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Piano Lesson: Ear Training

Piano Lesson: Ear Training

Ear training is especially important if you want to improvise, compose, or figure out melodies and chords to songs by ear. A good musical ear is an acquired skill, not a gift. And like other skills, it is acquired through practice.

The more we train our ear to recognize this connection, the more we enjoy playing music, because we learn to understand what we play. Here are a few questions I am often asked.

Who needs ear training?

All musicians need to train their ear in order to know what they are playing and to anticipate what they are about to play!

Why do ear training?

Because understanding the sounds we hear will be necessary to:

* Jam with other musicians

* Compose music

* Sing in tune

There are 3 qualities that every good jazz musician must possess:

* a great ear

* a strong sense of time

* a unique sound.

While there are many different ways to approach these skills, the first two always require a certain amount of drilling. The ear can be thought of as a muscle and to a certain degree must be trained like one. Improved ears will lead to better intonation, improvisation, ensemble playing and transcription skills. With that in mind, here are three great ways of dramatically improving your students’ ears and, hopefully, their overall playing.

Associating a familiar melody with each interval is a quick way to learn an interval’s distinct sound. For example, a melodic interval can be ascending or descending. Either way, it’s still the same interval. Now, you don’t want to get confused with interval inversions because a minor third will is still a minor third no matter which note comes first.

Intervals can be classified as consonant or dissonant. I can tell you that it’s much easier to hear the consonance or dissonance of harmonic intervals than melodic ones.

Here’s a list showing you the relative stability (consonance) or instability (dissonance) of the octaves up to an octave.

Consonant: Perfect, unison, m3, P4, P5, m6, P octave.

Dissonant: m2, M2, +4. (o5), m7, M7.

Another gentle approach is to describe Hollow Sounds, like austere and earthy, Indian drones and Scottish bagpipes or heavy metal rhythm-guitar.

Hallow: Perfect unison, P4, P5, P octave. This would be perfect intervals and their inversions.)

Sweet: m3, M3, m6, M6. (thirds and sixths)

Now there are active and passive methods for ear training. A passive drill would be to play two notes in succession and listen to that interval. Sometimes you will be asked to name the next note.

Harmonic intervals can be drilled the same way. These types of drills can be done with chords or chord progressions.

Are you familiar with the underlying scales and moveable “Do” solfege?

It’s essential that you learn to sing a chromatic scale. As chromaticism is prevalent throughout modern jazz, this exercise will improve both intonation and students’ understanding of the genre. When singing through the chromatic scale, remember to use sharps when ascending and flats when descending.

Chromatic Scale Ascending:

C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C

Do, Di, Re, Ri, Mi, Fa, Fi, Sol, Si, La, U, Ti, Do

Chromatic Scale Descending

C, B, Bb, A, Ab, G, Gb, F, E, Eb, D, Db, C

Do, Ti, Te, La, Le, Sol, Se, Fa, Mi, Me, Re, Ra, Do

Target Tones

Target tones are an essential part of any ear training regimen. They force students to hear not only chord tones, but surrounding tones as well. Now, many students can correctly sing a major scale but they have some difficulty picking out specific intervals at random.

With respect to the scales and scale degrees, the best way to practice this is through the use of target tones. Here are a few exercises:

C, // C, D, C // E, D, C // F, E, D // C, G, A // B, C, A // B, C, B // C

Ear training leads to better intonation, improvisation, band playing and transcription skills overall.