Using Mnemonics for perfect pitch?

Credible input is valuble. Thank you.

I met one person who said ‘ani ben doug’ and further stated that i was on the fringe of autism. I told her she was talking utter hogwash. as the proof was insufficient for me…

I’m interested in results, so whatever can help helps.
Experts in the field are most valued

Perfect pitch is something that most musicians who DONT have it will tell you is impossible to train. Part of the reason is that they are using poor techniques to train it. The other reason is because even with good technique it is a massive undertaking.

If I were to do this again I would follow these rules:

  • Only focus on learning 2-3 pitches at a time with about 2 weeks of learning time
  • When introducing new pitches, pick ones from unrelated keys
  • After 2 weeks of introducing new pitches, put them into a spaced repetition program. Even when you get the answer correct, play the trigger melody.
  • Focus both on recognition of the note and production of the note (In that order)

I actually have experience in this area. I worked on training up perfect pitch for about a year while I was getting my music degree. I tried those systems that involve creating colors or pictures for a given note and they simply DO NOT WORK. Sorry, but there is hope elsewhere.

Based on the research of Daniel Levetin, author of This is Your Brain On Music we know that people can usually sing their favorite song close to the same key and time as it is written. Their ability to produce is it usually based on the amount of vocal training they had.

What this means is that we can create mnemonics for pitches BUT they can’t be visual mnemonics. If you can find a song that you are familiar with that starts on each note, you will have your mnemonic. After you have trained and tested yourself with these mnemonics you only have to thing of the song to trigger production of the note or let the note bring up the song in your head.

Some melodies for the classically inclined:
C - Sonata in C (Mozart)
D - Minuet in G (Bach)
E - Fur Elise (Beethoven)
F - Invention in F(Bach)
G - Beethoven’s 5th (dur, Beethoven)
A - Toccata in D Major (Bach)
B - Turkish March (Mozart)
C#/Db - Hungarian Rhapsody #2 (Liszt)
Eb/D# - Symphony #40 (Mozart)
F#/Gb - Ode To Joy (Beethoven’s 9th)
Ab/G# - Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven)
Bb/A# - Funeral March (Chopin)
** Pieces with 2 notes labeled: The first note is the written note for the piece. The second is the enharmonic spelling.

I have also noticed in my 15 years of experience that most people I have met with perfect pitch fall somewhere on the Autism Spectrum. I will be sure to ask a neurologist about this later.

“Proof” from my sample size of 1

  • While observing a choir I, and all the other teachers in my group, were asked to make a recording of myself singing a major scale with no set starting pitch. I started on Bb (tuba player), the percussionist started on C, and the french horn player started on F …interesting.
  • After practicing a piece very hard for 2 weeks I was asked in a lesson to sing the beginning. It started on a Gb and because it was so set it my head from so much practice I sang an in tune Gb as the first note. This gave my teacher a cue for when I hadn’t practiced as well as I should have in the future (oops)
  • While teaching a high school band I heard the timpanist tuning the bottom timpani to a G (I knew it was supposed to be a G because I had memorized the score). He stopped at F# and I was able to correct him because I knew that wasn’t what a G sounded like. This was before I had done anything else with the band for the day so I know I wasn’t picking up a tonic from elsewhere in the room.

Hope that helps.
Mr. Maestro

Those rules seem to make sense.Taking careful notes (=).

I’ve starrted with the basics.
Which is trying to master the sense input of hearing.

Examples: Sound of water: feminine-with varying degrees of emotion. chopping trees-masculine
kitchen sounds: hermaphrodite. etc etc.

This keeps my excitement up, when i can’t hit the note.

Thanks again for your input, i am almost certain this will help.

This is my personal opinion, do what works for you. I think that trying to apply masculine and feminine and all that to particular sounds is not terribly helpful. It’s just fluffy and those descriptions don’t really mean anything. It’s the sort of issue that sommeliers have.

