Jennie Khan

Freelance Cellist and Teacher

Jennie Khan is an Auckland based cellist and cello teacher. She has a variety of experience performing both here and in Europe and has been teaching students of all ages for many years.

An Ear for Music - Part I

Having a good ear is crucial for all musicians. There are a lucky few who have perfect, or absolute, pitch. This means they can identify the name of any note, recognising a car horn as a 'D' for example, or instantly playing back a ring tone on the piano.

I am related to at least one of these people, but unfortunately, I was not lucky enough to inherit that particular gene. So, like most, I have had to learn to develop 'relative pitch'. This allows me to pitch intervals from a given reference note and to play notes in tune in relation to accompanying chords. The importance of being able to pitch notes and maintain accurate intonation is hopefully evident. No doubt as a teacher, a musician or even as a listener, you have heard at one time or other, singers or instrumentalists that are quite out of tune. The notes and harmonies clash, the tune does not sound right.

Sketch of street performers in Lyon - by J Khan (these guys were very in tune)

Sketch of street performers in Lyon - by J Khan (these guys were very in tune)

As someone that does not have the natural gift of perfect pitch, it takes vigilance to really listen and hear the notes, sometimes needing constant adjustment to get each note just right. One needs a lot of attention to detail, "near enough" is in fact not near enough. If you let incorrect tuning pass unaltered, your ear can get lazy and over time it can become harder to hear what is in tune and what is not. Inevitably from time to time we will let our attention slip but this must be overcome. The key is to be listening and training your ear as much as possible.

I don't profess to have all the answers and there is no silver bullet to fix an intonation problem, hearing when you are in tune is quite different from the execution of it on your instrument. But in Part 2 I will go into my discoveries improving my own intonation and experiences teaching others to improve their ear. 

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