Keeping Your Guitar In Tune Keeps Your Ears In Tune

This will help you to learn perfect and relative pitch.

If you’ve been studying guitar for a while you’ve probably hear the terms “perfect pitch” and “relative pitch”. Perfect pitch is the ability to hear a pitch (note) and identify it by name. Relative pitch refers to being able to hear the relationships that different pitches possess. Both of these abilities can help you to figure out how to play songs by ear on your own.

There is a myth out there that hearing pitches perfectly is an inate ability and it is for some. There are many reasons behind this, the most obvious being that those with the ability are exposed to music at a very young age. In addition those who use hearing as their primary sense for learning are more likely to have the ability.

However for those of us who weren’t born being able to hear and identify pitches immediately have a lot of hope. Here’s a tip that can help you develop your ability to acquire and maintain a good sense of pitch and it all begins with keeping your guitar in tune.

In order to learn what pitches sound like correctly you’ve got to hear them correctly in the first place. In order to hear the right pitches your guitar needs to be in tune. Makes sense, right?

I know his is especially hard for beginners. After all, how can you keep your guitar in tune if you don’t know what it is supposed to sound like in the first place? I recommend electronic tuners. An electronic tuner can help you tune your guitar to the proper pitches perfectly. If you are a beginner and don’t have one go get one now. There should be a law that first time guitar buyers get a free tuner with the purchases of their guitar. That’s how important this is. There is nothing more detrimental to having perfect pitch than hearing out of tune pitches.

Tune your guitar before you practice. Before you even play one chord, tune it. Every half hour tune it again when you are practicing, as guitars can go out of tune after just a little while of playing. After a while you will realize when your guitar is out of tune just by hearing it. At that point you will be able to begin tuning your guitar by ear. But after you tune it by ear go back again and check it with the tuner.

So now you will be playing and hearing all of your pitches perfectly. In time you will develop the ability to know what each pitch sounds like just by hearing them. Its all about realizing that your sense of hearing can be used for more than just listening to conversation.

Just as you can learned at a very young age to identify words, you can learn to identify pitches. In fact its easier because there are millions of words out there, in many different accents and structure but just a 12 distinct pitches to learn, each having its own name. You have these names to choose from: a,a# (Bb),b,c,c#(Db),d,d#(Eb),e,f,f#(Gb),g,g#(Ab).
** The notes in parentheses, the flats, are enharmonic to the sharps ( they are the exact same pitch), designated by the # symbol.

Each one of these pitches is one fret apart or in the case of going from string to string 6 pitches apart with the exception of the 2nd and 3rd strings in which case they are 5 pitches. So keep they guitar in tune!
It just takes a different way of looking at things. Think of each distinct pitch or note as a word, a unique word in definition and sound, different from all others. When you try to identify it don’t second guess yourself when you hear the pitch. That would be like looking in the dictionary every time you hear a word, even though you’ve heard it many times before.

If you can remember the “sound” of the starting note of your favorite songs in your mind then you can remember pitch. Its as simple as that.

Relative pitch is a little different in that an ability to hear intervals is a per-requisite to identifying what the interval is. Don’t worry though its not as hard as it sounds. Heres a little exercise:

First hum the first two notes of “Here Comes the Bride” then hum the first two notes of “The “Star Wars Theme”. They each have a different sound because there are different intervals between each note. If you can realize the difference between each song then you already have the ability of relative pitch.

The next step would be identifying the intervals. Defining the intervals is a little more complex than defining pitches so we’ll save that for another lesson. But again your guitar MUST be in tune to learn the intervals correctly. If you play “Star Wars” on an out of tune guitar your fingers may be in all the right places but you are ruining your sense of relative pitch, and perfect pitch too.

Your eventual goal is to be able to identify pitches you hear in everyday life in addition to just music. Stuff like the pitch a bird chirps on or a dog barks on or a car horn. Then start to identify the intervals you hear. For example the notes of a siren or church bells.

Keep in mind it can take a long time to develop your senses, but know that you can do it! Its not impossible like some would like to have you believe it is.

So here’s the conclusion: 1) Keep that guitar in tune. 2) Learn the sound and name of each pitch. 3) Become aware of the relationships between then pitches. 4) Apply it to everything you hear.
-Bob