Top music goal for 2010: cultivate perfect pitch

Here’s a “new year’s” post 2 months in the making.  Things have been so busy focusing on the day job, music and family time that I haven’t crafted much in the “reflections” department.  I am feeling grateful that 2 of the lessons I learned in 2009 were:

  1. Simplify to open up space for creativity
  2. Listen to your passions

#1 basically means I realized that trying too hard can be an obstacle.  Every time I tried to find a better day job, free time for music disappeared.  Negative feelings about self and career began to trickle in…  But when I simplified and just tried to appreciate each day, this opened up more time for musical creation and let me realize (x) life is pretty darn good, (y) happiness is mostly what you make of it, (z) you can’t sustainably pursue an endeavor to help others if you can’t first help yourself.  On #2 this seems obvious, but it’s amazing how often my mind tries to convince me to do things that aren’t aligned with my passions.  For instance, and it’s related to #1, I decided last year to read fewer books (about 1 every 2-3 weeks instead of 1 per week) and free up more time for just listening to and enjoying music.

As a result I was fortunate to find a band I enjoy playing danceable tunes of high musical and lyrical quality.  Getback.  I also decided to become a father.  What’s up 2009!

My musical goals for 2010 are:

  1. Cultivate absolute (“perfect”) pitch
  2. Compose at least 1 LP’s worth of original music for recording
  3. Perform public gigs with a band I dig and music I enjoy!

In thinking forward to 2010, I was about to craft #1 as “re-learn the piano” when I discovered, in reading Chang’s The Fundamentals of Piano Practice (author link & Amazon), that it might be possible to transform my “relative pitch” ability into “absolute” or perfect pitch.  Relative pitch means that, given a starting note, you can quickly if not immediately figure out other notes you are hearing based on that starting note.  Absolute pitch means that when you hear a note, you instantly know what pitch it is on a piano (e.g., “D flat”).

Chang’s approach is to memorize a few classical pieces and then practice reproducing them in your mind.  You do this until you are able to hear only the starting note of the piece, and then mentally play the rest of the tune so that you finish on the correct last pitch.  This hones your “relative pitch”.  Then you do a series of tests, repeated as often as you can manage daily, to cultivate absolute pitch.  In other words, you train your brain to recognize what each note on the piano actually sounds like, so that you can hear a note and immediately recognize its pitch on the piano.  I’m doing this to improve mental composing skills, ability to “ear learn” new music and music concentration.

I started in January learning both hands of Bach’s First 2-part invention in C major, one measure at a time.  I would play the first note of each measure, then mentally play through it and then hold the last note in my mind.  Next I would play that note on the piano and see how it compared to the note I was mentally “singing”.  I noticed I made mistakes most often when the melody was taking large leaps, or moving into flats and sharps that I thought I could hear in my mind.  Over time I worked out the mistakes I was making, and then would gradually increase the number of measures I would mentally play.  Now I am working on the 22-bar piece in two chunks of about 10 measures each.  So hopefully in another 2-3 weeks I’ll be able to mentally play the entire piece with accurate relative pitch.  The process has been really enjoyable, as I practice hearing more and more from a deceptively simple Bach tune.  I feel I can already learn music by ear faster than I could before, for instance when learning music played by bandmates or when playing along with recordings.  I also feel my general enjoyment of music has increased and find myself wanting to listen to music whenever I can!

Next, according to the method, is to work similarly on a piece that emphasizes the “black keys”, i.e. a key like C# or Eb minor.  So next I’ll be working on memorizing and then mentally practicing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #14 in C# minor (Moonlight Sonata).  I’ll try to keep updates of how this is going on the blog.  Please ask questions (especially any music students reading) and I’ll explain more.

Last, an update on the band — we’ve decided to generate more original material so are not actively seeking gigs.  But some updates on the performance front will follow once we have finished this incubation stage!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: