Perfect Pitch.......

Frankly, its a nightmare!

i would like to have a moan on behalf of us people who are the human tuning fork for the musical world.

Unless the only notes you have ever played are on a Bb instrument/Eb instrument, its almost impossible to learn a brass band instrument properly!

I walked into my first euph lesson, got told to play a C, and spent ages looking for it around various valve combinations! When i play my open note i am playing a Bb. My mind will not let me call this a C. (A spade is a spade?)

therefore, i have learnt the instrument to my pitch, and a C is played with 1 and 3. All is well and good of course until i try and play a piece of music...

Everything i play is in the wrong key- so i have to transpose everything down a tone at sight! At first this was a nightmare, but it got a lot easier the more i did it. For me, the bass clef is welcome relief...

But imagine playing an Eb instrument! I'd love to learn the tenor horn but the thought of transposing everything at sight into Eb pitch turns my stomach!

Please let there be people out there who know what i mean. How have you learned to play your instruments? :cry:


Active Member
well, not having perfect pitch (or in fact pitch) I don't really have the same problem. But when I moved from bass clef to treble clef I still thought of the notes at concert pitch, which confused people when I was talking about certain passages! I should think you'll get used to it soon enough, it's just a bit like learning another clef like alto or tenor, it clicks after a few weeks!


Active Member
It does take a while to get used to different pitched instruments, I had this when changing from Bb cornet to Eb soprano (and back). It just comes with familiarity (which means practice - oh how boring does this sound!).
Now I can (reasonably) confidently play sop music on the Bb cornet if neccessary, as long as it's not silly high, obviously!
If you try to think of pitch as being relative, rather than absolute, it helps, too.

Dave Payn

Active Member
As someone (and I assure other tMP users I'm NOT boasting, it's been a hindrance as well as a help!) who has (or at least has been told I have!) perfect pitch, I'll relate something I first posted on a similar thread on the Gramophone magazine online forum.

'As someone who has been 'told' by others that I have 'perfect pitch' I can honestly say there are advantages and disadvantages. Without obviously knowing, but from what people have told me, maybe a good sense of 'relative' pitch is better. I assure you that I do not boast, but I could probably sing a modern pitch A (as well as a 'period' pitch A) within one or two Hz of the accepted, but I shall list an example of how I tried to use this sense of pitch to my advantage and ended up falling flat on my face, whilst first explaining how I discovered this ability!

I can't say whether I was born with this sense of pitch but in one of my first music lessons at secondary school in 1974, my then music teacher tried to see which of his pupils had a good sense of pitch (I didn't realise his reasoning at the time, but it makes more sense 29 years later!). Just before I started my secondary school education, I had been 'dabbling' in learning the basics of the trumpet and had just about got to grips with the C major scale (one octave). Back to my music teacher, who played a concert Bb and asked if anyone knew what note it was. I immediately piped up 'That's a C'. He corrected me, only for me to tell him (utterly oblivious to what perfect pitch was, or whether anybody else had it) 'It's a C on a trumpet (which, on a Bb trumpet, it is!).

My music teacher then persuaded me to take lessons in the trumpet (something I still play today, but only to an amateur standard). Anyway, how did I come a cropper? My 'mock' O level in 1978! The aural exam was contained on a (warped) LP. When it came to the 'writing of a melody played by the oboe', the announcer on the LP said it was in the key of G and the oboe duly played a G as a starter. Only the warped LP made the G sound nearer an F sharp to my ears. I had been inadvertently relying on my 'perfect pitch' to determine notes without fully developing the skills required to hear intervals and such like. I couldn't cope! I wrote down the melody in F sharp major (well, without the key signature but the necessary accidentals!). I got away with it but my teacher then made sure I could relate to intervals rather than the working out of each indivdual note to determine my aural answers! Listening to a lot of period instrument baroque as I do, I've also grown used to A at 415hz too, but whilst having this sense of pitch HAS helped on occasions, it has been and still can be a bind. I'd much prefer to have had an average or relative sense of pitch.'

In the end, so far as moving from one instrument to the other in brass bands, I've found perfect pitch has been a help rather than a hindrance. If I may be bold enough to offer a suggestion (I'm not doing this from a position as some sort of expert, far from it. I just wish to pass on my own experiences so that it might help), that if you haven't done so already, try and concentrate on hearing intervals rather than individual notes. That's how I first got through my aural exams! I'd hear two notes and think: 'Right, that's and F and the other one's a C, so it's a perfect 5th', but in the end, after my mucked up mock O level I mentioned earlier, I had to learn how to 'hear' intervals. It may help when learning a different instrument, I can't be sure, and it might well aid the transposition side of things but the problem is, whilst I say I'd much prefer to have a relative sense of pitch, I can't actually be sure of that because I don't really know what it's like. I'm just guessing, I suppose!



Active Member
bell_end said:
Perfect Pitch?

Throwing a tenor horn in a skip at 30 paces!

