This is what happened to me today. I was listening to a piece of music and the first chord was the same as another song I’ve listened to many times. The voicing, the instrument, everything was the same. I had never made that connection before. To be sure I was remembering the other song correctly, I checked. I was correct. Most people have this kind of pitch memory.
I was in the gym the other day and a trainer and her trainee were playing name that tune as they worked out. The trainee was pretty fast. It only took him a couple of bars to remember the name of the song and the artist. So he, a non-musician, has the ability to attach names to sounds.
That got me thinking. It’s not much different than what we do to learn absolute pitch or relative pitch. It’s like a game of name that tune. Instead of song titles and artist names, we use the basic fundamental labels of music. We use the names of pitches, intervals, scales, chords, and so on.
So you learn to label a minor chord when you hear one. You learn to name intervals. And you learn the names of the individual pitches themselves.
In essence, you are stripping down a particular sound to get to its most basic qualities.
Here’s what else I heard in the gym. If either of them didn’t immediately know what the song was, they would figure out what the song wasn’t. “No, it’s not Peter Gabriel and it’s not Paul McCartney. It’s not Graceland.” Then they would find other distinctions to help narrow down their choices. “It sounds like it’s from the 90s.”
If you’re learning absolute pitch, it may be useful to listen to a sound and figure out which parts of that sound aren’t pitch. It’s not timbre. It’s not volume. It’s not the sound of the instrument. Then find other distinctions to eliminate. It’s too low to be a G. It’s too high to be a C.
You can do this with pitch triggers too. If you have a tune associated to every pitch, you can narrow down your choices. It’s definitely not Beethoven’s 9th (F#). It’s not Mozart’s Sonata in C.
Too often I hear students stop on the first try. They don’t know how to label the sound they’re hearing and they give up.
Don’t give up. If you want to get pitch naked, you have to give it time. Absolute pitch is shy.