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Thread: Tonal Ear Training

  1. #1
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    Tonal Ear Training

    Hi guys!

    I've decided I really need to do some Ear-Training now.
    Since I figured out that my Ears suck ~1 1/2 years ago, I've been doing some Ear Training on and off, but as you can probably imagine, since it wasn't consistent it hasn't helped very much
    I've tried so far:
    both of Burges courses, gave both of them up after a few weeks
    Ear Training Companion Demo (I had this short phase where I thought Absolute Pitch would be what I needed... I'm over that, but I still read Chris Aruffo's research and forums, there's some fascinating stuff there!)
    Ear Master (started twice and kept practicing with it regularly for 3 weeks or something, but didn't feel any real progress, it was still mostly guessing)

    My ears did open up (Burges term... but I think it fits) tremendously since that time, but I don't give much credit to any of those Programmes for that, I think a lot more important was playing music and listening to music. A funny thing that happens lately whenever I listen to some music again that I havn't heard for more than a year is that there are suddenly Instrument parts in those songs that hadn't been there before
    Anyway, I now think pure Interval recognition is not what I need/want.
    I don't want to learn to hear Intervals out of context, which is what most of the popular methods seem to do, I want to learn to hear tonal music!
    I want to be able to identify cadences, find the tonic/key/tonal center of songs and be able to hear notes in those songs in relation to the tonal center(or the chord?).
    I want to be able to identify types of chords. Not things like some obscure 7th with diminished fourth or whatever obscure things exist, but simple minor and major would be a great start. I can identify them most of the time, but not 100% correctly... I always feel like I'm half guessing.
    I also want to be able to tune my guitar more by tone height, than by those, err, I have no idea what you call them... "wavelike" disharmonies maybe? I can identify most of the time whether it's higher or lower if the difference is more than maybe a quartertone, but as soon as it gets closer I'm guessing and tuning with those disharmonies, often just tuning far down and then tuning back up until I hit the right pitch. Most of the time, when I'm slightly out of tune and playing a chord, I'll need my teacher or my tuner to tell me that I am
    strangely, I have no big problems with singing or whistling in tune, IF i hear the tune going along in the background or know it really well.

    What I've already started to do is to "decode" chords again, by playing a three note chord (I have no problems with 2 notes) and then trying to sing the pitches.
    So, what's my line? Should I try Solfege? Do More Transcribing? Forget about tonality and drill Intervals? Just be patient and wait until it comes by itself? Or lock the guitar in my basement, throw away the key and never try to play it ever again?

    Thank you for your suggestions,

    2lefthands

  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2lefthands
    Hi guys!

    I've decided I really need to do some Ear-Training now.
    Since I figured out that my Ears suck ~1 1/2 years ago, I've been doing some Ear Training on and off, but as you can probably imagine, since it wasn't consistent it hasn't helped very much
    I've tried so far:
    both of Burges courses, gave both of them up after a few weeks
    Ear Training Companion Demo (I had this short phase where I thought Absolute Pitch would be what I needed... I'm over that, but I still read Chris Aruffo's research and forums, there's some fascinating stuff there!)
    Ear Master (started twice and kept practicing with it regularly for 3 weeks or something, but didn't feel any real progress, it was still mostly guessing)

    My ears did open up (Burges term... but I think it fits) tremendously since that time, but I don't give much credit to any of those Programmes for that, I think a lot more important was playing music and listening to music. A funny thing that happens lately whenever I listen to some music again that I havn't heard for more than a year is that there are suddenly Instrument parts in those songs that hadn't been there before
    Very revealing comment!
    Shows that your ear really has improved, even though you haven't noticed it on the way. (That's generally how musical progress works anyway - you don't feel you're getting better, until - or unless - you're able to compare yourself with how you were a few months or years earlier.)
    And it was probably the listening (and playing) that did it, rather than the abortive work with the courses and drills.

