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OT: absolute pitch
I'm asking this at all of the music forums I frequent.
I just picked up a new student - nine years old, just started alto sax (he has been playing piano for five years).
After nearly completing his first lesson, he asked "Why do all of the notes sound wrong?"
I didn't know what he meant because all of the notes sounded correct to me, so I asked him what he meant and he couldn't elaborate.  Finally he said, "That doesn't sound like a B."  <sudden realisation>  I walked over to the piano, played a D and asked him if he knew what it was, and he replied (as if it were totally obvious), "That's a D."  I didn't have time for a good explanation, as my next student was coming in, but I told him quickly about absolute pitch and that I would explain more next week.  I also tried to explain it to his father, but his English is not yet strong so I think he didn't quite get it. 
Is there a guide of some sort on how to work with a student with absolute pitch who's playing a transposing instrument?
Any help is appreciated.

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #1
How about: "The key to learning the sax is to forget everything you know about music."

Q: What's the difference between a chainsaw and a bari sax?
A: If you swing the chainsaw from side to side, you can get some tonal variation out of it.

Sorry. Couldn't resist.
Registered user since 1996

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #2
Well, nothing easier, since you have nwc!
You student will know treble and bass clef. So, after having entered a few notes, insert the bass clef and... the notes sound different. So far so trivial.
Now, change to Alto clef or Tenor clef. Play... hey, they are different again.
Better still, go to the Scripto, find a few scores that have been entered by John White. There are beautiful Raff-pieces, to name just one. There scores will have "Clarinets in A", maybe Trumpets at non-concert pitch, the works.
Explain that different sizes of instruments, with the same fingering, produce different pitches. There is a whole theory behind it. Your student will appreciate it.
Another possible move is: visit the Newsgroup for more material, the opportunity to ask more Noteworthians, and to find more ready material.
cheers,
Rob.

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #3
Perhaps if you can get a couple of different saxes and show him the fingering situation...

Play a concert A on a Tenor with him watching your fingering, then do the same on an Alto.  Ask him which note you were playing.

Then do the same with a concert F# (I think) - the Alto will now be using the same fingering as the tenor did for the A but he will know the sound is a concert F#.

This should give you a lead in to talk about how the different size instruments fill in the total range available across bari, tenor, alto and soprano and how any sax player can move to any horn and not need to learn new fingering - just play the dots.  The sop. might be a little different - you'd know, I don't play sax so I'm not sure...

That might be easier than talking about fundamental frequencies and stuff - he is only 9 after all...

<edit> Hmm, buggered up my transpositions - should have been:
Concert A becomes a B on the Tenor and an F# on the Alto
Concert F# becomes a G# on the Tenor and a D# on the Alto
No good for the fingering example...

SO, the example should have been:
Concert A = B on the Tenor, F# on the Alto
Concert D = B on the Alto and E on the Tenor

Thus a B on the Alto is a concert D and the same fingering, a B on the tenor is a concert A.

Sorry 'bout that.
  • Last Edit: 2007-09-24 05:14 am by Lawrie Pardy
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals 'n youfonymums - gonna lern tubies next

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #4
Quote
This should give you a lead in to talk about how the different size instruments fill in the total range available across bari, tenor, alto and soprano and how any sax player can move to any horn and not need to learn new fingering - just play the dots.


That is a truly elegant explanation, Lawrie.  I don't think I've seen it done better.


Quote
The sop. might be a little different - you'd know, I don't play sax so I'm not sure

The soprano has the same fingering as the rest of the sax family. 

A transposition chart is here:
  http://www.saxontheweb.net/Transposition.html
and common transpositions are discussed here:
http://www.saxontheweb.net/Learning/Common_Transpositions.html


Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #5
G'day David,
That is a truly elegant explanation, Lawrie.  I don't think I've seen it done better.

Playin' the dots - It's a little saying I only picked up quite recently - 'bout 6 months maybe? - I liked so much that I stole it and filed off the serial numbers ;)
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals 'n youfonymums - gonna lern tubies next

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #6
Well, K.A.T., what would the world come to if no Davids or Lawries were there for you to get you out of your pickles?
I would advise you to send your student a link to this thread. And that's not because of my contribution.
cheers,
Rob.

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #7
There's still the matter of absolute pitch.  The problem is seeing a G (on alto), playing a G, but hearing a Bb.  This still happens to me when I have to use the transpose button on a keyboard, especially if the transposition is large - a fourth or fifth.

If the solutions the learned gentlefolk give above work, then there's no need to discuss it further - it would only create problems.  But if your student still has trouble turning off his "absolute", maybe try these:

  • get him to "just keep at it", knowing he is playing "wrong" notes, and eventually it might just work.  Or he might just get used to playing "wrong" notes.
  • get him to practise sight-transposition - grab anything, and play it up a tone, down a minor third, etc.  Eventually he will be able to transpose anything, and will go through life transposing like a geneticist.  This is an invaluable skill to have - you can play flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, bass clarinet parts with ease on an appropriate sax.
  • try to find a C melody sax (there are also C soprano saxen).
  • transfer to flute, oboe, bassoon, keyboards or some other concert pitch instrument (which is no good for you as a teacher).

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #8
G'day Ewan,
you make a very good point mate.

Not having absolute pitch makes it difficult for me to appreciate the problem.  However, seeing that he's only 9, perhaps he is young and flexible enough to adapt.

