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Thread: (Ear Training) Singing Scale Degrees

  1. #1
    Registered User
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    Aug 2008

    (Ear Training) Singing Scale Degrees

    I'm new to this forum and I've recently picked up the guitar after 20 years of not playing. I don't have a very good ear, but I heard that singing is a good exercise for ear training.

    I've looked at sofege methods that use Do-Re-Me, etc., but I've heard that some people use scale degrees, which makes more sense to me.

    Does anyone know how most people sing the scale degrees? Is it 1-2-3-4, etc? What if there are flats or sharps, like major vs minor (3 vs b3)? Do you actually sing "flat three?"

    It makes sense when you are one scale/chord, but what if you are looking at a chord progression such as I-IV-V, when you are on the third degree of the IV chord, it is actually the 6th degree of the key. Do you sing "6", or are you looking at it as the 3 of the chord you are singing over? I'm thinking about when you may be playing different modes over a progression, or switch to pentatonic for instance, or even modulating to another key.

    Am I over complicating this (probably yes). I'm just curious how other people approach this.

  2. #2
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    New England
    I sing them as note names and as scale degrees using solfege. I've tried scale degree numbers, and still use them for chord arps sometimes, but overall I find thinking in terms of the key or note names makes the most sense to my ear.

    It's hard to go wrong either way - so don't let the lack of knowing where it will lead deter you from trying something unusual.


    PS welcome back to the guitar! It's more fun the second time around !

  3. #3
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    Feb 2008
    If you're interested in singing scale degree numbers you may have a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numerical_sight-singing. It explains how to sing sharps and flats.

    Basically i'll say that any solfege method works, even singing note names and thinking scale degrees.

    However having being trained to name notes in fixed do (do re mi etc...). I've trouble to use movable do, so I tend to prefer the other two methods. I think, for piano, I prefer singing note names in fixed do (with modified syllables like ra for Db) and thinking scale degree at the same time because I find it more directly linked to the way I play my instrument.

    Guitar being more a "relative" instrument, singing scale degrees are fine. Of course it may take some time to learn scale degrees in all positions for a given root. I know pretty well the first position (below the tonic on 6th string), and a little less the position with the tonic on 5th string. I know some people here managed to learn all the fretboard this way but I haven't the courage to do so.

    Anyway, I'm not sure it absolutely required to play by ear, I think it's important to know the basics scale degree patterns that repeat on all fretboard (ex: for a given root on any string, knowing where is nearest the major third, fifth etc...). But when I truly improvise or play by ear I barely think to all of that (it's probably subconscious).

    I know there is a tendency for some musicians to train themselves to reach a total control at anytime of the harmonic context and of what scale degrees they play, what mode they are in etc...

    Personnally I don't buy it. Maybe it's good at practice time but I never play as good as when I totally forget all theory.
    Good luck for the guitar.

  4. #4
    Registered User jimc8p's Avatar
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    Mar 2007
    Midlands, UK
    I've used shorthand interval names that I think are a little more descriptive (but less sing-able!) than do, di, ra, re, etc.

    R - m2 - 2 - m3 - 3 - P4 - A4/d5 - P5 - m6 - 6 - m7 - 7 - P8

    Found it useful to have learned descriptive associations.

  5. #5
    bitter old fool Jed's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    New England
    One advantage of solfege is having a single syllable per note. "Moveable Do" is more commonly taught there days than "Fixed Do". Each has it's advantages but "Moveable Do" seems to fit better for learning modern music or at least of more commonly used to teach music in these modern times.

    Jim's system is more descriptive but a similar level of descriptiv-ity can be realize once you've internalized the "moveable do" system of solfege.

    Combining various systems is often the "best" way since knowing both the actual note names and the scale degree / scale function is important. Strange though it may sound, it's not that hard to learn to think in multiple systems at the same time. It's a mental work-out at first, but over time it becomes relatively easy.

    For strict ear training purposes I would recommend "moveable do" (the relative pitch version of solfege). For fretboard memorization notes names are the better tool. Chances are you'll want to combine these two activities into mixed exercises - so two systems may well be the best bet.

    Good luck,

  6. #6
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2006

    Scale degrees without external reference

    Hence I mention external, for there must be a reference when using scale degrees.


    I have this question about my daily practice with "Functional Ear Trainer".
    In the beginning, last week, I practiced my scales with a cadence before each questioned tone, but now I choose to do without, keeping tone C as my "inner reference".

    Is it necessary to continuesly think the reference tone?

    This I ask because I have not been doing so and surely I mess up occasionally.

    So, I am actually asking:
    Does it necessarily mean that if you would correctly identify just one tone (having a fixed tone as "inner reference") that all the other tones to follow can be identified correctly without the need for this reference??

    Do I make sense?


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