Relative Pitch is the ability to identify the pitch of notes relative to other notes you’ve heard.
For example, you might have a sense of a song’s tonic (resting) note and then be able to recognise the pitches in the melody using solfège.
Or you might use your interval recognition skills to judge the distances between notes and work out a tune that way.
The essential point is that you are identifying notes relative to other notes.
Absolute Pitch, often called ‘Perfect Pitch’, is the ability to identify notes without any point of reference.
For example, the musician who can tell you out of nowhere that a car’s horn is a “B♭”, or that the band is playing a song in a different key than the original recording.
It can also be used to work out tunes and play songs by ear, which is where the confusion between the two skills often arises: both skills can enable you to perform similar tasks with musical pitch.
It’s easy to remember the difference:
- Relative pitch is all about the relationships between notes relative to each other.
- Absolute pitch is about identifying notes, absolutely free of any other notes’ influence.