I can transpose whilst site sight reading - a bit anyhow, I prefer not to have to - perhaps he will need to learn this skill sooner than most of the rest of us had to (for those that actually did...)
  • Last Edit: 2007-09-25 02:10 am by Lawrie Pardy
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals 'n youfonymums - gonna lern tubies next

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #9
I recall playing a curved soprano in pit orchestra one time because my book included a flute part, and I don't play flute.  If I recall, it was a 1920s vintage, and pitched in C.  It didn't matter, I didn't have the chops to play it in tune, so I transposed all the passages and played them on clarinet.

However, a nasty problem the kid will face with cheaper new saxes and both expensive and cheap vintage ones is intonation.  They are notorious for being out of tune with themselves.  That's where the lip comes into play. 

Also, if he uses an older sax, make sure he uses a low pitch horn  - see the discussion here
http://www.saxontheweb.net/Resources/Pitch.html and http://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?t=38700









Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #10
Thanks, all, these comments are helpful and imformative.
I have some things to throw at him now (just wish I had had time last week...).

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #11
G'day K.A.T.,
if you think of it, I wouldn't mind some feedback on how you get along with him.  'twould be interesting to know whether he manages to grasp it or not.  Especially considering there are adults who never seem to "get it".
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals 'n youfonymums - gonna lern tubies next

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #12
I'm surprised a 9 year old would be able to play an alto sax.  They're kind of heavy, the kid's hands may not be very large, and aren't there embouchure issues with teeth that aren't fully grown? 




Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #13
I started playing Alto at 9.
Sixty years later there are issues with my teeth!!
Perhaps you're right!

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #14
It was just something a clarinet player mentioned to me last night. 



Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #15
Wow!  He already gets it.  That quickie explanation from last week along with a week on his own to fool around with the idea seems to have done the trick.  The kid really amazed me at how well he understands this.

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #16
You might want to look at an earlier thread on this:
https://forum.noteworthycomposer.com/?topic=3941.0
Since 1998

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #17
G'day K.A.T.,
Wow!  He already gets it.
<snip>

Cools - sounds like a clever and talented young man - good luck with his lessons!
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals 'n youfonymums - gonna lern tubies next

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #18
This "Perfect Pitch" is interesting. So which pitch does someone who has it, remember? A = 440 or what? After all piano tuning is only a compromise - "equal temperament" - isn't it? There are problems with tuning. A cappella singers usually use the 'Just intonation' tuning. Interesting!

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #19
Good question llucyy,
I've always thought about "perfect pitch" as being able to consistently recognise a pitch and relate it to a familiar convention.

I.E someone in the western tradition would know the 12 tone scale and relate to that, someone from middle eastern traditions would relate to a 48(?) tone scale they seem to use.

Asian countries use different referrents again in their cultural styles.  E.G. if you listen to traditional Japanese singing it seems very strange and often atonal to western ears - I understand this is because they, like other Asian countries use a "natural" music referrent - taken from things like birdsong and wind blowing in trees etc..

IIRC, middle eastern and asian music is traditionally an aural tradition, not written.  In this context someone with perfect pitch would probably only be recognised as someone with a really good memory for music...

To take this to a ridiculous extreme consider what would be the situation with someone with perfect pitch who has never been exposed to a musical tradition.  What would they call each sound they hear?  What if they had been exposed to a tone generator and told what certain frequencies were - you know "this sound is 337 HZ" etc.?

<small caveat here> what I've mentioned above in relation to Asian music is based on some vague memories of a doco I saw quite some time ago so please don't consider it as anything other than just that, a vague memory.
  • Last Edit: 2007-10-02 04:06 am by Lawrie Pardy
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals 'n youfonymums - gonna lern tubies next

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #20
The same questions popped up with me, llucyy.
Nice to see you back, by the way.
"Perfect pitch"  will be: when you have been exposed to a certain system / convention for a long enough time, and you have the ability to recognise the Hz-es, you will yourself be tuned to, say, 440 Hz. From there, you could argue that a singer would always go for perfect intervals. But that would not match the sound of an accompanying piano!
Yes, enough questions remain open.

by the way, I do not have perfect pitch. What I do have is a very good relative pitch: I can hear very well whether the sopranos are a tad off, or any other group, for that matter. But my ears protest when we ever sing anything a third too low for "rehearsal purposes". That's terrible. So my perfect pitch is relative... in two ways.

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #21
The "perfect pitch" thing puzzles me too.  I sometimes have it, especially for the instruments I've played a lot - piano and bassoon - which supports Rob's statement, but also for guitar, which I've never played, and have had very little exposure to.  Then there are days where I'm a semitone out (because I played a high-pitch harmonium for several years when I didn't have a piano, and yet other days when I have no idea where the note is.  So I guess I have imperfect perfect pitch.

I was thinking perhaps it's how we see colour.  Most of us know when something is green, even if the computer monitor has too much "red" and the green is really a greyish murk.  We're able to look at the murk and say "yes, it's murk, but it really should be green".  In the same way we're able to tell when something is "white" in a sepia mono-chrome.

Do we have "perfect hue", " absolute hue", "very good relative hue", or what?

(Glad this topic is OT! and please read "color", "gray", and whatever other variant you prefer.)

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #22
....and Schroeder says to Charlie Brown, "Guess what! I have perfect pitch!" And Charlie Brown replies, "You mean a perfect pitch, and besides, who cares? The baseball season is over."....

Peanuts strip from 30 years ago. Couldn't resist. Amazing what the mind chooses to retain....;-)

Re: OT: absolute pitch
Reply #23
***Can't call it "Perfect Pitch" because someone ¬©ed the term when he developed a method to teach it (~1980?).  Besides, Absolute Pitch is a more accurate term.***
Anyhoo, I might be losing the student due to scheduling conflicts.  :-(  He can't make the day I have reserved for the town in which he lives (I teach privately in five different towns...).  Woulda been fun.