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IEM pitch perception issue

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first of all, i apologize if this is in the wrong forum. i wasn't exactly sure where it belongs.

i've been using IEMs for awhile now and i personally like them and feel they have improved my vocal technique by hearing pitch easier, not straining to hear myself, etc. i use shure SCL5 earbuds w/the black foam and a senn IEM wireless.

the other day i noticed something very strange. i also play bass guitar and it felt like my bass was out of tune. i checked tuning and it was correct. i would play a riff and notice certain notes to be sharp (by relative pitch perception, knowing how the riff is supposed to sound, etc). it was really strange. i double checked my tuning, ...it was fine. i even pulled out my earbuds and put them up next to the tuner (w/mic) and checked my earsbuds, ...they were fine. i put them back in and some of the notes sounded sharp (not all, just a few. example: F2~G2 were sharp, ..yet F3~G3 was OK). then, i tried something else, ...i took the earbuds out of my ear canal, ..but put them close enough to my ears where i could hear them, ..but they weren't sealed... everything sounded OK. this was really freaking me out... i could hold a certain note and push the earsbuds back in, ..sealing the canal, ..and the pitch would go sharp. i was honestly terrified since i'm the lead vocalist. so, anyway, it was late, ..so i put them down and thought to myself i would try and figure this out the next day. well, the next day, ..everything was fine. this was only a few days ago, ..but i haven't reproduced it since.

so, my question to the experts, ...does ear canal pressure have anything to do with perception of pitch ?? i've been dealing with a lot of sinus issues/congestion lately... so maybe that contributed.


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Greetings, Blackeyed28;

Here' a friendly "HI". My experience has been in a different part of the musical planet, but I may be able to throw SOME light on the phenomenon you mention.

I have done several decades of work with barbershop singers. Especially in quartets where the tuning of chords is critical, I have found that in the upper reaches of the tenor part, a singer may be 'right on the mark' with his/her note -- and even verified by an oscilloscope! but still SOUND flat. This does not happen too often as a good quartet singer will make his note sound good in the chord because he listens to the total sound as well as his own. So, as a coach, when this happens, I ask him to bring the pitch up a bit and listen to how good the chord rings then! This usually works and he knows where he must listen better and make this minor, thought important, adjustment.

We're not done yet. When a bass singer is in the lower part of h is rang, singinig in a qurtet, he may find that he could be a bit sharp of where the chord 'blossoms' because he has 'settled down into the center of the note. I like this description of what to do because it doesn't imply that he's wrong, but not quite in 'the center of the note' especially for this particular chord. When he 'gets there', everyone can hear the difference.

I've been told that this anomaly is caused by some quirk in the perception of the pitch and probably a bit of a glitch in one's hearing apparatus.

I don't know if this helps you, but maybe it'll keep you from thinking you're going nuts. Lotsaluck. Raymond C. Miller.......musiker

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I've been told that this anomaly is caused by some quirk in the perception of the pitch and probably a bit of a glitch in one's hearing apparatus.

Raymond: The sense of pitch is psychoacoustic... part airpressure patterns, and part ear/brain interaction. What you are describing is well-known to piano tuners, who push lower notes flat of true, and higher ones sharp of true, so that the resonance of the instrument will 'sound right'.

While most of us know the classic 'doppler effect' example of the change in sound of a train horn passing, its not so well known that a great deal of the apparent drop in pitch is due to the sudden softness of the tone. A louder tone of a given frequency sounds 'higher' to us than one of the same frequency but softer.

Both the barbershop bass and tenor have to be aware of this. Bass, as the foundation of the harmonies, is singing fairly loud, which will cause the percieved pitch to ride high. The tenor, who in the 'stack' sings comparatively softly for reasons of balance, has to sing those soft notes deliberately sharp to be perceived as 'in tune' with the bass, as you mention.

Its fascinating. The quartets and choruses that master these techniques of singing have a special sound.

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