    Generally, I think that's the best way to improve your relative pitch (as you say, more useful then absolute pitch) - listen to actual music, and listen analytically. IOW, don't just enjoy it as background, focus on what's going on. In any case, the more music is part of your environment (even if you're not focussing on it all the time) I believe your relative pitch improves. Just not as fast as if you actually pay attention!
    Quote Originally Posted by 2lefthands
    Anyway, I now think pure Interval recognition is not what I need/want.
    I don't want to learn to hear Intervals out of context, which is what most of the popular methods seem to do, I want to learn to hear tonal music!
    I want to be able to identify cadences, find the tonic/key/tonal center of songs and be able to hear notes in those songs in relation to the tonal center(or the chord?).
    I want to be able to identify types of chords. Not things like some obscure 7th with diminished fourth or whatever obscure things exist, but simple minor and major would be a great start. I can identify them most of the time, but not 100% correctly... I always feel like I'm half guessing.
    Chord types start with intervals, tho. Eg, the dfifference between a major and minor chord is purely in the 3rd. So if you start by focussing on the interval alone, getting that in your head, you'll find the chord identification easier.
    Listening for chord changes (cadences etc) is a great idea, and you should start with simple songs, that you know only contain 2 or 3 chords. (Try to avoid blues. It's not that you should already know where the IV and V chords come, but that blues chords are often all dom7s anyway - it doesn't have the same cadential moves as other types of music. In a sense, blues harmony is - mostly - non-functional, and it's functional harmony you need to be hearing.)

    Ideally, pick songs which spend quite a while on one chord. (A lot of songs feature cycles of 4 chords round and round, no clear key centre, which can be tricky to get to grips with.)
    Almost certainly (in 99% of rock music) a song will start with the key chord. It will finish with it too - right at the end, not necessarily at the end of a verse or chorus.
    Always assume that there will be IV and V chords somewhere, and maybe a bVII (next most common rock chord). Each of these has their own distinctive sound relative to the I:
    The IV sounds like a little sidestep, a slight change of course or colour; usually a positive, or refreshing move. (In blues it represents a darkening of tone, if it has a b7.)
    the V should sound like a tension building chord - you expect the I to follow even if it doesn't;
    the bVII is a very specific rock sound - hard to characterise, but a kind of groovy, bluesy, heavy sound.

    If any minors occur, they should sound like a more reflective, quieter colour. As if the song is saying "hold on, let's think for a minute". Sometimes this has a "darkening" effect, sometimes (paradoxically) it can sound more open, lighter, but minor chords always have that slight "introspective" quality. ("yin" as opposed to "yang" maybe... )
    As to which minor chord it is - vi, ii or iii - that can be harder to determine; takes more experience and practice.
    But - as you say - to begin with, be satisfied if you can simply determine that it's minor and not major!
    Quote Originally Posted by 2lefthands
    I also want to be able to tune my guitar more by tone height, than by those, err, I have no idea what you call them... "wavelike" disharmonies maybe?
    They're called "beats", caused by interference between 2 close frequencies.
    Quote Originally Posted by 2lefthands
    I can identify most of the time whether it's higher or lower if the difference is more than maybe a quartertone, but as soon as it gets closer I'm guessing and tuning with those disharmonies, often just tuning far down and then tuning back up until I hit the right pitch. Most of the time, when I'm slightly out of tune and playing a chord, I'll need my teacher or my tuner to tell me that I am
    Beats - tuning until they disappear - are really the only way to tune 2 notes in unison; even if you do it subconsciously. I wouldn't worry about finding some other method.
    It can be quite hard to hear the beats sometimes. But IMO that's exactly what you should focus on.
    Tuning problems can often be down to failing to do double checks. If you're not sure about one method between two strings (eg 5th fret/open), use another (5th/7th fret harmonics, checking higher frets against higher strings, etc.)
    None of these methods is perfect on their own - they will all introduce errors if you just use one. So check each one against the others. Finish by playing a few open chords, see if each one sounds good.

