First, let’s take a look at what pitch actually is and why it is so important to us as musicians.
Pitch is the difference between a truly breathtaking musical performance and a fumbling amateurish mess. When a musician has true mastery over his pitching, each and every note can be rich with musical expression. It’s a big part of how multiple musicians interpret the same musical score differently, each excellent in their own way. This is probably why Autotune infuriates so many serious musicians: those variations in pitch aren’t mistakes in the performance; they are the performance. If you clean up those “errors” and quantize everything to the “correct” pitches, all you’re left with is dry, robotic music. It may be fine for gimmicks like auto-tune the news, but it’s far from musically expressive. So, for the musician just starting out: Don’t be so embarrassed if your teacher tells you your pitch is off. This does not necessarily spell doom for your musical aspirations.
Pitch is one of the most fundamental aspects of music. Whether we actively study music or not, our cultural upbringing leaves us all acutely aware of when a note’s pitch is wrong. You might sneak a few wrong notes past the untrained listener, but even the most casual music fan can hear when a mis-tuned melody doesn’t blend well with the harmony, or that the piano that hasn’t been tuned in 20 years sounds more like a honky-tonk cowboy bar than a Steinway in an opera hall.
Beyond these pitch mistakes though, there is a whole world of musical expression that lies in the intentional manipulation of pitch. Consider the distinct expressive sound of an upright bass, or a fretless bass guitar. Think about how a lap steel or a violin can “wail” in a way that a piano never could. Imagine your favorite vocalist performing, and think about how much of the power in their performance comes from their expert use of slides, vibrato and pitch bends to shape each note.
Musicians often take their sense of pitch for granted. We learn to tune our instruments before playing, and to play the notes as written so as to avoid “wrong notes”. As you improve as a musician your sense of pitch automatically improves gradually, and you become more sensitive to notes that are out of key or off their target pitch.
This kind of passive development works fine for avoiding mistakes. As a result, most musicians never think about actively developing their sense of pitch. Once you can avoid sounding like an amateur, that’s good enough.
Or is it?
If you want to use pitch to reach the kinds of masterful, compelling, moving musical performance of the greats, it takes an active effort as part of your musical development. It’s surprising just how much of an impact some simple exercises can have on your sense of pitch and your musicianship.
[Reprinted From: http://makingmusicmag.com]