Relative Pitch is a skill that allows musicians to determine the distance between two notes, the types of chords being played in a chord progression, and the chord progression itself.
Having relative pitch allows you to be able to sing and name the correct notes of a melody after a starting pitch is identified.
Relative pitch also allows you to improvise freely over chord changes with minimal intellect, because you will be able to hear and feel the notes that will sound good. You will automatically know where those notes are located on your instrument.
In other words, this skill is your total understanding of how music works, how chords function within a chord progression, and how notes relate to one another.
Because you have this understanding, relative pitch also gives you the ability to clearly communicate to other musicians how they should play your music. You will know the difference of when to call a chord an F# minor 7 chord versus a Gb Minor 7 chord.
Unlike Absolute Pitch (also known as Perfect Pitch), relative pitch depends on relationships between two notes. Usually a reference note is determined first, then the relationship of later notes are established through your understanding of music. This relationship understanding is then able to be manipulated to compose music and improvise.
Another difference between absolute pitch and relative pitch, is that relative pitch can be acquired through basic practice. Some websites claim to be able to teach absolute pitch, but I haven’t been able to succeed with their methods, nor do I know anyone personally that has. What I have developed is relative pitch.
Relative Pitch Ear Training
Most ear training software is designed to quiz you on testing your relative pitch skills through playing an interval, chord, or chord progression and then asking you to name what was played.
This can be helpful in that, most of these ear training software comes with the capability to keep track of your results. This can help motivate and make you aware of your opportunities.
Although relative pitch quizzing has been a time-tested method for developing relative pitch, I feel that the most effective and long-lasting method for developing relative pitch is to first develop a basic understanding of the structure of music (by learning how to spell notes correctly) and listening to this structure on a regular basis.
Knowing when to call a note F# versus Gb, drastically affects your understanding of what you are hearing and how the notes are functioning and relating to one another.
For instance: F# is a major sixth in the key of A. On the other hand, Gb is a diminished 7th (double flat 7) in the key of A.
At first, the spelling of notes may not seem all that important, useful, or relevant. But the sooner you know how to spell a note correctly, the quicker your mind’s ear will understand exactly what it heard. Your mind’s ear will also stay organized and this organization will ultimately accelerate you learning curve.
So, first learn how to spell.
The next step is to connect these associations with the sound itself, through listening. A lot of consistent listening.
You can do this by playing intervals, chords, and chord progressions on your instrument and naming these associations out loud.
A simple way to apply this to your instrument is to play a note, such as C. Say the note “C.” Then play a note E. Say the note “E.” Then intellectualize what relationship has been established and vocalize that. In this example, you will say, “Major third.” Then, move away from your intellect and simply just feel that note relationship. After you feel what a major third feels like, you can try to describe, in an abstract way, the feeling of this note relationship through the use of other senses, like touch, smell, sight, etc.
At some point, you will no longer need to intellectualize what you are hearing. You will simply feel the note relationship and know what is being played.
These two steps are critical in developing permanent relative pitch in a short period of time.
Listen To Chords To Further Develop Your Relative Pitch
Once you have the basics of relative pitch, you then need to take on the challenge of listening to a lot of chords.
The best way to start hearing chords is through regular exposure to the 1-10 Ear Training Test.
This test methodically teaches you how to hear every single note being sounded in a chord.
You’ll be surprised at the capacity of notes your ear can hear simultaneously!
Hearing chord tones will take your relative pitch skills to a whole other level. This ability will teach you how to hear the melodic notes that will sound good over any chord. This ability will also teach you how to hear the “special” notes that will add melodic color to your compositions and improvisations.
Once you can hear chords on their own, you need to take your relative pitch skills even further, by focusing your efforts on chord progressions.
You can do this by listening to a lot of chord progressions and hearing how these chords function with one another. What I mean by “function,” is to notice how a G7 chord wants to resolve to a type of C chord. This is how “V” chords tend to function. G7 is a V chord in the key of C.
This ability will teach you how to hear chord progressions more quickly and react to these chord progressions more appropriately during an improvised jam session.
After spending time with these approaches, you can take on any ear training software with relative ease. However, you will find that relative pitch ear training is simply more exciting through listening and with playing music, instead of testing with ear training software.
You will find more enjoyment and get more value out of transcribing music.
Immediate application is the best way to learn.
The more you focus on hearing and playing music, the quicker you will learn and hear music in a more musical way. As a result, your music will sound better and you will no longer find the need to continually test your relative pitch.
Start on the right track for developing relative pitch by regularly listening to these ear training mp3’s. Use this website as a resource to keep you on track. Although you should ear train regularly, put a limit on your ear training practice, and always fit time to musically apply what you just learned.