Ear training

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Ear training or aural skills is a process by which musicians learn to identify intervals, chords, rhythms, and other basic elements of music. Ear training plays an important part in singing, since one must be able to hear music in one's head and match pitch before it is possible to sing it reliably. Moreover, reproducing sounds by singing them is a reliable way to verify that they are heard correctly. One does not need perfect pitch to succeed at ear training; one goal of ear training is the development of relative pitch.[1]

Ear training may also require differentiation of timbres. Some instruments allow for the same pitch to be generated with multiple timbres. Music which employs timbre as well as pitch requires ear training that addresses both aspects.


[edit] Functional pitch recognition

Functional pitch recognition involves identifying the function or role of a single pitch in the context of an established tonic. Once a tonic has been established, each subsequent pitch may be classified without direct reference to accompanying pitches. For example, once the tonic G has been established, listeners may recognize that the pitch D plays the role of the dominant in the key of G. No reference to any other pitch is required to establish this fact.

Many musicians use functional pitch recognition in order to identify, understand, and appreciate the roles and meanings of pitches within a key. To this end, scale-degree numbers or movable-do solmization (do, re, mi, etc.) can be quite helpful. Using such systems, pitches with identical functions (the key note or tonic, for example) are associated with identical labels (1 or do, for example).

Functional pitch recognition is not the same as fixed-do solfege, e.g. do, re, mi, etc. Functional pitch recognition emphasizes the role of a pitch with respect to the tonic, while fixed-do solfege symbols are labels for absolute pitch values (do=C, re=D, etc., in any key). In the fixed-do system, solfege symbols do not describe the role of pitches relative to a tonic. In the movable-do system, there happens to be a correspondence between the solfege symbol and a pitch's role. However there is no requirement that musicians associate the solfege symbols with the scale degrees. In fact, musicians may utilize the movable-do system to label pitches while mentally tracking intervals to determine the sequence of solfege symbols.

Functional pitch recognition has several strengths. Since a large body of music is tonal, the technique is widely applicable. Since reference pitches are not required, music may be broken up by complex and difficult to analyze pitch clusters, for example, a percussion sequence, and pitch analysis may resume immediately once an easier to identify pitch is played, for example, by a trumpet—no need to keep track of the last note of the previous line or solo nor any need to keep track of a series of intervals going back all the way to the start of a piece. Since the function of pitch classes is a key element, the problem of compound intervals with interval recognition is not an issue—whether the notes in a melody are played within a single octave or over many octaves is irrelevant.

Functional pitch recognition has some weaknesses. Music with no tonic or ambiguous tonality[2] does not provide the frame of reference necessary for this type of analysis. For example, what are the functions of the first four pitches of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony when considered in isolation? Are they mediant, tonic, supertonic, and subtonic in a major key, or are they dominant, mediant, subdominant, and supertonic in a minor key? When dealing with key changes, a student must know how to account for pitch function recognition after the key changes: retain the original tonic or change the frame of reference to the new tonic.

[edit] Interval recognition

Interval recognition is also a useful skill for musicians: in order to determine the notes in a melody, a musician must have some ability to recognize intervals. Some music teachers teach their students relative pitch by having them associate each possible interval with the first two notes of a popular song[3]. Here are some examples for each interval:

interval ascending descending
unison Happy Birthday to You
La Marseillaise
minor second Theme from Jaws
Nice Work If You Can Get It
Joy to the World
Für Elise
major second Frère Jacques
Silent Night
Mary Had a Little Lamb
Satin Doll
The First Noel
minor third Greensleeves
Smoke on the Water
O Canada
The Impossible Dream
So Long, Farewell
Hey Jude
The Star-Spangled Banner
Frosty the Snowman
Theme to Hook
major third When the Saints Go Marching In
Do-Re-Mi (first and third notes)
I Could Have Danced All Night
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
perfect fourth Taps
Auld Lang Syne
O Tannenbaum
Here Comes the Bride
Amazing Grace
Theme from Harry Potter
Theme from The West Wing
Constant Motion by Dream Theater
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Addams Family
Eine kleine Nachtmusik
Adeste Fideles
Downtown (On the lyric 'Downtown')
Theme From Star Trek: The Next Generation
tritone Maria (West Side Story)
The Simpsons opening sequence
perfect fifth Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
My Favorite Things
Scarborough Fair
Also sprach Zarathustra
Theme from Star Wars
Diary of Jane - Breaking Benjamin
Seven Steps to Heaven
What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor?
Theme from The Flintstones
minor sixth Across the Stars (from Star Wars)
In My Life (guitar intro)
Bashana Haba'ah
Black Orpheus
saxophone hook from Baker Street
A Change of Seasons I. The Crimson Sunrise - Dream Theater (second and fourth notes)

The Entertainer (big interval after pick-up)

You're Everything
Theme from Love Story
major sixth My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean
NBC Theme Song
Leia's Theme (from Star Wars)
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Take the A-Train
A Weaver of Dreams
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
The Music of the Night
Over There
minor seventh Theme from Star Trek
Take Over, The Breaks Over (Fall Out Boy)
Watermelon Man
An American in Paris
major seventh Take on Me
Theme from Fantasy Island
I love you
octave Over the Rainbow
The Christmas Song
Let It Snow
Hey there Delilah intro
Willow Weep For Me
Doogie Howser, M.D. Theme
To Zanarkand, Final Fantasy X

In addition, there are various systems (including solfeggio, sargam, and numerical sight-singing) that assign specific syllables to different notes of the scale. Among other things, this makes it easier to hear how intervals sound in different contexts, such as starting on different notes of the same scale.

