(The Myth of "Perfect Pitch"..... and How to Get "It," by Kirk Whipple)
X. About reference tones
Here are a few common reference tones that have
- The tuning note from the oboist at the beginning of the concert is an A above middle C.
- Concert bands tend to check their tuning with the B-flat above middle C.
- Most flautists are enamored with their lowest tone,
middle C, unless they have a special B pedal which is one half step lower.
- The last few times I waited for fresh fries at Jack-in-the-Box the attendant was
notified with an alarm that repeated in ascending order the tones of a C major triad, C -
E - G, starting from middle C.
- The current dial tones (note: plural) of most American phones are
tuned to a major third, the F and A above middle C. Please note that this major third (in just intonation) will not have the same tuning as
that of the equal temperament of your piano
Can you add to this list of widely recognized reference tones?
Here are a few reference sources to avoid:
Again, any recorded sound! This means from your car stereo, the radio, TV
programs, the elevator music, and the list goes on. Exceptions to this rule would include
recorded sound that is produced under scientifically verifiable conditions, i.e. tuning a
recording (at the precise moment of listening) to an oscilloscope.
The ice cream truck. At the time of this writing I am living in Miami and there is an
overabundance of mobile frozen dessert vendors. Aside from my personal crusade against
noise pollution there is a lesson to be learned. If you live in a community where vendors
blasting ditties from their trucks have not yet been banned, listen to them as they drive
around the block. You will notice that the key of the melody changes - often erratically. This is due to an
acoustic Doppler effect . The pitches will rise as the ice cream truck approaches and fall
as it is going away from you.
The tones produced when you dial on your touch-tone phone are tuned quite oddly. You
will not find the "telephone scale" to be very
useful when compared to the tunings of other musical instruments.
Your piano can be your worst enemy in this endeavor if you do not have it tuned
and check the tuning regularly. Usually two tunings a year (after changes
of season) are sufficient for most music students, teachers and performers. However,
during periods when you are using the piano as a reference device for your tonal memory
you should check the tuning on your piano at least monthly. If your piano is receiving
heavy use once a month may still not be enough. For these reasons, a consultation with
your piano technician would be advisable before you begin this project.
Any additional suggestions of avoidable reference sources are appreciated.
The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 1
The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 2
The Myth of "Perfect Pitch" - 3
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Table of Contents
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for discussions related to Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from Its Natural Origins
to Its Modern Expression, by W.A. Mathieu (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions
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Updated: September 18, 2004 (KB)
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