Try listening to a complicated piece of music for your ear (complicated is different depending on your level of musical training). Find a line that is NOT the melody. Now follow that line through the duration of the song. If you are listening to a orchestral piece and you think you can pick out the french horns, try to make it more difficult and discern the part for the second horn. is great for this. You can follow along with the scores while you listen to recordings. This can have an incredible effect on ear training.

Two books you might be interested, if readings scores is a bit past your level are All You Have To Do Is Listen by Rob Kapilow and What to Listen For In Music by Aaron Copland. I recommend the first most.

Be callous to my subjectivity, and I will listen to your opinions.

Mr. Maestro, perhaps keep an eye on this thread or notifications. What you have said so far, makes sense, that could really progress my musical side.
Personally, I would prefer to do a little more reading, added to the books you mentioned,( and practise ) on my side, to continue my part of the thread.

I shall post in the future, on my progress, with questions…

Thank you for your advice

The issue is improving your resolution. Most of us can accurately distinguish identify which octave on a piano a given note is being played (e.g. In the lowest bass, near middle c, or in e highest octave). Practice with this: name the correct octave, maybe numbered from 1 to 7. this is technically absolute pitch, just with a low resolution. Next, practice narrowing the resolution, so that you divide the keyboard into 14 half-octaves, and practice identifying which note you hear. Continue until you get down to a resolution of 1 semitone or less. This is approaching the problem from the opposite direction, like building up a figure of a tree by starting with the trunk, instead of getting frustrated when you start with the leaves before the trunk is even there.

This is constructive input. Thank you. As I am not a student of music, I don’t have all the technical knowledge yet. However this I do wish to change. Improving resolution seems very productive.

I think the idea of refining resolution is an interesting one with many merits. My only issue is that you can somewhat confuse the encoding of the notes and do not actually have a system through the harmonic functioning of notes when reviewed near one another.

G has a dominant function with C. In one context B natural would imply C as it is the leading tone. In another context it would would imply E as it is the dominant or A when it is the super tonic. The refined resolution above might be better used when focusing on the development of relative pitch instead of perfect pitch for this reason. It would be important to review notes in each review session that have less of a harmonic relationship to one another. Another thing to take into account is that the farthest you can get from any other note is a Tritone (Diminished 5th, Augmented 4th, or 6 half steps) so the idea of starting by differentiating octaves is a bit overkill.

It is not my goal to come across as harsh or negative. The theory I presented in my post is not originally my own and I do not hold any emotional bias to it. I am just trying to make sure the proposed systems stand up to the necessary rigor.

I don’t know how I missed this thread. I actually have done a little bit of research in this area, and a lot of thinking, across several disciplines. For what it’s worth:

It appears that there is an ill-defined gap between absolute pitch (call it what you like) and perfect relative pitch, even when the latter is “grounded,” so to say. This difference does manifest in all kinds of tests, and according to my reading of the more recent research coming out of the lab at U Montreal (where this whole field of music and cognition is being pioneered in a big way) is that there appear to be differences in where the information gets processed.

Now let me put that concretely. (Please note: whatever else I might be, I’m not a neuroscientist, and if someone out there can correct me – with citations, please, as I want to learn! – I would love to know about it.)

People with a reasonably decent to superlative “ear” can, through training that begins in middle childhood or thereabouts, memorize one or more pitches. Usually what happens is that you learn to play an instrument, let’s say the flute. As you play and play, and listen and listen, certain flute pitches sort of get stuck in your head. Because someone with a reasonably decent ear can readily learn relative pitch, i.e. the ability to detect and name an interval accurately, the person who’s nailed a couple of flute pitches expands to be able to name all flute pitches. Octaves are particularly easy, because their timbres echo one another; perfect fifths are especially hard, because the echoes are again close. And so on. Eventually, with continued practice, especially chamber music, orchestral work, etc., one learns to extend this into other instrumental ranges: the flautist “gets” piccolo quick, and then clarinet, then the double reeds, and so on. Piano can be difficult for many, because for so many music students it is constantly a “background,” as though it had no timbral character of its own. The ultimate result is a very practiced musician who can rapidly identify a pitch played on any instrument.

