This week’s photo is from Drinks of the World by James Mew and John Ashton, 1892
“I don’t understand how musicians can hear a song and then be able to play it. How do you do that?”
It’s really tough for me to answer a question like this.
When I was young and learning to play guitar I was lucky enough to discover that the notes I heard on recordings were “findable” somewhere on my guitar. I loved to work away at learning music this way. Sometimes it took forever for me to figure out what was being played. Often I had to settle for something that only resembled what I heard but I knew wasn’t exactly right. And that’s okay. Some say this is what leads to the evolution of style.
One thing that can help musicians to refine their listening skills is ear training. Part of ear training is the ability to identify the relationships between notes: intervals. This is very handy because it helps you be able to jump directly to a note on your instrument without first testing it and playing it.
I can remember being mystified by the wine connoisseur/taster who can detect a hint of blueberry or peach or other key flavors in wines.
Similarly someone who is very good at ear training can seem as though they recognize tones and pitches as if they are different flavors, colors or shapes.
When students begin ear training they often believe that they have to be able to hear the relationships between notes in some kind of absolute way. They feel that they need to be able to memorize the sound of intervals and the relationships between notes so that they are instantly recognizable. This is a very tall order and can be quite discouraging.
I believe that for most musicians, skill in identifying intervals and chords is due to some kind of internal process. This process happens so quickly that it gives the illusion of instant recognition, but it’s not. Just my opinion.
I’d like to share with you today a video of a simple procedure for getting started at ear training. It is tried and true with my students. And also at the bottom of the page you can find some more ways to practice ear training if that interests you.
Remember there are plenty of great musicians who have never done any formal ear training.
But if you have the appetite, ear training can be a fascinating exploration of sound, music and your relationship to it.
Here’s the video. I hope you enjoy it. Please see the links below for more practice:
Here is some terminology that might be helpful in the exercises below:
The distance between…
DO and the same DO is called a Unison
The distance between…
…DO and RE is called a Major Second interval. (M2)
…DO and MI is called a Major Third interval (M3)
…DO and FA is a Perfect Fourth interval (P4)
…DO and SOL is a Perfect Fifth interval (P5)
…DO and LA is a Major Sixth interval (M6)
…DO and TI is a Major Seventh interval (M7)
…DO and the DO above it is an Octave (P8)
Below are some exercises that I have set up at www.musictheory.com. A terrific site!
In each exercise you will be played an interval. Your job is to figure out what the interval is and to click the correct button. If you want to hear the interval again just click the volume icon to the top left.
I start with two simpler exercises, where the note DO (the lowest note in the interval) remains the same throughout the whole exercise. People generally find this easier.
The final three exercises are done with a moveable DO. Meaning that the lowest note in the interval changes every time. This is more challenging because you need to constantly recalibrate in terms of singing the major scale.
-DO stays the same note:
1. Major 2nd to Perfect 5th
3. Major 2nd – Perfect 5th
If you’re interested in learning more about intervals please visit the site of my friend and colleague, Jim D’Ville. In his series The Weekly Interval he introduces you to all of the intervals. There are also plenty of other wonderful resources for ear training and playing by ear. Go here: PLAY UKULELE BY EAR.
Once you become familiar with all the intervals from DO to DO you might try this exercise:
That’s all for this week. See you next time.