But it's a lot less bovver wiv a hovver :D


That one on the corner of Billingsgate Market currently held by the fruit and veg man :D

wonder how many jokes we can get out of Perfect Pitch

Sorry OT slap my wrist <slap> Ouch!

I've never had to think about anything in terms of intervals, i'd be lost doing dictations and aural without perfect pitch!

I've had to do a few awkward thngs like dictate poor recordings or baroque pitch, and i can just about but its not easy.

maybe i'll get hold of a tenor horn and actually try to learn the thing properly...


Active Member
Well I have had perfect pitch since I was quite little - and it seems to have acquired a transposing facility as I've got older - rather handy in banding and orchestral playing - saves time on the transposition front!

Does that make me the ultimate perfect pitch BOC??? :?

Rach x


Staff member
you fail on the grounds of not being BOCcish enough.

I've not got perfect pitch. In fact, my pitching is decidedly imperfect.
Dave Payn said:
I can't say whether I was born with this sense of pitch
Just wondering how you found out what a C was. Surely it was learned, not born into you. Who decided an A was 440hz? What about old orchestral pitch? Much better to have relative pitch. However, my dads' pitching's all over the place.
How i found out what a C was?
My mum found out i had 'perfect pitch' before i ever saw an instrument.
But she bought me a little keyboard so i learnt what a C is.
She should have bought me a brass instrument!
It's really hard to get in tune with anybody because my perfect pitch is a bit flat (only a bit) and most brass bands I've been to are tuned up with an electronis tuner so they sound sharp to me so my ear gets confused if that makes any sense? It's like being ripped in two. Add that to the fact that I play on one of the older cortouis and that makes for a VERY out of tune flugel player-every note sounds wrong to me and I can't find exactly where it should sit! I don't have this problem when playing on my own though! I'd rather have relative pitch! But having said that-it does have advantages that you take for granted. Such as:
- listening tests are a doddle BUT, because I've relied on it for so long my theory is not very good! So When it comes to naming intervals i have to write down both notes and count the distance, but because my theory is bobbins sometimes i get it wrong! Also-tapes often play things a semitone sharp which can really mess you up!!!
-you know whether it's you who's mis pitching or the person next to you BUT you can't tell the person next to you coz they might take offence so you just have to sit and suffer in silence!

I don't struggle when it comes to playing in keys I'm familiar with-probably because I started playing the recorder (don't laugh!!!) which is in concert pitch round about he same time i started playing tenor hornwhich is in E flat. But, because b flat is the most popular key in a brass band I also got accustomed to that? I think switching into thinking in different keys is kind of the same as someone who reads in more than one clef-(which i CAN NOT DO!)? I dunno.

Does anyone know how I can sharpen my prefect pitch (which obviously isn't perfect coz it's flat-but u know wot i mean!) to be spot on?


Active Member
I've got pretty good relative pitch but thankfully am spared the pain of perfect pitch - a nightmare for trumpeters/transposition.

Stories above reminded me me of a phone call I once received: "Hello, this is the XXX Baroque Orchestra, can you play natural trumpet with us at 415?" she said. "No, I'm busy all afternoon" quoth I.

Oh how she laughed.


Dave Payn

Active Member
BeatTheSheep said:
Dave Payn said:
I can't say whether I was born with this sense of pitch
Just wondering how you found out what a C was. Surely it was learned, not born into you. Who decided an A was 440hz? What about old orchestral pitch? Much better to have relative pitch. However, my dads' pitching's all over the place.

Good point, but I still don't know the answer as to how I found out! Learned sub-consciously? There's probably a scientific answer alluding to sound waves etc. but I'm not particularly scientifically minded! The truth may well be that what is often referred to as perfect pitch (see the answer about IBAB's 'flat' perfect pitch) is merely an enhanced sense of pitch hearing or an enhanced 'relative pitch. It is said that 'absolute pitch' is the ability to spot a concert a at bang on 440hz (but as you say, who decided that?), others say that what is often referred to as 'perfect pitch' is as near as dammit 'absolute pitch'. Either way, it has its advatages and disadvantages, as I outlined earlier. It's not something worth boasting about, that I do know!

By the way, good gag straightmute!

You can change your perfect pitch by practicing.
I found at one point i was going flat- and once i worked out why i got back on track soon enough. (it was my dodgy car radio playing everything a bit slow and therefore a few hertz flat!)
Just listen to lots of music that isnt flat, and if you are really, well, BOCish, you could work with a tuner to sort it out.
Actually, saying that i was playing with a tuner the other day- apparently i cant sing! (And my tam-tam is a G#. Odd.)

Dave Euph

I could have a pretty good stab at singing a Bb concert pitch due to my experience in playing a brass instrument. However, I do not believe I have perfect pitch.

I do think I've got a relatively good relative pitch mind (excusing pun)!

It was always the case in pitch aural tests if someone played me a note and asked me to sing another note I could more or less get it everytime. Thiws is very useful and is continually refined being as I sing inn a choir, but always I've thought it would be nice to have perfect pitch.

Of course, reading some of the views here maybe I'm wrong? :)

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