Assuming you’re with me thus far…

True absolute pitch seems to work from the opposite end, as it were. Right from the outset, it is perfectly obvious that this sound is a Q and this other one is a T. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a piano or a violin or a Moog synthesizer: they’re nameable and knowable. What takes time is rather the organization of this labeling ability with regard to one or another scalar naming convention. So what as a 3-year-old (let’s say) the person always thought of as a big flying bat now turns out to be called an A. OK. Admittedly, the bat always seems a little high to that person, because that person thinks the bat ought to be at about 438 instead of 440, but hey, we learn. There may be pitches in the newly-learned scalar (or whatever) system that had no previous associations – not a bat, green, the number 57, or anything – but relative pitch seems to kick in very easily for such people. (Note: these associations are here listed completely arbitrarily – there is I believe some research about what sorts of labels or associations seem to develop naturally, but to the best of my very limited knowledge this research is quite inconclusive.)

There is also some indication that cognitive processing in the former case goes in the opposite direction from the latter, but as far as I know this isn’t conclusive.

The ultimate effect looks pretty much the same at a distance. Someone plays a pitch on any instrument, the subject names it immediately. Asked to sing a pitch without context, the subject does so accurately. Same thing?

One interesting point, which I haven’t seen followed up strongly in the literature, probably because there are so many factors that it’s difficult to do scientific experimentation: it looks as though the former version, that learned perfect relative pitch thing (which I have learned, for example, but am rusty at), is fairly easily swamped: given enough sensory input at one time, one cannot step back and sort the notes. “What pitch did the second horn just play in that Mahler symphonic passage?” But the absolute pitch person is different: the answer is either yes or no – either s/he did or did not hear the pitch sufficiently to be able to hear it again in memory quickly, and if so, s/he can name it instantly.

I hope this is of some use to someone.

Agreed. Absolute pitch by definition, includes the universal set. Tuning a guitar perfectly by ear is not |abs| pitch, its an instance.

Great posts. I play a a guitar but, unlike the some here, i’ not professionally trained. So it better to listen to them rather than me. But, i’ll tell you my experiences which may be of help and hopefully, they will correct any wrong things or misunderstandings I have about music.

When I first got a guitar I had nobody to learn from so, I went out and bought four books. It was just before compact discs came out so, the first book had a record to teach tuning the guitar in. The record was more like a plastic bag in thickness and not a proper thick piece of plastic. I really hated tuning the guitar with a passion but, at the same time, I really wanted to learn.

Soon, I had learned a few basic chords. I say soon, after two years using the same books I could probably play about twenty songs badly. It was a solid electric guitar and stayed in tune well though, luckily for me. This is something I grew to notice is a major stumbling block in learning. Really poor quality guitars or poorly strung classical guitars will go out of tune fast. The untrained newbie has particular problems in recognizing this as the string loosens so slowly it’s hardly noticeable as the sound is nearly the same.

After two years of trying to teach myself from these four books, I had pretty much given up hope. The books were really expensive, didn’t have many songs in, weren’t in the correct key when compared the the original song and always sounded wrong but, I didn’t understand why. The books with plenty of songs were really expensive and there wasn’t much of a supply of them locally anyway as I lived in a small town.

One day, I was moaning about this in the pub and really didn’t want to give up but, getting frustrated with the same old songs and not progressing was really getting to me. Half the songs i’d never heard of and I made it my business to find these songs so I would have more to learn.

Then, it came as something of a shock to me that, my regular drinking mates down the pub played the guitar. Five of them all had played the guitar for years and they were a decade or more older than me so, I didn’t know about it from school. They never discussed instruments as far as I remember but, they did play together sometimes at their flats. They all kept their instruments hidden away to protect the from dust and damage so, even though i’d been to all their homes, I had no idea.

