For a few years now, I've been trying to achieve some sort of absolute pitch. I realise it'll most likely never happen, but several times a day, as I walk past a musical instrument, I'll sing a particular note - middle C as it happens, and it's got to >90% success. That note in my mind isn't the root of C, but the maj.3 of Ab, as it happens it's the start note of a tune in Ab.

This isn't absolute/perfect pitch, as I cannot hear a pinged glass and say what note it makes - or even hear a piano note and recognise it as a certain pitch. (Open strings on a properly tuned guitar are a different matter!).

Obviously, once the C is established, any other pitch can be found using relative pitch.

And it isn't relative pitch, which I use all the time.

Is there a term for it, and does anyone have a good ploy to improve the 'skill'?

  • Just as another point of reference I noticed I could do this as well. For me it was when I was much younger learning jazz tunes and realized I'd memorized the opening G in Blue Bossa from playing it so much. I've since accidentally done the same with other tunes. But that's been 15-20 years and, while I haven't spent that much time actively practicing it, I can't say I'm any closer to true absolute pitch. It's still a matter of figuring it out in my head afterward from a reference point.
    – user37496
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 11:03

3 Answers 3


Oddly enough, Absolute / Relative pitch actually exist in practice on a continuum. You yourself even alluded to this continuum.

Instrumentalists often develop absolute pitch relative to their instrument. Why? Those are the sound they hear most. You can probably tune your guitar from new strings without reference. However, these skills aren’t transferable.

At the risk of spilling industry secrets (not), once you have relative pitch developed to a certain level, it really doesn’t matter which one you use, as long as your ears are working. On a more personal note, almost everyone I know with AP talks about it more as an affliction than a blessing. And I also know that it DEFINITELY doesn’t automatically make you a good musician; it just makes you a different type of musician.

  • 1
    Completely agree. I know a few people with AP, including my husband. They are all musicians, but like Jjmusicnotes says, that doesn't automatically make them better. In fact, in can be limiting in some ways. All of them have trouble playing transposing instruments because the written music is showing a different note than the one they hear. Also, my husband has less tolerance for young players because their intonation is so bad. It doesn't bother me so much so I can teach beginners. AP is mostly a curse, especially when talented musicians can develop a solid sense of pitch without it.
    – Heather S.
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 12:36

My understanding is that true (pure?) absolute pitch cannot be learned as an adult. What can be learned is pitch memory, which is as close as you can get to true absolute pitch. This is what it sounds like you're working on.

A recommended way to develop this is to find a song intro/first bar for each pitch. For instance, find a song where the intro or first bar starts with C, one that starts with C#, etc. Listen to these intros/beginning segments of songs over and over and eventually when asked to sing, for instance, an Eb, you can play your Eb intro in your head, mentally "hear" the pitch, and reproduce it.

However, this requires constant drilling on your songs, because if you don't use it, you'll lose the pitch memory, unlike a true AP person, who has the ability all their life.

I'd echo what others are saying, that absolute pitch is not really necessary, and even pitch memory is more work than it is a benefit. Relative pitch is far more practical and can be learned and improved.


I think absolute pitch is a natural talent. Maybe it will just come some day and if it's going to, you probably still cannot will it come come before the time it was going to. I know it can be obtained in adulthood to some extent because it happened to me. Some time while I was in the middle of watching the second season of "The Worst Witch," I gained the ability to reliably play the song of the introduction to that show in my head at the right pitch before actually starting the show and hearing it. I think I might have been about 30 then. I'm now quite often able to play a song I heard before in my head at a pitch that's less than a semitone off but I'm not always able to do it. I'm not sure I can even always do it for the introduction of "The Worst Witch".

I feel that I figured out a method of recalling notes I heard so long before. I'm not trying to hold onto the memory of what pitch I heard. I'm actually letting the memory get lost in my brain then later finding a way to extract the memory from my brain. I cannot teach you how I do that. I just some day figured out a way to do it that I could not have learned before the time I was able to figure it out. I believe my brain was sluggishly improving with time with no conscious effort and by the time the second season of "The Worst Witch" came out, by brain was already in a good enough state for just a few episodes of that show to trigger that ability.

  • You might just be a case of the Levitin Effect at work for you. By the way, how faithfully do you remember songs? I tend to remember them so faithfully that I can remember instrumentation details.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 10:28

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