Perfect Pitch, Relative Pitch & Just Plain Singing on Pitch!

by Angie

According to Wikipedia, Tone deafness is the lack of relative pitch, or the inability to discriminate between musical notes. Being tone deaf is the difficulty or being unable to correctly hear relative differences between notes that is not due to the lack of musical training or education. Tone deafness is also known variously as amusia, …

But researchers have found that only 1 in 20 people truly has amusia and tests have shown that some people with what could be considered bad singing voices, hear music just fine!

Let’s take a quick look at these terms you have probably heard of, along with a short description of each:

Perfect Pitch (or Absolute Pitch):

The result of having a clear mental image of notes (frequencies) with the ability to name them without any external reference note.

Relative Pitch:

The ability to identify the intervals between given tones, regardless of their relation to concert pitch (A = 440 Hz). Relative pitch requires thinking and physical skills and can be developed through ear training exercises.

Singing on Pitch:

The ability to match a pitch with the voice. Though some are born without this ability, many of us can learn this essential skill for singing.

Do you need to have perfect pitch in order to have a singing career?


Those who have perfect pitch simply have a clear mental image of notes, and can identify the note and recall the name of the note without any external reference. Anyone can develop the ear or hearing abilities to attain relative pitch. That’s all you need. That said, for those of you who want it so badly, perfect pitch can also be developed as studies are now showing that people who speak tonal languages (Mandarin for example), are more likely to have this ability since perfect pitch simply represents another type of tonal language for them.

In the end most important thing for a singer is to be able to sing on pitch, and this has more to do with an internal balance than actual hearing. Those who are stressed out about singing out of tune are listening too hard after the fact, which has them slipping and sliding into notes or holding back as they make sure they have found the right pitch before reaching a desired singing volume.

The trick is for the muscles of the voice to then memorize the production of specific notes and perform them with the command of the mind. Don’t even allow the term “toned deaf” stop you, as this may not be your case. Most people who have been labeled as such actually do hear the notes correctly, but have simply not made that physical connection yet.

Test for perfect pitch or relative pitch

A few tips on how to improve your ability to hear music and sing on pitch:

  • Try to hear things internally, in your mind, then use muscle memory to tell you how the note will feel in the body, and then simply allow things to happen, without listening externally. Receive your voice as you have imagined it already, right on time, right on pitch. You do hear you voice, but you are not getting all tensed up from actively listening. Record yourself so that you can hear the results and make necessary adjustments.
  • Learn to feel the pitches within your body and try to memorize these feelings which will bring great awareness of what needs to take place before you even sing anything.
  • Learn about the structure of music to help develop relative pitch (practice solfège, or take on an instrument like piano to learn and apply music theory).
  • Listen to music more actively or analytically. Try to guess what instruments you are hearing in a song and then see if you can detect what each individual instrument is playing. The same goes for any background vocals you may hear. Is the singer performing their own harmonies or is there another timbre of voice in the back? Listen for the rhythms and for the melodies. Are the notes going up or down? Is the song played in a minor or major key? Etc.

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