If it wasn’t for this freak chance, I would have most certainly given up hope. Learning songs you don’t really know or like isn’t exactly motivational. Books seem better now but, I don’t buy them. I copy the television or compact disc.

How ? I spent an awful lot of time with my mates at their own homes from this point on. Normally I would just meet them in the pub but, I couldn’t waste this opportunity from people who could help me.

First of all, I was taught some songs I knew and liked. They were equally simple to the ones in the books and the chords were familiar. I didn’t know all the chords at this point so, my mates gradually added new ones one at a time to give me less to learn.

Soon, I was staying up all night. Literally playing one song non stop. Over and over. This did my mates heads in a bit but, they tolerated it because I was showing such an interest. It probably helped that I appreciated how good they were.

Still I was confused how they could all so easily play along to the theme tune of anything that came on the television or stereo. After I was well practiced with all most commonly used chords and a few more which I had previously found difficult, they told me about something called a three chord trick. This was like a revelation to me. Suddenly, playing became a lot easier.

I could take songs from those books that weren’t in the right key and convert some of them. They may not be right but, they sounded better. I didn’t really understand why and it bothered me.

I made up a chart after a while because I noticed a pattern. I drew the letters of the major chords like this to see if it would work. I did it without technical understanding so, it was a little off. But, the general principle helped me a lot in the understanding of converting musical keys.


Looking at the chart, this felt like another revelation. I felt like i’d made some great discovery. Obviously others could do it but, I was happy to have worked it out, or at least part of it. If the top one was the key, say in D, and I knew the chords, I could looks at the matching chords where the top letter is C and transpose a song into the key of C. I don’t know to this day how it is done by a professional.

Soon after this, I was intentionally practicing converting songs I knew and liked, into keys where I didn’t like playing the chords. Usually the uncomfortable ones or uncommon ones for my level of playing. Like flats.

I highlighted the chart so I could convert most of the chords as a glance but, some of them had flats/sharps. I realized that even though I had very little understanding or experience of flats and sharp, I could work out where they should be. It was tricky because I hadn’t learned bar chords properly and was just getting into that. A barchord is like an octave thing on a piano to me.

I already knew some basic scales from the books so, after learning the bar chords, it helped me to actually understand or feel what was happening. I never really played many notes like this until this time. I found individual notes quite straight forward and boring to play. I was learning to do what my mates had done and realized that I could use these scales in different keys because they had taught the bar chords. After doing that, the key itself would stand out. I would then look at my chart, and know the key and the two most likely chords and most likely minor that would go with them. I didn’t do this through technical knowledge, I did it because I noticed a regular pattern of a certain minor coming up with certain three chord tricks.

So, after that, as long as I could identify the key from playing scales up and down the fret board until the whole scale went with whatever I listened to, I would have a fair idea of a which of the chords to play.

This must be what my mates had done. I don’t know how they learned it and some of them had proper training so, maybe it was explained to them or, maybe, like me, they just resisted the temptation to smash the guitar up in frustration and just noticed a few patterns and things.

After this, I soon become confident that I could play a scale along with most things. Not that I sounded great because I didn’t. What I did have was some confidence that if I practiced, it now seemed possible to progress and learn whatever I wanted.

Today, I rarely pick up the guitar but, if I do, the first thing I do is to tune it in. I don’t use a tuning fork or a pitch pipe though and I don’t claim to have perfect pitch. However, as has been said already on the thread, I can recognize certain keys on certain instruments now.

In my head, I hear the Pogues. The Pogues frequently play in the key of D so, I call up a Pogues song in my head, then I copy it to the D string on the guitar. After that, I use the D string to tune the other strings.

