I have done some pitch recognition tests. No note was given, and between questions a very chatty piece of music was placed to erase your mind. I got a 4/20 and for the rest I was off up or down a second-third.

I saw on youtube people taking pitch tests but not answering for ex C3 or D4. They were answering just C or D. No indication of the octave. I could relatively recognize that a note might be G for example or around G in C3 octave but for some I was an octave off. For one example I was thinking it was E5 when in fact it was E4.

I Googled about this issue but I couldn't find anything. Am I broken or is it normal to mess also the octave when doing pitch recognition?

(I find piano to give me the most confusion about pitch, maybe because of harmonic richness.)

  • Is this a test for absolute or relative pitch? – Your Uncle Bob Sep 21 '19 at 17:39
  • @YourUncleBob i don't know, i just saw pitch test in the name of the YT videos and did them. What's difference between those two? – edd Sep 21 '19 at 17:47
  • Are you given a known note at the beginning of the test and then have to identify the following notes (which would test relative pitch), or do you have to identify the first note without any reference (which would test absolute pitch)? – Your Uncle Bob Sep 21 '19 at 17:50
  • @YourUncleBob no note is given, and between questions a very chatty piece of music is placed to erase your mind – edd Sep 21 '19 at 17:59
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    Then that would be a test for absolute pitch. Don't worry, not many people have absolute pitch, it's not necessary for a musician, and it can even be a hindrance. The important thing is relative pitch, the ability to recognize the interval between two notes. – Your Uncle Bob Sep 21 '19 at 18:02

Most transcriptions of music without official sheet music I've seen have the melody in the correct octave, so yes, I'd say that people can usually tell what octave notes are played in, regardless of whether they have absolute pitch. (OK, fine, the transcribers likely had the help of an instrument to determine octave voicings, but I don't think they kept getting the octave wrong on the first try.) Admittedly, I've read that wrong octaves are some of the most common errors in absolute pitch note identification.

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  • OP is asking about within the context of absolute pitch tests, as seen ad infinitum online. – user45266 Sep 22 '19 at 20:54
  • @user45266 - I tried to imply that those transcriptions of pieces without official sheet music (and without the use of the original music files, if any) were all done by ear. From my experience, I believe similar mechanisms are done for both absolute pitch tests and transcribing by ear. – Dekkadeci Sep 23 '19 at 5:43

Yes, it is possible to confuse octaves. Less so with experience, but it's still possible to get fooled, particularly when more than one instrument is playing.

No, you're not broken. And your low score merely indicates that you don't suffer from absolute pitch (some say it's as much a curse as an advantage!)

Most experienced musicians have some degree of absolute pitch. Play A on a piano, they might know if it's flat - it just SOUNDS wrong. Some untrained singers consistently sing a song in the key of the recording - even when an accompaniment is being played in another key! (This happens - recordings can be in the optimum key for the singer, published sheet music is often transposed to an 'easy' key.) Physical memory from singing along with the recording rather than absolute pitch really, I suppose. And I can reliably blow my nose to a B♭ 😀

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  • Yes i have been reading absolute pitch can be a curse. Also the online industry of tutorials and methods of how you can obtain it is entertaining. Probably there is an evolutionary reason why we don't have our brains set by default to have it. – edd Sep 23 '19 at 23:30
  • I recently experienced the curse of absolute pitch. I'm a church pianist, and recently had to play at a memorial service. One of the visiting relatives of the deceased played our electric organ along with me, but it sounded terribly out of tune. Afterwards, she asked me why I wasn't playing anything in the key it was written in, which confused me. She allegedly had perfect pitch, and was certain I was playing in a different key (I wasn't), so she was transposing on the fly into the key she thought I was playing in -- leading to a horribly dissonant poly-tonal performance. – Caleb Hines Oct 21 at 16:43

When people guess not just the pitch but also the octave, then they sometimes guess the wrong octave. Computers make the same kind of mistake (e.g., this paper, page 4, bottom left). In the pitch tracking literature this is called an octave displacement error.

But most of the time, particularly in a musical context that's not too dense (piano: Bach not Liszt), both people and computers usually guess the octave correctly.

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  • Sometimes i confuse a 9th interval for a second, which is funny because if you transpose the high note by an octave down it is a second. – edd Sep 21 '19 at 18:48
  • OP is asking about within the context of absolute pitch tests, as seen ad infinitum online. – user45266 Sep 22 '19 at 20:54

Anecdotally, people with absolute pitch recognize both the pitch and octave of what they hear. (This based on a survey of one person I know with absolute pitch). I don't have absolute pitch, but at least on the instruments I play, I can generally tell you which octave on that instrument a note is played, though not the pitch, unless I have a reference pitch to work from. I would have a harder time if I'm not familiar with the instrument.

One reason an experienced instrument-player (include vocalists) can identify the octave is because the timbre of the pitch is different in different octaves of the instrument.

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