How to train my ear

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
3 months ago
1,712 posts

@austinpmckenzie, that's an interesting piece on functional ear training. Having just skimmed it once, I don't know for sure that I fully understand it, but I do think that the way my ear hears music is similar.  I know what a I chord sounds like or means in a song. I know what a V chord means.  So I can hear in a piece of music when that chord is being played by the function it plays in the song.  The V chord creates tension that wants to resolve to the I chord, for example.  The same can be said of a melody.  Certain notes of the scale function as resting places, other notes as passing tones, and some create tension that needs to be resolved.  There are only 12 notes in a chromatic octave and 7 in a diatonic octave, so it isn't too difficult to get to know the notes from which you can choose to play a melody.  




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
austinpmckenzie
@austinpmckenzie
3 months ago
4 posts

Dusty Turtle:


Put on some music and grab an instrument.  Try to play along.  Your first task will be to determine the key.  Then you will pay attention to the structure of the music. Then you either start figuring out the chord progression or you start working on key melodic phrases. Eventually, you get the whole song.


Lather, rinse, repeat.


I played guitar (not very well) for years.  I started at family sing-a-longs, and I learned pretty quickly how to hear chord changes in a song. I also used to watch a lot of sports, and I would do so with a guitar on my lap. When the commercials came on, I would try to play along with the jingles.  That forced me to work through those steps above (determine the key, identify the melodic hook, etc.) super fast because each commercial might only last 30 seconds.  But by the third or so time a given commercial aired, I could usually play along.


If you want to train your ear, I strongly suggest not looking at tab while you play.  Look at your dulcimer and think.  Think about the relationships between the frets and the notes they represent.  Think about the relationships between the strings in the same way.  And I would advise not thinking about absolute tones, but about intervals.  For example, the distance from an open string and the second fret is a third.  From the open string to the fourth fret is a fifth.  To the seventh is an octave.  And so forth.


Eventually, you'll be able to hum a song in your head and imagine how to play it on the dulcimer. And that's a pretty cool skill to have.


 



Thanks! I encountered an article on functional ear training while navigating the ToneScholar app. Do you think this method is as effective as the one you suggested? You can read the article here: https://tonescholar.com/blog/functional-ear-training-explained

shanonmilan
@shanonmilan
3 months ago
52 posts

Dusty Turtle:


Wally Venable: "Perfect pitch" is often considered a curse. I had a friend with perfect pitch who, 60 years ago, found that almost all the pianos in a good showroom were off key, and she couldn't play most of them because they hurt her ears.
 


I hear you Wally smile . I had an aunt who had perfect pitch (and a Steinway piano worth about as much as my house!).  When my uncle was learning a right-hand picking pattern for the banjo, she didn't mind the repetition of the picking, but she couldn't stand that he was always practicing in the same key.  So he used a capo and would just change keys every few minutes.


 


Using capo to change key on the fly seems to be a good idea.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 months ago
2,103 posts

What wewas it Jean Ritchie said?  Her Dad tuned the dulcimer to Bim, Bim, Bom.  What the actual notes were didn't, and still doesn't matter.  There weren't any absolute notes.  Some of us these days say that we're tuned "in the vicinity of"...  in the vicinity of D or A or C

NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
4 months ago
229 posts

That is a cool tip Dusty, thanks for sharing.
 I'd like to develop a better ear for tuning. If I  use my keyboard to tune my dulcimer then check it with a tuner, I can get the bass string pretty close, but the higher pitches are up to 35 cents off. And thats after spending a few minutes plucking back and forth. I can usually hear the 'beating' of the frequencies being slightly different, but can't really tell whether I need to tune up or down to fix it

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
4 months ago
1,712 posts

Wally Venable: "Perfect pitch" is often considered a curse. I had a friend with perfect pitch who, 60 years ago, found that almost all the pianos in a good showroom were off key, and she couldn't play most of them because they hurt her ears.
 


I hear you Wally smile . I had an aunt who had perfect pitch (and a Steinway piano worth about as much as my house!).  When my uncle was learning a right-hand picking pattern for the banjo, she didn't mind the repetition of the picking, but she couldn't stand that he was always practicing in the same key.  So he used a capo and would just change keys every few minutes.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
4 months ago
1,712 posts

@wally-venable, you are right that learning perfect pitch is not a reasonable goal, but to learn relative pitch should be. 