Also, another thing I noticed is that, prior to this, I had a pitch pipe. Blowing the G note on the pitch pipe happened to give me a strong reminder of the song Mother by Pink Floyd. For a while, I would hold the pitch pipe in my mouth, and just blow the G note through most of the song as I played the now tedious and easy chords. By now the the chords of that song are simple to me and I don’t have to look and what I am doing or even think about it.

Regarding what’s being said about natural perfect pitch, I have wondered about it for years. My thoughts are this. We instinctively recognize warning or danger sounds and we hate them. We love musical sounds and the regularity of rhythm so, we are drawn to it. Having spent a ridiculous amount of time repetitively playing songs, what I have noticed is something about the way I tune a guitar or, more importantly to me, the key I choose.

I did not make some conscious decision to tune with D. Logically, I would think that most lessons and songs I learned were in C and my first tuning fork was in C. No string is in C and even though this didn’t really pose a problem, I didn’t really like doing the tuning from there.

The next most common chords to me were G and D in that order. I often played in G but, found the A awkward so, would avoid the key of D. I could probably tune a guitar in with G now but, I never do it.

The reason I think is one of familiarity due to a lot of repetition but also something elsre. I love certain sounds and if I pick up a guitar, I will probably play them first. I love to pick and I have terrible time keeping but, really I don’t care. I spent a long time learning Norwegian Wood by the Beatles and I happened to learn it with a D. It’s not the D note I don’t think. Some days I would put a capo on and turn that D into and E or whatever else.

This became noticeable and irritating to my friends who wanted a bit of variety. Luckily for them, I was going through some of my fathers tapes listening for the odd song I might want to learn directly from the tape, by ear. Being proficient at playing Norwegian Wood, when I heard a song called Colours by Donovan, it jumped out at me. I knew the same chord shape was used because the pattern of notes is so similar. Unlike a piano, the chords on a guitar are not ‘in a straight line’. They sound different.

I still didn’t understand how and why a chord was constructed but, I felt there was some logical way of working it out and, since a piano is set out in a straight line, I took up piano lessons to learn how to create chords.

Seven lessons later, I was fed up and quit. It was going to be ages to find the information I wanted and the teacher wasn’t going to tell me until I was ready. I was back to playing basic songs I hated but, I had at least learned what the notes meant. In the six-months of compulsory music lessons in school I had no idea why I had to remember EGBDF or FACE and the whole six months was a waste of my life. We weren’t even allowed to play the instruments.

I told my mother. She worked in a library and got me a book. Bang, it was perfect. It explained how to construct minors, suspended fourths, etc. It made sense and what was once complicated suddenly seemed simple. To understand at least.

Soon, I was saving for a keyboard. I had no desire to learn the keyboard or piano before, only to help with the guitar. I figure a keyboard wouldn’t do me any harm, I could use it as a pitch pipe, practice my understanding of chord construction and get good on the guitar.

Then, when I got a second hand keyboard, I put it up and put a music book on the stand. The book contained the chords already so, it helped me save time thinking allowing me to look at my fingers using familiar chord sequences from guitar songs. Then, my mother came to see it. My mother had done piano lessons as a child but, she lost interest. I had never heard her play a piano in my life and at this point I was in my early twenties. She got up to grade four I think. I’m not really sure. Always we had a piano in the house and it had never been played because it had been out of tune, since before I was born.

So, you can imagine my astonishment when she randomly flipped my book open and it landed on an Elvis song when she started playing. She was playing every note, playing them perfectly without looking at the keyboard and taking her hand off to change pages. i was gobsmacked and kind of angry that she hadn’t taught me some music basics. I had no idea what piano grade levels reflected in terms of how good someone was and always assumed she was a complete novice.

She never touched it again. Now, like my mother, i’ve pretty much lost interest. The challenge seems to have gone. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean i’m good. I’m not. I suppose i’m average and i’m nowhere near a trained classical guitarist. I did ask about lessons recently for classical guitar but, paying £20 a lesson shocked me out of the idea.

