You are almost there to the perfect pitch you have always dreamed of.
If you can match pitch you know that you have a solid fundamental sense of pitch, and further pitch ear training is then about becoming more sensitive to variations in pitch and exploring its musical potential.
There are a number of directions you can progress in, depending on your own musical goals and interests. Here are a few suggestions:
A. Sensitivity to tuning inaccuracy
Spend some time with your instrument intentionally altering the tuning to be slightly incorrect. For example, tune one guitar string slightly flat. If you play a solo instrument like clarinet, adjust your tuning to be slightly off, and then play with a recorded accompaniment track. If you play an instrument with free pitching, such as a double bass or violin, move your fingering to be slightly off from the normal note positions.
To develop your pitch sensitivity, you must then go further than simply hearing that it sounds “bad”.
First, listen carefully, and actively explore what you’re hearing in your mind. Can you hear how the mis-tuned string impacts each chord? Can you hear when and how your instrument’s notes clash with the accompaniment?
Then, once you think you’ve tuned your ear in to the pitch inaccuracy, here’s a very useful exercise: try to adjust your playing style to compensate. Can you change your embouchure, bend strings, or adjust your fingering to correct the pitch error?
This pair of skills—identifying pitch problems and being able to correct them as you play—is essential for any performing musician.
B. Sensitivity to musical use of pitch
As you become more conscious of pitch variation you can use active listening to appreciate the manipulation of pitch for musical effect. These manipulations tend to fall into three categories:
- Pitch bends: when the pitch of a note is adjusted up or down slightly. This means either starting off-pitch and adjusting to reach the target pitch, or beginning from the target pitch and then adjusting up or down for effect.
- Slides: rather than moving from one distinct note to another, on many instruments it is possible to adjust pitch smoothly in a continuous “slide” from one note to the next.
- Vibrato/Tremolo: These two terms are both commonly used to describe a note’s pitch fluctuating regularly up and down.
Note: technically “tremolo” should refer to a variation in volume rather than pitch. The “tremolo” bar of a guitar may be partly to blame for the blurring of terms!
Depending on your instrument you may well have practiced how to use each of these techniques. Now is the time to listen carefully and think about why you use them and develop an appreciation of when they are used in impressive musical performances you hear.
Manipulation of pitch can have an enormous impact on musical style too. Much of the distinctive sound of blues music, for example, comes from use of pitch manipulation by the artists. Can you adjust the way you perform a familiar song to sound like a different genre, just by skillfully manipulating pitch?
Pitch is one of the most fundamental musical senses to develop, and so naturally studying it leads on to other areas of ear training. The next step for most musicians will be to improve their sense of relative pitch: the relationship between notes, which builds skills like playing melodies by ear, recognize chord progressions and improvising. Having a strong sense of pitch provides an excellent foundation for relative pitch ear training.
However, before diving into other ear training there’s a more important next step: Start using your newly-improved sense of pitch when you play music.
You’ll find it can be truly thrilling to explore pitch variations as your perform. It’s scary at first, as you depart from the printed music, but as you do more pitch ear training and connect it with your instrument practice you’ll find it becomes a natural part of how you express yourself musically.
[Reprinted From: http://makingmusicmag.com]