Students in most formal music education programs develop tricks to learn intervals.  The first two notes of "Happy Birthday" represent a 2nd.  The first two notes of "When the Saints Go Marching In" represent a 3rd. The first two notes of "Here Comes the Bride" represent a 4th.  The first two notes of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" represent a fifth.  The first two notes of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" represent a 6th. I can't think of one for either the minor or major 7th, but I'm sure you can look one up since there must be lists like this all over the Internet.  And the octave is "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

I've stuck with the major scale (Ionian mode) here, but you could do this for the chromatic scale.  The minor 2nd is the dangerous shark music from Jaws.  The minor third is the first two notes of "Greensleeves."  And the list goes on.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie
Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
4 months ago
55 posts

I should have written

"Perfect pitch" is often considered a curse. I had a friend with perfect pitch who, 60 years ago, found that almost all the pianos in a good showroom were off key, and she couldn't play most of them beause they hurt her ears.

Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
4 months ago
55 posts

You should be able to distinguish between a whole step and a half step in American/European music. To "learn" absolute pitch shouldn't be a goal. (Some Asian and African music doesn't use European intervals based on a logarithmic scales.) Good musicians play intervals, unless of course they are "bending" a note artistically.

Digital tuners with absolute reference to frequency haven't been around very long. We didn't have precise standards in the not-so-different past. We had tuning forks and reed pitch pipes, both of which produce tones which will vary minutely with temperature. To mention only two countries, the USA and Austria (home of Mozart, Beethoven, etc.) used different pitches for the A to which they tuned.

A band from the 1920-1950 period would have tuned to the piano, if they used one, which would have been relatively tuned if it was "in tune."

A symphony orchestra tuned to whatever A the oboe played at the beginning of the concert. The oboeist might or might not have used a fork or pipe as a reference.

As the saying goes, "this ain't rocket science, it's art." "Perfect pitch" is often considered a curse. I had a friend who, 60 years ago, found that all the pianos in a good showroom were out of tune, and she couldn't play any of them.

Dusty Turtle
Dusty Turtle
@dusty
4 months ago
1,712 posts

Put on some music and grab an instrument.  Try to play along.  Your first task will be to determine the key.  Then you will pay attention to the structure of the music. Then you either start figuring out the chord progression or you start working on key melodic phrases. Eventually, you get the whole song.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I played guitar (not very well) for years.  I started at family sing-a-longs, and I learned pretty quickly how to hear chord changes in a song. I also used to watch a lot of sports, and I would do so with a guitar on my lap. When the commercials came on, I would try to play along with the jingles.  That forced me to work through those steps above (determine the key, identify the melodic hook, etc.) super fast because each commercial might only last 30 seconds.  But by the third or so time a given commercial aired, I could usually play along.

If you want to train your ear, I strongly suggest not looking at tab while you play.  Look at your dulcimer and think.  Think about the relationships between the frets and the notes they represent.  Think about the relationships between the strings in the same way.  And I would advise not thinking about absolute tones, but about intervals.  For example, the distance from an open string and the second fret is a third.  From the open string to the fourth fret is a fifth.  To the seventh is an octave.  And so forth.

Eventually, you'll be able to hum a song in your head and imagine how to play it on the dulcimer. And that's a pretty cool skill to have.




--
Dusty T., Northern California
Site Moderator

As a musician, you have to keep one foot back in the past and one foot forward into the future.
-- Dizzy Gillespie

updated by @dusty: 10/24/23 01:04:19PM
NateBuildsToys
NateBuildsToys
@nate
4 months ago
229 posts

I've wondered a lot if the music that I listens to "untrains" my ears. I listen to quite a bit of blues from 1920-1950 and a LOT of it is only "relative tuned" from the top string down. I've never been good at all at knowing whether a note is flat or sharp, and if a note is flat or sharp it doesn't affect my enjoyment of the music. Starting to think I might have permanently screwed up my pitch perception


updated by @nate: 10/24/23 11:56:39AM
Wally Venable
Wally Venable
@wally-venable
4 months ago
55 posts

I'm with Ken, to a large extent. Few of us "train" our ears, but "our ears learn."

We learn, I think, by having music in two forms at the same time. Playing or singing while hearing others in a group. Plying or singing while reading music as sheet music or TABs. Singing along with a record.

A set of instructions in any form may help because it is structured so that your experience is expanded, not because it is just repeated.

Ken Hulme
Ken Hulme
@ken-hulme
4 months ago
2,103 posts

Sorry... I just trained my ear through decades of singing in choirs and playing with other musicians.  And listening over and over and over again to cassette tapes/vinyl in the Dark Ages before on-line music...

austinpmckenzie
@austinpmckenzie
4 months ago
4 posts

I'm curious about what training you do to enhance your ear (relative pitch, recognizing chord progressions, and identifying sharps/flats). If you have any exercises or resources, please feel free to share!

Currently, I've been using an ear training app called ToneScholar ( https://tonescholar.com ) if you're interested). It's been effective, it has improved my relative pitch, but it focuses on voice based exercises. I am NOT a singer!

I’m NOT looking for an alternative ear training app. I'm interested in any advice or exercises you may have that are similar to the app. Thank you!