Whereas between other consecutive notes, there are gaps twice as big - a tone.

Drawing it out on paper, if a keyboard isn't available, will graphically illustrate this. Then it should be easy to fill in the notes in between, mentioning that they normally have two names - rather like the child - and it ought to be a good guessing game after the premise is noted : a note higher than say, C, but lower than D will be either C# or Db.

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