The essential goal for the advanced student of music is to gain a sense of each tone's place in the scale and its function in the key, learning to hear its position, tendency, and relationship to the other pitches with the "mind's ear." Solfege systems and mnemonic melodies are tools used to help realize this goal.

[edit] Chord recognition

Complementary to recognizing the melody of a song is hearing the harmonic structures that support it. Musicians often practice hearing different types of chords and their inversions out of context, just to hear the characteristic sound of the chord. They also learn chord progressions to hear how chords relate to each other in the context of a piece of music.

[edit] Rhythm recognition

One way musicians practice rhythms is by breaking them up into smaller, more easily identifiable sub-patterns. For example, one might start by learning the sound of all the combinations of four eighth notes and eighth rests, and then proceed to string different four-note patterns together.

Another way to practice rhythms is by muscle memory, or teaching rhythm to different muscles in the body. One may start by tapping a rhythm with the hands and feet individually, or singing a rhythm on a syllable (e.g "ta"). Later stages may combine keeping time with the hand, foot, or voice and simultaneously tapping out the rhythm, and beating out multiple overlapping rhythms.

A metronome may be used to assist in maintaining accurate tempo.

[edit] Timbre recognition

Each type of musical instrument has a characteristic sound quality that is largely independent of pitch or loudness. Some instruments have more than one timbre, e.g. the sound of a plucked violin is different from the sound of a bowed violin. Some instruments employ multiple manual or embouchure techniques to achieve the same pitch through a variety of timbres. If these timbres are essential to the melody or function, as in shakuhachi music, then pitch training alone will not be enough to fully recognize the music. Learning to identify and differentiate various timbres is an important musical skill that can be acquired and improved by training.

[edit] Transcription

Music teachers often recommend transcribing recorded music as a way to practice all of the above, including recognizing rhythm, melody and harmony.

[edit] Software training methods

Accurate identification and reproduction of musical intervals, scales, chords, rhythms, and other aspects of ear training often can require a great deal of practice. Exercises involving identification often require a knowledgable partner to play the questions and validate the answers. Software specialized for music theory can remove the need for a partner, customize the training to the users needs and accurately track scores and progress. University music departments often license popular commercial software for their students such as: EarMaster[4], Auralia[5] and MacGAMUT[6]; allowing them to track and manage student scores on a computer network. A variety of free software also exists both as browser based applications and downloadable executables. For example, GNU Solfege is a free and GPL open source software that can provide many comparable features to popular commercial products[7][8]. The majority of ear training software are MIDI based, allowing the user to customize the instruments that play and even accept input from MIDI compatible devices such as electronic keyboards. Teoria, MusicTheory and Good-Ear are notable websites that provide many browser based ear training tools that can be used without requiring users to download and run an executable [9][10][11]. TrainEar is a recent browser based ear trainer specifically for helping associate musical intervals to songs[12].

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Humphries, Lee. Learning to Sight-Sing: The Mental Mechanics of Aural Imagery. Minneapolis: Thinking Applied, 2008, No. 1.
  2. ^ For the cognitive foundations of atonality, see Humphries, Lee. “Atonality, Information, and the Politics of Perception”, Enclitic, Vol. III, No. 1 (Spring, 1979).
  3. ^ Mayfield, Connie E. (2002). Theory Essentials, Volume I: An Integrated Approach to Harmony, Ear Training, and Keyboard Skills. New York: Schirmer. ISBN 0-53-457231-6. 
  4. ^ Plattsburgh State - Dr. Drew Waters
  5. ^ Notation Software
  6. ^ Functional Hearing
  7. ^ Dr. Micah Everett - ULM Division of Music - Aural Skills Course Information
  8. ^ Music Department Interesting Links
  9. ^ Agnes Scott College Music Theory
  10. ^ McNeese State University Theatre Program
  11. ^ Music Theory Resources
  12. ^ VCU Music Theory

[edit] External Links

[edit] Further reading

  • Aural Skills Acquisition : The Development of Listening, Reading, and Performing Skills in College-Level Musicians by Gary S. Karpinski, ISBN 978-0-19-511785-1
  • Essential Ear Training for the Contemporary Musician by Steve Prosser, ISBN 0-634-00640-1
  • Ear Training for Twentieth-Century Music by Michael L. Friedmann, ISBN 0-300-04536-0
  • Manual for Ear Training and Sight Singing by Gary S. Karpinski, ISBN 978-0393976632
  • Anthology for Sight Singing by Gary S. Karpinski, ISBN 978-0393973822
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