    (And there's no shame in checking with a tuner - but use a chromatic tuner and check various random fretted notes. It can be surprising how much of a compromise you have to make between fretted notes and open strings. I've never known a guitar that is 100% in tune everywhere...I don't believe it's physically possible. The best guitars are just close enough for all but the most anal....)
    Quote Originally Posted by 2lefthands
    What I've already started to do is to "decode" chords again, by playing a three note chord (I have no problems with 2 notes) and then trying to sing the pitches.
    Excellent idea. Do more! Go through every chord in a key doing it.
    Quote Originally Posted by 2lefthands
    So, what's my line? Should I try Solfege? Do More Transcribing? Forget about tonality and drill Intervals? Just be patient and wait until it comes by itself? Or lock the guitar in my basement, throw away the key and never try to play it ever again?
    Solfege is good - so I understand, I don't do it much myself .
    Transcribing - definitely! The absolute best ear training. (But make sure you do plenty of playing along before you start writing stuff down.)
    If you do enough of this - and just keep on playing and listening to stuff - your ear will improve naturally. Using real music means your improvement is "organic" - it addresses everything in a natural way.

    I wouldn't go too heavy on drills - other than perhaps some interval work, esp major/minor 3rds - you MUST be able to identify those. It's the fundamental yin-yang of western music.
    "How strange the change, from major to minor..."

  3. #3
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    Free ear training www.musictheory.net

    I use it anyway lol

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    Very revealing comment!
    Shows that your ear really has improved, even though you haven't noticed it on the way. (That's generally how musical progress works anyway - you don't feel you're getting better, until - or unless - you're able to compare yourself with how you were a few months or years earlier.)
    And it was probably the listening (and playing) that did it, rather than the abortive work with the courses and drills.
    Yes, that's pretty much what I've been trying to say;-)
    But I still feel my progress has mostly been limited on being able to tell more instruments apart and recognizing song structures(chorus,verse, solo, recognizing stuff like repeating song parts), and that when it comes to interpreting harmonies or melodies I'm exactly as far as I was a year ago: I can now hear both two tones in an interval played harmonically without a problem, but I still have no idea what Intervals they are or how far they're apart!

    Chord types start with intervals, tho. Eg, the dfifference between a major and minor chord is purely in the 3rd. So if you start by focussing on the interval alone, getting that in your head, you'll find the chord identification easier.
    I've been trying to do it by feel until now, listening for those "yin"-"yang"-qualities you mentioned, but I'll try to work on the intervals, too!

    the bVII is a very specific rock sound - hard to characterise, but a kind of groovy, bluesy, heavy sound.
    bVII is a chord with the root note on the seventh that consists of 1,3,b5 ,isn't it?

    They're called "beats", caused by interference between 2 close frequencies.Beats - tuning until they disappear - are really the only way to tune 2 notes in unison; even if you do it subconsciously. I wouldn't worry about finding some other method.
    It can be quite hard to hear the beats sometimes. But IMO that's exactly what you should focus on.
    Tuning problems can often be down to failing to do double checks. If you're not sure about one method between two strings (eg 5th fret/open), use another (5th/7th fret harmonics, checking higher frets against higher strings, etc.)
    None of these methods is perfect on their own - they will all introduce errors if you just use one. So check each one against the others. Finish by playing a few open chords, see if each one sounds good.

    (And there's no shame in checking with a tuner - but use a chromatic tuner and check various random fretted notes. It can be surprising how much of a compromise you have to make between fretted notes and open strings. I've never known a guitar that is 100% in tune everywhere...I don't believe it's physically possible. The best guitars are just close enough for all but the most anal....)
    It's only that I hardly ever know which way to tune... and sometimes I'm perfectly in tune and I don't realize I am because there are some irregular signals that I misinterpret as beats! I don't mind tuning with the beats, but I didn't think it's good if I need to hear if the beats become slower or faster to see if I'm on the right track

    Solfege is good - so I understand, I don't do it much myself .
    Transcribing - definitely! The absolute best ear training. (But make sure you do plenty of playing along before you start writing stuff down.)
    If you do enough of this - and just keep on playing and listening to stuff - your ear will improve naturally. Using real music means your improvement is "organic" - it addresses everything in a natural way.

