Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ear Training Exercises #1

Recently, I've been reminded about how important ear training is for musicians. It sounds like a silly statement - being an obvious one but I think from time to time everyone especially myself needs reminding.

First, I'll introduce the solfege system I learned and then I'll explain the exercises.

The Movable Do System

I was taught using the movable do system which means any note can be the "do" as opposed to the fixed "do" system (commonly associated with a lot of perfect pitch friends I know) where C is always DO.

The solfege for the major scale is:

Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do

In C Major that means:


For the whole chromatix scale ascending it's:

Do Di Re Ri Mi Fa Fi So Si La Li Ti Do

and the descending form is:

Do Ti Te La Le So Se Fa Mi Me Ra Do

in C that means:

ascending: C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C
descending: C B Bb A Ab G Gb F E Eb D Db C


Fundamental Exercises

Exercise a:

Play a C Major Triad on the guitar (or piano - if you have access to one) and slowly sing long tones (one note for four beats at around 120bpm or slower)

Start with C note and listen to how it feels over the C Major chord. This is the root and is the most stable note in the chord scale. When singing the note, make sure you sing it unwaveringly - meaning that you DO NOT use any vibrato or any form of pitch fluctuations as much as possible. The aim is to sing it in tune for as long as you can hold your breath.

Next do the same thing but with a F Major Triad. Like the previous exercise - sing the DO which in this case is the F note.

Continue doing this exercise but change to the next Major Triad, cycle in fifths down, hence -

C, F, Bb , Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, B, E, A, D, G and back to C.

Some people may find this very basic but to be able to sing the root of any chord is essential for many reasons including transcribing and further ear training exercises. For those who find this very easy to do. one should focus on making sure you're singing absolutely in pitch. The focus is intonation.

For those who find this difficult, be assured that you're not alone! A lot of musicians who have been playing for many years (and have amazing dexterity on the instrument) sometimes forget to practice this important aspect of music. Sometimes, a musician may be able to hear something and duplicate it on his or her instrument but not be able to sing it. The important thing is to realise that by being able to do this. you solidify the connection of the sound to your mind's ear so that even without an instrument - you will be able to tell what a person is playing or singing.

Also, some may find difficulty locating the pitch within their singing range. This is normal in the beginning. The more you sing these ear training exercises, you will develop an intuitive sense of where to sing it comfortably.

If you have problem playing the major chords in different keys (to accompany your ear training singing) - well, that's something to practice too! =p


I would suggest taking a break (for about 5-10 minutes) after this first exercise before attempting the next one.


Exercise b:

Now, do the same thing (singing the root (DO) of the chord) starting on C Major and moving chromatically up until you reach C Major again (an octave higher).

Take your time and repeat each chord two to four times before moving on to the next one.


Exercise c:

Next is an exercise to train to hear the most important cadence in tonal music.

First, play the C Major Triad. Sing the DO.
Then, play a G Major Triad and sing the root of the G Major Triad as SO (the fifth of C in this case).
Next, play the C Major Triad again and sing the DO. Let the sound of the last chord linger for a while. This is the feeling of the harmony being at rest after a cadence.

This is a I - V - I progression featuring the V-I cadence.

There are two main ways way to sing the SO - relative to the root, which is to sing it a perfect fith above the root, or a perfect fourth below. For the purposes of this exercise, do both.

If it's hard to locate the SO when playing the chord, play just the roots of the chords and LISTEN to them. It's important to listen first and then replicate the sound. Sometimes, in some keys, it may be out of your singing range. When this happens, play the chord (and sing it) in an octave comfortable for you.

Again, do this exercise in all keys. Do these exercises for a while and let me know if they help you out! I know even though they appear to be very simple, the exercises can be taken on different levels. For more advanced musicians, the challenge is to be able to do it very fast and very confidently. As with the guitar, it's important to do it very slowly at first to develop accuracy before speed comes. If not, it's just going to be out of pitch.

Good luck!


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