Strangely though, I love a particular pattern in music which, like the D chord shape, I use a lot. I am terrible at time keeping but, I love to pick with my fingers so, this makes keeping time easier because the sounds are pretty constant. I don’t even find this repetition boring. I don’t care what the key is either. If Mozart or Metallica come on the tv, I will copy them with a scale to find the key and start picking my regular old rhythm along to whatever it is with both scales and chords.

It’s never the same and I don’t try and copy it exactly, just make the sound I like go along with what i’m listening to.

I also bought various cheap instruments over the years. Harmonica’s, Jaws Harps (Jews Harps), Tin whistles. Always in the key of D.

At one point I got a saxophone. I learned one or two scales from a music book and the main one, in key of the instrument, was getting stuck in my head as did the Pogues but, I soon gave up. The deep sound of a tenor saxophone carries a lot further than I realized until, one day, my mother came home from work and knew I had been playing. I had put it away five minutes before and she had walked home. That’s how far the sound carried so, I felt it was unfair on my neighbours. Even though they hadn’t complained.

Something I am interested to know is, what the grading represents. I haven’t wondered this since i’ve been on the internet. Is there a list of songs or music that could be allocated to each grading to give me an idea ? Like level one - Song, level two - song.

The grading is the level of difficulty, so a simple version of a song would be at a lower grade than a more complicated one of the same song. Have a look on youtube - Trinity College has both ‘rock and pop’ and ‘classical’ pieces and the grades are generally given so you can compare the levels. By the way, there are only eight grades.

Okay. Thanks.

Getting off-topic from mnemonics, but let me throw this link in: Possible problems from perfect pitch:

I would love to hear if/how people consciously acquiring perfect pitch are able to avoid the problem of going crazy if a DJ plays Eiffel’s “Blue” a quarter-step flat…

Not to say that “Blue” doesn’t drive one crazy to begin with. :smiley:

I’m sort of curious why mnemonics would have anything to do with this. Mnemonics can help a person memorize the rules of grammar and the vocabularly for a foreign language, but without practice and repetition using those pieces one will never become fluent.

Same thing here, mnemonics will help you learn the naming convention, but it’ll do absolutely nothing for you in terms of identifying a pitch because that’s a skill. For some reason some people are born with it and others have to develop it, but it’s less a matter of memorization than it is of the ability of the brain to discriminate between different pitches and label them.

I only read the OP but I’m going to jump in really quick and say that while I don’t know much about “perfect” pitch, I did used to have a roomate at UT with perfect time (it was pretty cool, I would hold a stopwatch and his timing really was perfect, he could snap his fingers right on the turn of the 100th second) and he taught me one mnemonic which I have used to have an ear for the sixth, which I didn’t have before.

That orchestral jig for NBC… “Innn Beee Seeeeee,” taking the N as the root, the “B” is the sixth - that is the mnemonic that I used to learn the sixth by ear, so I can vouch for the usefulness of mnemonics for simple tasks of recognizing tones and intervals at least.

Alright, I should have read the thread first xD

Mr. Maestro already said all of this. But take the NBC thing as an extra example.

Good idea… I just did a quick search and found this site that can generate a custom chart to help with learning intervals:

Indeed, that’s a method I was taught in school! A warning though: I had a classmate that, even though he knew the starting intervals of Für Elise are minor seconds, when he tried to sing the start he didn’t sing minor seconds at all. What I mean to say is that it’s not a foolproof method! You might not be singing the starting interval of that song as correctly as you think you are. Of course, you might not be singing at all.

Also, that’s an excellent chart because it covers both ascending and descending intervals. I’m only practiced in ascending and harmonic intervals, so when I hear a descending interval I have to convert it to ascending, which is time consuming. Learn descending and ascending!

I want to link this old thread to a new one so that people can find it: Perfect Pitch and Memory