    I wouldn't go too heavy on drills - other than perhaps some interval work, esp major/minor 3rds - you MUST be able to identify those. It's the fundamental yin-yang of western music.
    "How strange the change, from major to minor..."
    Ok, So I'll definitely work on those 3rds... and get a new mp3-player or discman, when playing my music on the computer or my Hi-Fi i get distracted too easily, especially on the computer

    Quote Originally Posted by Teletubby
    Free ear training www.musictheory.net

    I use it anyway lol
    thanks, i'll look into it!

  5. #5
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2lefthands
    bVII is a chord with the root note on the seventh that consists of 1,3,b5 ,isn't it?
    No, it's a major chord on the bVII step. Eg, G in key of A major, or Bb in key of C. Very much part of traditional heavy/mainstream rock.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR
    No, it's a major chord on the bVII step. Eg, G in key of A major, or Bb in key of C. Very much part of traditional heavy/mainstream rock.
    bV11....means that the chord is a 'dominant' 7th with the 3rd and 5th both Major, but the 7th interval is a minor one! The Latin versions of common chords should really be discarded in favour of the more popular-and easier to use- chord symbols used by literally all practical musicians today. the Latin method is a kind of shorthand used to indicate the nature of chords without having to state any 'key' centre, and, is very useful to know -especially when one has to learn it in order to pass exam's etc' SOOOOO! bV11 means literally that the 7th is minor!YOU HAVE to remember the status of the other intervals in the chord!!Dominant 7th chords always have the minor 7th interval. they are merely written- for example- 'C7 or Eb7, or D7, etc. in any other Key you need to use!
    leegordo

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    Leegordo. You need your eyes checked.

    He said bVII ... as in Chord7

    As for the rest of your comment about using roman numerals. I would argue a great importance for being able to write and communicate music in this manner. Not just for the puropse of exams.

    Personally I have found it tremendously valuable when forced to transpose a tune on the spot. For reasons such as, a singer jumping up on stage and asking us to play a tune in a different key.

    Rather than sitting there and thinking about it chord by chord. I can just say to myself " this tune starts with a I-VI-ii-V ect... in Bb, so applied to the key of Eb the chords are Eb - C7 - Fm7 - Bb7 ect.. "

    It also makes recalling standards a whole lot easier. Since thinking in these terms will expose similarities much faster.

    So as for your comment about this being 'unpractical' I disagree. Chances are that If you went and spoke to any professional session musician, they would be able to recite many tunes in this language.
    Last edited by JazzMick; 05-03-2008 at 11:55 AM.

  8. #8
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by leegordo
    bV11....means that the chord is a 'dominant' 7th with the 3rd and 5th both Major, but the 7th interval is a minor one!
    No it doesn't. I'm surprised someone of your claimed experience doesn't recognise roman numeral chord function notation.
    A bVII chord - as JazzMIck pointed out, but I'm rubbing it in for the hell of it - is a major triad on the flattened 7th step of a major scale. Like Bb in key of C, as I said.
    Quote Originally Posted by leegordo
    the Latin method is a kind of shorthand used to indicate the nature of chords without having to state any 'key' centre
    No it isn't.
    Quote Originally Posted by leegordo
    bV11 means literally that the 7th is minor!
    No it doesn't. (This is fun...)
    Quote Originally Posted by leegordo
    Dominant 7th chords always have the minor 7th interval.
    Yes, they do! That's a different issue.

  9. #9
    IbreatheMusic Author ChrisJ's Avatar
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    The bVII chord is borrowed from the parallel minor key, in other words, in the key of C, a Bb chord (which is the VII chord in C minor). It is the anthem type chord that usually goes at the end of the song that makes the audience wave their hands back and forth. Think of "Hey Jude," you know the Na, na na na na na na, na na na na, Hey Jude at the end of the tune. The song is in F and the progression is F-Eb-Bb-F or I-bVII-IV-I. You also see it a lot following a bVI chord which is also borrowed from the parallel minor key. Think of "When I'm Sixty-Four," or "Hello Goodbye."

    Developing your ears is really a matter of spending a lot of time with your instrument. Theory helps (strangly enough) because it helps you to catagorize what you recognize.

    The numeral system was invented by a late-baroque French composer Jean-Phillipe Rameau so we could analyze music easier.

    -CJ

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