Good musicians are said to have a good ear for music. It is a marked sensitivity in hearing sounds, notes, intervals and rhythms. But what does perfect pitch mean? In this article we will try to understand if it is an innate characteristic that identifies natural talent and music in the blood, or if it is something that can be improved or learned through education and listening.
In reality only a few musicians have a perfect pitch more or less developed which is not absolutely essential to play well, nor is it synonymous with quality for a musician. Of course it is a habit that every professional would like to have, perhaps to demonstrate an extreme musicality and understanding of the world of sounds, rather than to exhibit a supposed superiority towards the average musician.
Musical or absolute ear
In common parlance a person is said to be gifted with good ear for music when he has a particular aptitude for singing and music. For example, those who have an ‘ear’ can reproduce a melody by singing it or playing it immediately after listening to it. Then there is a feature called ‘relative ear’ which consists in recognizing the intervals of the notes played in sequence, but not necessarily calling them by name.
Who is equipped with perfect pitch in addition to the pitch of the notes, it also recognizes their exact tonality and can name them without having to find the correspondence on an instrument. Only a few people have an ear so sophisticated that they recognize the name of any note heard between the twelve notes of the chromatic scale and perhaps they are not even great musicians.
Without perfect pitch one can very well be great performers, musicians, pianists or conductors and in the history of music in fact very few great composers were gifted with it. Among these Mozart, Leonard Bernstein and Paganini for example, while masters who wrote very important musical pages such as Igor Stravinsky, Maurice Ravel and Richard Wagner did not have the absolute gift.
Is perfect pitch innate?
It has always been thought that theperfect pitch was a mixture of connaturality and hearing education. Psychologist Jenny Saffran, of the University of Wisconsin, however, did some investigations and discovered with a test that for some children it is an innate gift. By observing the concentration of children subjected to the repetition of certain sequences of notes and intervals, she understood that when they recognize the same music, attention drops faster because the interest represented by the novelty is lacking.
Adults find it easier to measure relative changes e they lose their pitch with age because they do not use it and it is even annoying for everyday life. It is easy to understand why, since this sensitivity provides extremely detailed information on the sounds heard. Perceiving even the faintest noises served our ancestors as a defense and hunting tool, but today it is no longer indispensable. Earplugs are more useful to listen to noise pollution caused by traffic or neighbors’ TVs.
Musical ear traning
L’perfect pitch it remains a dowry to some musicians and is frequent among the blind, who can receive more information about the surrounding space from the tone of the noises. But is there any method to train it? Many aficionados argue that the only way is to start playing as a child. New research, on the other hand, offers new hope to adults as well: it would only be a matter of exercise and therefore it can be cultivated for a lifetime.
Professor Howard Nusbaum of the University of Chicago has shown that even people without absolute pitch after a special musical ear training can train the brain to recognize the name of the notes. There would be a special auditory memory capable of improving musicality. In any case, an absolute ear acquired through study will never have the ideal characteristics of a natural gift from mother nature and parents educated to music.
Absolute pitch test
If you think you are musical and you want to understand if you have perfect pitch you can test yourself with a test. In the video below some notes are played at intervals separated by a background noise that resets the mind and cancels the musical memory. Try to guess every single note and write the name on a piece of paper. Remember to use the scale the name of the notes in English, therefore, starting from the C: c – d – f – g – a – b
Right and left ear
Talking about musical ear another question arises: are left and right ears the same and do they hear sounds in the same way or is there some difference? It may seem strange but the two ear cups do not react to sound vibrations equally. Even though they appear the same to us as drops of water, the left and right ears are very different when it comes to listening to music, sounds or words. The substantial difference originates in the different perception of language in the two hemispheres of the brain.
You can understand this by observing the normal behavior of people: which side do we normally keep our smartphone on to make calls? According to a recent study by researchers from Henry Ford Hospital, 70 percent of people hold their phone on the ear on the same side as their dominant hand. Quite strange, since it involves some problems, such as taking notes using the same right hand and vice versa for left-handers. But you can’t fight nature that easily.
Listening to music with one ear or the other depends on the prevalence of the hemisphere of the brain. Those who think with the left hemisphere hold the phone to their right ear and vice versa. Given that 95 percent of people have a dominant left side of the brain, it explains why most people use their right hand and ear to make phone calls. According to some child psychologists this would be the reason why it would be preferable to speak to the right ear of children to make themselves understood better.
Which ear listens to music?
L’left ear instead it would be connected to the emotional and irrational side of the brain, therefore with the art of music and the perception of emotions. This different specialization of the left and right hemispheres of the brain also seems to be reflected in the different ability to perceive sounds. This is confirmed by the study carried out by a team of American researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles led by Yvonne Sininger and published in the prestigious scientific journal Science.
To study the reaction of right and left ear a technique called otoacoustic emission (OAE the English abbreviation) which exploits a special characteristic of the ears. Each time they receive a sound, the ears amplify the vibrations and then re-emit them outwards. The same vibrations can then be measured with a special microphone.
In this way, a test was carried out on more than 3,000 newborns with two types of sounds, quick clicks or musical tones. It was thus discovered that in almost all newborn children and therefore immune to conditioning, the left ear reacts more to music, while the right one deals with language. This confirms the role of the two hemispheres of the brain and the fact that when listening to music the separation starts already in the ears.
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