I’ve always had pretty good relative pitch and consider this an important skill to have if you are a musician or a singer. When I’m learning to play a song or composing, I try to use my ear only (not an instrument) and write down what I hear with a pencil using music notation. Once you know what the first note is, if you have good relative pitch you should be able to tell what the next note is and the note after that also, by recognizing the intervals between the notes.  If you have very good relative pitch, you should also be able to recognize the sound of combinations of notes, or chords, as well.  If you can’t identify these things by ear, then you must guess by noodling on your instrument until you find the note or chord that sounds the same as on the recording you are learning or what you hear in your head, if composing.  It takes much longer if you have to guess so it is advisable to learn the sounds of intervals and chords!  I highly recommend the The Relative Pitch Ear Training SuperCourse by David L. Burge. He drills you until you really know each interval or chord.  You only move on to whatever is next in the course after you’ve mastered what came before it.  So take your time and get the sounds into your ear.

If you are learning a song, how do you figure out what the first note is?  I usually try to guess that and sometimes I’m right but not always.  I don’t have perfect pitch, so I’ll play the beginning of a recording that I know how to play and then I’ll have that first note in my ear.  Or, I’ll walk over to guitar or bass hanging on the wall in my studio and pluck a note.  I’ll find the interval between that note and the first note I’m trying to hear in the song I’m learning and then I know what it is because of relative pitch. Several years ago I was working on the The Perfect Pitch Ear Training SuperCourse, also by David L. Burge, and experienced some success with it, but I was more interested in strengthening my relative pitch, which to me is more practical, so I focused more on that instead.

Having good relative pitch is useful for not only learning songs and composing, but also for improvising and singing.  Background vocalists, in particular, benefit from having good relative pitch so they can hear the lines they need to sing in the middle of the music.  Whenever I record Donna Cori Gibson singing her background vocal parts it is interesting to see how she notates them.  Even though she can read and write music notation, her vocal arrangements usually consist of numbers written over the lyrics.  These numbers refer to the 7 scale degrees of the key.  For example, in the key of C major, the notes are C D E F G A B.  C is 1, D is 2 and so on.  Donna sings her numbers.  She is able to hear and sing the intervals from one note to another even with everything else going on in the music.  This is very good relative pitch…





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