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Ear Training and Singing

ear training

Question: Good day Albert,

I am currently practicing for my Grade 8 UNISA examination. I am not struggling with all the ear training exercises. As a matter of fact, I can easily distinguish between major, minor, recognizing the key, the rhythms, etc. I do however struggle when my teacher plays for example a note and says to sing 6 notes higher or lower. I can sing pretty well, and I have been in choirs before, but when I stand there and I have to sing that specific note, I am completely frozen and I sound horrible!! How can I practice this and is there something I can do about this?

– Heleen (South Africa)

Albert’s reply: The key to ear training is learning to recognize intervals within the key. Being able to recognize minor vs. minor keys is a fine start. The next step is to identify the pitches within the octave: Which note in the scale are you hearing?

Similarly, when you hear, say, a major chord, are you hearing it in its harmonic context? For example, using the notes of the major scale, there are three major triads that can be built (on scale degrees 1, 4 and 5). There are also minor chords in the major scale, since building a triad on any of the other notes in the major scale results in minor triads, with the exception of the diminished triad built on scale degree 7. (Please read this lesson if this brief explanation is confusing.)

A significant part of recognizing notes within the scale is interval ear training. This involves not only recognizing the intervals (e.g., major second, minor third), but doing so as they occur within the scale. For instance, a major third occurs between scale degrees 1 and 3 of the major scale, but scale degrees 2 and 4 form a minor third.

There’s a simple exercise you can do to improve your ability to hear within the scale. First sing a scale, using solfège syllables (do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti) for the note names (C, D, E, F, G, A, B) for the scale degrees or numbers for the scale degrees. Then challenge yourself to sing any two notes in the scale. Using thirds as an example, sing scale degrees 1 and 3, then 2 and 4, 3 and 5, etc. Sing descending as well as ascending intervals. After practicing this ear training and singing exercise it will be significantly easier to hear within the scale!

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