When I hear a note played on an instrument, its name (like A, Bb, etc.) immidiately pops up in my head. But when I hear human singing nothing like that happens. So I'm wondering how should I practice to get the ability to identify the pitch of human singing so that I can know the melody of a song's lyric.

Another question: I also have problem doing so with the note I hear in my head. I think it would help me a lot in improvisation if I know what note my brain imagines. Any suggesion on this? Thank you!

  • 1
    What instrument in particular does this work with? The guitar? – Tim Apr 23 '18 at 12:34
  • @Tim The piano. I can also do with other instrument but not as accurate as what I can do with note played on piano. – saris Apr 23 '18 at 12:39
  • Huh, the reverse happens for me--my absolute pitch recall is faster for notes I sing (i.e. my human voice) than for other instruments (or noises) in general. – Dekkadeci Apr 24 '18 at 0:24

Yes, it can be much harder to recognise the pitch of a voice than of an instrument. And, I have to tell you, it doesn't necessarily get much easier with practice! Because there's probably nothing wrong with your pitch recognition, it's just that singers DON'T always hit notes 'in the middle', with a clearly harmonic set of overtones. Maybe through lack of technique, but quite likely, particularly in popular music, through a decision to value 'expression' over what they see as cold, classical accuracy.

  • Given people's bad reactions to Autotune, I don't think cold, classical accuracy is completely desirable. – Dekkadeci May 24 '18 at 6:59
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    If you present Autotune with a clear, well-centered vocal note, it can shift its pitch without too much bad effect. But pop/rock singers don't often sing that way. They mostly don't even AIM to sing that way. – Laurence Payne May 24 '18 at 11:05

If you can identify pitches played on the piano, then identifying pitches sung by human voices should be possible with practice. Voices will be harder to identify, because they are not as steady and exactly centered on the same pitches as a piano. Try singing yourself and listening to the difference.


Not a complete answer to your question for reasons mentioned below, but you could start by doing a few experiments to find out why it is in your case that sung notes don't trigger the automatic verbal associations (note names) which appear in your conscience like when you hear a piano note or other instrument.

You could, for example, take some recordings of sung notes, then, using Autotune or Celemony Melodyne or other such software:

  1. Get the notes tuned perfectly (so they are bang on the right frequency for whatever the note is).
  2. Remove pitch wobble in the singers voice.
  3. Remove natural vibrato (if it has any).

Once you've done that, see if you are able to recognize the note. If you can, you'll then know that one or more of those things has something to do with it. If it does, you could then try to train your existing AP to recognize notes with ever increasing amounts of wobble and vibrato by taking the idealized notes you created then re-introducing a tiny amount of vibrato/wobble/etc. back into the notes, testing yourself again, then gradually introducing more and more back in until they are back to natural sung notes again. Might work in your case. Would be interesting to hear if it does.

AP can be improved and developed to some degree using different methods (see article below), but nobody really knows at present what methods can create and maintain verbal/tonal associations of the strength and accuracy of those who have 'natural' AP which they developed in childhood during the hypothesized plasticity period. Presumably your instrument mediated AP is of that sort.

From 'ABSOLUTE PITCH LEARNING IN ADULTS. Is it impossible to acquire absolute pitch in adulthood?' by Yetta Kwailing Wong, Kelvin F. H. Lui, Ken H.M. Yip, and Alan C.N. Wong:

In contrast, while AP can improve to some extent in adulthood with deliberate practice (Brady, 1970; Cuddy, 1968, 1970; Hartman, 1954; Meyer, 1899; Mull, 1925; Russo, Windell, & Cuddy, 2003; Van Hedger, Heald, Koch, & Nusbaum, 2015; Wedell, 1934), there is no convincing evidence that adults can attain a performance level comparable to the AP possessors through training (Bachem, 1940; Levitin & Rogers, 2005; W. D. Ward, 1999).


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