I almost always hear music

relative pitch

An old friend, C, asked:

When you hear non-playing music, what genre(s)? Do you recognize the tune right away, or do you get to play ‘Name that Tune’ with yourself?

I suppose I should clarify. Often, I have said that I almost always hear music. Even when there is no obvious music source, I can hear music.

There are two answers to the question. One is that I usually hear the bass line. About 5% of the time, it’s the bass at the beginning of Keep On Running by the Spencer Davis Group, which I used to hear when trying to to ride a bicycle uphill. But it could be almost anything I’ve heard more than a dozen times.

It doesn’t have to be pop music. The pedals on the organ often come to mind. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor may be my favorite, not just the last three chords, but that deliciously dissonant section at 7:25 to 7:35 on this recording.

Sometimes, it’s vocal, usually something in my range. The low harmony part of Rosanna by Toto during “Not quite a year since she went away.” (0:51-1:04). I don’t love the song, but I love that bit, and I don’t have to have listened to it recently to recreate it in my head.

But it could be almost anything.

The siren song

The other answer to the question is that music is everywhere. Someone was mowing the lawn next door the day after I received the question. I discovered I was humming to the tune, only a third higher. Specifically, harmony is everywhere.

I was on a plane recently, an A321. The sounds I heard were two pitches, which reminded me of the song, Western Union. I couldn’t even remember the group’s name – the Five Americans.

My not-so-old friend ADD posted an article about David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, and Jerry Harrison discussing “the restored version of their iconic documentary [Stop Making Sense], the band’s classic albums, and being a Talking Head for life.”

As I’ve mentioned frequently, I saw Talking Heads on that tour in Saratoga Springs, NY, one of the two greatest concerts I’ve ever attended, though I’ve never seen the movie. Moreover, I’ve met backup singer Lynn Mabry, pictured in the article. She sings backup for Sheila E. and is her business partner. Niece Rebecca Jade made the intros.

In the article, David Byrne recalled that keyboardist Bernie Worrell of Parliament-Funkadelic, the music director for the tour, “had perfect pitch. So, he would hear a siren go by, or car brakes, or something on the street when we’re on the bus. And he had a little tiny keyboard, and he would start playing along with it, perfectly in the right key.”

I certainly do NOT have perfect pitch. Like many singers and other musicians, I have relative pitch, so I’ve also harmonized with sirens, which is interesting because it’s not a sustained sound but variable and often multiple.


All that said, I listen to external music, usually compact discs [wotta dinosaur], for most of the day when I’m writing (currently listening to Double Fantasy by John and Yoko) and ESPECIALLY when cleaning the house. And I’ll sing harmony to them if necessary.

On a recent Sunday, there was a hymn in the church bulletin. The words were unfamiliar, but the tune was a standard. Only the melody line appeared, but now there were altos, tenors, and basses singing harmony in the middle verses.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

2 thoughts on “I almost always hear music”

  1. Who knew that sirens could provide such harmonious musical opportunities? Thank you, Roger, you have opened my mind and my ears to new possibilities!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial